|Brown and Barden looked every bit as dangerous as Bradshaw and Nicks. (US Presswire/Getty Images)|
A year ago this week Victor Cruz had his coming-out party. When the Giants faced the Panthers Thursday night, two of Cruz's lesser-known teammates found their way into the spotlight: running back Andre Brown and wide receiver Ramses Barden had career games while the men they replaced, Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks, were sidelined with injuries.
By the time it was over, Brown rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries (5.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, and Barden hauled in 9 passes for 138 yards. The Giants cruised to a 36-7 victory but neither Brown nor Barden padded their numbers in garbage time. Both did their damage in the first 30 minutes; Brown had 13 carries for 96 yards and one touchdown before the break, while Barden added 124 receiving yards on seven catches.
For some perspective on just how improbable these two performances were, consider this: both players were drafted by the Giants in 2009, Barden in the third round and Brown in the fourth. Barden's career stalled due to injuries and his inability to beat press coverage. In his first three seasons, he registered 18 catches. Thursday night in place of Nicks, who racked up 199 receiving yards last Sunday, Barden exceeded his catch totals for all of 2011.
Brown, meanwhile, was released by the Giants in September 2010, a trend that would become popular in the coming months; he played for four different teams that season -- the Broncos, Colts, Panthers and Redskins -- and was cut four different times. New York re-signed Brown in August 2011 and he spent the year on the practice squad. He made his first NFL start against the Panthers Thursday and it couldn't have gone better.
"Obviously, Andre stepped up last week when we needed him and played well, ran hard, knew protections," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said after the game. "And this week, same thing right off the get go, running the ball well. Ramses, he made a bunch of catches, had some big plays, some plays over the middle, some high balls and he's a guy who wants an opportunity. And he got it and stepped up and made some plays."
The difference between playoff teams and perennial losers often comes down to a handful of plays over the course of a season. In a passing league, having a franchise quarterback is critical, but almost as important is depth up and down the roster. Until recently, the Redskins during the Daniel Snyder era never got that. Big-name players were more important than the quality personnel behind them. And every year, without fail, the Redskins weren't competitive.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese understands this. It was evident last season when a depleted New York secondary didn't keep the team from making a late-season run all the way to its second Lombardi Trophy in four years. We were reminded of this again in Charlotte when two players who haven't been relevant since college looked every bit as dangerous as the men they replaced.
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