EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Coaches always tell their backups to be ready. A play or an injury often separates them from being a starter or - at the least - a contributor.
With the New York Giants, that happened to running back Andre Brown, receiver Ramses Barden and cornerback Jayron Hosley over the past five days, and boy did they take advantage.
Brown, who has been cut seven times by five different teams since 2010, carried 33 times for 184 yards with three touchdowns filling in for Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) in wins over Tampa Bay on Sunday and Carolina on Thursday. Coming into the season, he had two career carries for minus-1 yard.
Barden, who had nine catches all of last season, had nine receptions for 138 yards in the 36-7 rout of the Panthers filling in for Hakeem Nicks (foot) and Domenik Hixon (concussion). The third-round draft pick had caught 15 passes in his first three seasons.
Hosley, a rookie, has started the last two games with Prince Amukamara (ankle) and Michael Coe (hamstring) hurt, and came up with his first career interception Thursday.
"We all know you are one play away from playing," veteran offensive tackle Sean Locklear said, "but these guys, by far, exceeded all of our expectations by the way they played."
While the Giants' smiles summed up how they felt after the game, there was no more poignant moment than when Barden came up behind quarterback Eli Manning in the closing minutes on the bench and gave him a grateful bear hug for having 10 passes thrown in his direction.
"I just wanted to express my appreciation and gratitude for Eli's trust and faith in me throughout the game - keep coming my way," Barden said. "I like to think if he's going to give me a chance, I want to do my best to help him achieve what he is trying to achieve. So when we were moving the ball down the field, he trusted me to throw my way, I need to do my job and come down with it."
Barden's mother even called him to tell him that "it was so sweet that you gave him a hug."
For Barden, though, this has been a long time coming. A third-round draft pick in 2009, he only played in three games as a rookie. He started seeing more action the following year until he broke an ankle. It was slow healing and he missed the first half of last season. Carolina was the first time he has thoroughly enjoyed playing in a long time.
"You have to be ready," Barden said. "You hear that all the time - be ready, be ready be ready. It's hard to do that, but that's what you do. You can't be negative. The glass can never be half full. Oh, excuse me, half empty."
His glass was full Thursday, as it was for Brown. He was the Giants' fourth-round draft pick in 2009 and he seemed like he was going to be a good one in training camp. However, late in a practice before the preseason opener that year, he tore an Achilles tendon running a pass pattern during a jog-through. It ended his season and started a long journey that would see him be signed and cut by the Giants, Broncos, Colts, Panthers and Redskins.
Brown spent last season on the Giants' practice squad and got his chance when Bradshaw was hurt against the Buccaneers this week. He gained 71 yards and scored a touchdown on Sunday and notched his first NFL start on Thursday, rushing 20 times for 113 yards and two scores.
Brown laughed when asked how long he has been waiting for this.
"I'd probably say since the first time I got cut, and the second time, and the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and I finally stuck," the former North Carolina State product said. "So yeah. I have always been dreaming about it. For it to finally be here, I just don't want to let it go. I am going to continue to work hard. That's what got me here. That's what I need to do."
While the performance likely has earned Brown playing time, he will gladly take whatever role the coaches give him when Bradshaw returns. Hosley, who started the season as a nickel back, felt the same way.
"Injuries kind of got me in a little bit, but when your number is called you have to go in and do the job," he said. "And I think I have been doing it."
Defensive captain Justin Tuck said stepping up has been a trademark of the Giants in recent seasons. Receiver Victor Cruz and tight end Jake Ballard rose to the surface last season on offense, and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had a breakout season when Osi Umenyiora couldn't start the year.
"It says a lot about our depth and our coaches," Tuck said. "Whatever 53 guys we have on that practice field, we treated all of them like starters. Everybody gets certain amounts of reps every week and that has paid when guys have to be plugged in."
Linebacker Michael Boley concurs. After all, with an opening-night hiccup vs. Dallas now firmly in the past, the defending champions are now 2-1 with a free weekend ahead of them.
"We are starting to find our grove. We're starting to find our identity as a team," Boley said. "It's a lot different from last year when you go up and down each week. This week, we feel like we're starting to catch that groove early.
"Hopefully we'll hang on to it throughout the year."
NOTES: Cornerback Corey Webster broke his right hand on Thursday night. His hand was in a cast Friday, but Coughlin said he will be able to play against the Eagles next week. ... S Antrel Rolle suffered a bruised knee jumping over a television cameraman on the sidelines in the fourth quarter. He needed some stitches but also expects to play vs. Philadelphia. ... LB David Rivers aggravated a hamstring injury. ... Four Giants were fined by the NFL for actions in Sunday's game. S Kenny Phillips was hit for $30,000 for a hit to the head. OL David Baas and Kevin Boothe were fined $7,875 for unnecessary roughness regarding a melee at the end of the game, and Brown was fined $15,750 for a horse collar tackle on an interception return.
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