Tom Coughlin did not like the way Andre Brown performed in last week's loss to the Jets. So Coughlin opted to play Brown extended minutes Thursday night in the team's preseason finale -- a decision that could have lasting ramifications on the Giants' 2013 hopes.
Brown, expected to split time with David Wilson in New York's backfield this season, broke his leg late in the second quarter of a meaningless 28-20 loss to the Patriots. The injury appeared to occur on a run play right after the first half's two-minute warning, almost a full quarter after the rest of New York's offensive starters had left the game.
"Quite frankly, he needed to play better than he did the week before," said Coughlin of his reasoning for keeping Brown on the field, according to the New York Daily News's Ralph Vacchiano.
That explanation may not hold much water for the Giants' suddenly shorthanded backfield. Brown fractured the same leg in Week 12 last season against the Packers, after opening the year with eight touchdowns in 10 outings. This latest setback will cost him several weeks of action, though Coughlin stopped short of saying that Brown's injury was season-ending. The Giants could place Brown on Injured Reserve with a designation to return -- teams are permitted to use that tag on one player, though that player must then sit out the first eight weeks of the season.
Behind Brown on the current depth chart are Da'Rel Scott, Ryan Torain and Michael Cox. At least one of those three might have to serve as Wilson's understudy, unless New York adds another running back prior to Week 1. Veterans like Michael Turner, Kevin Smith and Willis McGahee all remain available as free agents.
None of those players, either inside the organization or out, provide the kind of upside Brown did alongside Wilson. The Giants were hoping to use Brown as a third-down and red-zone back, much in the way they did last season.
Coughlin figures to come under some fire now for risking Brown's health Thursday, with the regular season just a week away. Across town, Jets coach Rex Ryan took heat last week when QB Mark Sanchez suffered a shoulder injury after Ryan opted to play him in the fourth quarter against these same Giants. Coughlin's use of Brown did not occur as late in this week's game, but it was equally surprising given how important a role Brown was penciled in for this season.
The Giants will have the benefit of this weekend's roster cuts to try to find another body in the backfield, should they so choose -- teams must reduce their rosters from 75 to a max of 53 by 6 p.m. ET Saturday. But this was an easily avoidable problem, had Coughlin only played it safe with a Week 1 Sunday night trip to Dallas looming. Instead, he gave Brown a few extra carries and now the Giants will pay the price as a result.