Brown and Barden traveled uniquely different paths to reach this point, but when both were called on for really the first times in their rather unproductive NFL careers, they came through for the
New York Giants in a 36-7 rout of the
It was Brown on the ground and Barden through the air. Whoever could have imagined this scenario just five days ago?
"They stepped up," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "They saw this as a great opportunity. They've been looking for this type of opportunity."
The opportunity only came because of injuries to established players. Brown was filling in for tailback
Ahmad Bradshaw, who is dealing with a neck injury, and Barden was in for wide receiver
Hakeem Nicks, who remained back home nursing a foot injury.
But this isn't a simple case of a couple of reserves getting a chance. These guys hadn't yet registered on the NFL radar.
Brown is the quintessential journeyman. Drafted in 2009 in the fourth round by the Giants, he missed his rookie campaign because of an Achilles tendon injury. In 2010, the former N.C. State star played with four different teams, including one game with the Panthers. He didn't play at all a year ago.
Yet, Brown swatted away the rejections, not allowing it to layer on his psyche. He always believed his day would come.
That day was Thursday. Brown ran for 73 yards on 14 carries after Bradshaw was injured in a victory over Tampa Bay last Sunday — but going into a game knowing you're the guy is quite different, especially for a player who had just two carries in his NFL career prior to Sunday's contest.
"For Andre, to be able to know he was going to play and not come into a situation where at best he was going to get a few attempts..." Coughlin said. "To prepare all throughout the week knowing he was going to play and play as well as he did is outstanding."
Brown made it clear early on he wasn't going to blow this opportunity. He chewed up seven yards on his first attempt before darting for 33 yards around the right end two snaps later. A 16-yard run on his fourth attempt of the night put him at 56 yards before the first quarter was over. And that needed balance the Giants were hoping for was a reality.
"I just ran hard, made sure I picked up my protections and did everything I could," said Brown, who is from Greenville, N.C.
Brown, who finished with career-high 113 yards and two touchdowns on the night, also noted that seeing Bank of America Stadium when the team bus arrived reminded him of being let go by Carolina just a week after signing, and about all he went through that season. He said it helped him "build a little fire before the game."
But he wasn't about to boast. That's not his style. It wasn't at N.C. State, when he missed by three yards of breaking the school's single-game rushing record of 251 yards, and it wasn't Thursday night.
"It really humbled me," Brown said about his NFL travels. "It made me know that not everything is guaranteed, and hopefully I can be here for a long time to come."
Barden flashes a bit more personality, which seemingly comes with the territory with wide receivers these days. That may explain why he actually has his own website www.RamsesBarden.com where visitors can learn Barden was named after the Egyptian Pharoah, "Ramses The Great."
But Barden's also been humbled while playing in the largest and most demanding sports market in the world.
Drafted by New York a round ahead of Brown in 2009, the 6-foot-6 and gifted Braden has struggled mightily to break through despite projections he would have a productive career. He entered Thursday's game with just 16 career receptions and no touchdowns. By halftime he had seven catches for 107 yards as the Giants took a 20-0 advantage into the locker room.
Barden finished with 10 receptions for 138 yards.
"Ramses, did an outstanding job himself," Coughlin said. "He caught the ball, he made yards after the catch, he was a big target in there for Eli. He ran good, precise routs. … He's been waiting for this kind of chance and he got it and played well with it."
Barden was blown away by the number of tape recorders and TV cameras waiting at his locker as he dressed after the game. It was a long time coming, and even after all this time, he was at a loss for words.
"Words can't describe, words can't describe," he said. "Obviously, it's not everything I've wanted, but I put this on my back and I'm not even satisfied. It was definitely an OK performance."
It was more than an OK performance for a couple of Giants who finally now know the true feeling of being a giant in this league.