- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Andre Brown needed a ride to the New York Giants' game Sunday morning, so he called rookie right tackle Justin Pugh, who picked him up and delivered him to MetLife Stadium. In the hours before his first live game action since he broke his left leg in the Giants' final game of the preseason, Brown warmed up and chatted with teammates on the field. He had the team's trainers wrap an Ace bandage around the small, carbon-fiber shin guard he'll wear for the rest of his career over the spot where his fibula has snapped twice.
He slipped into his white uniform pants, blue jersey and a pair of red-and-white spiderweb-pattern gloves, strapped on his helmet complete with bright blue mouthpiece, and then he went to work.
And man, did he work.
"I carried it 30 times?" Brown exclaimed after the game, a question to which the answer was affirmative. "It felt like 50."
If the game had kept going long enough, it might have been. So excited were the Giants to have one of their preseason "co-starters" back at running back that they kept handing the ball to Brown as he rolled up a cool 115 yards and a touchdown. It was the best running-back performance of the season so far for the Giants, who improved to 3-6 with their third straight victory, 24-20 over the Oakland Raiders, and it was the culmination of an excellent comeback story for a guy who's broken the same leg in the same place twice in the past calendar year.
"Very impressive, and he had four and five guys jumping on his back there for a while," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who'd joked earlier in the week about giving Brown 40 carries and jokingly apologized to reporters Sunday for having "misled" them. "I think the way the rules are set up, allowing him to get those three weeks of practice in before being activated, really helped him build his confidence and his stamina."
Brown had been on the injured reserve/designated for return list, which required him to miss at least six weeks of practices and eight weeks of games. Had the Giants not been on bye last week, they could have activated him for a theoretical Week 9 game. Regardless, he'd been practicing since Oct. 14, and was raring to go Sunday. Peyton Hillis was announced as the starter at running back, but his fumble after catching a screen pass in the first half likely helped keep him pinned to the sideline, as did the way Brown was playing.
"Andre played great," quarterback Eli Manning said. "He ran hard, and he also hit some big runs, which was nice. And obviously on that last possession, we knew we were going to need two first downs to run out the clock, and that's exactly what he was able to get."
Coughlin has spoken in recent weeks about the importance for the Giants of piling up rushing attempts, if not rushing yards, to help set up the play-action passing game. But for a team that entered the game 30th in the league in rushing offense, it was nice to see, as Coughlin described it, "not only balance, but also some production."
Brown played it cool after the game, talking about how he was sore and tired and would need some cold-tub time in the coming days. But he was obviously thrilled to be back on the field after so long. In the preseason, he and David Wilson were supposed to author a dynamic Giants run game. But Wilson's out for the year with a neck injury, and Brown's season is only just now getting started. After an early-career roller-coaster that's seen him tear his left Achilles, get cut from the Giants, re-sign with the Giants and work his way back up the depth chart only to keep breaking his leg in the same place, Brown is thankful for everything.
"It's a good feeling right now," Brown said. "You can't think about or dwell on an injury. You've just got to continue to move forward and remain positive. If I looked back on all the injuries I've had, I probably wouldn't be here right now."
He thanked Ronnie Barnes and the Giants' training staff for putting up with his singing during the long hours while they helped him heal. He thanked his offensive line for opening holes and said he planned to buy them all dinner at some point this week. He got a nice hug from Pugh, who suggested they carpool again next Sunday, and maybe for the rest of the year, since it worked so well the first time. And then he went off with a huge smile on his face, in search of that cold tub.