INDIANAPOLIS – Colts running back Donald Brown waited patiently for a chance to start this season.
When he finally did, Brown delivered.
The strong, silent running back who spent 4½ seasons trying to break through finally did Sunday, rushing for 46 of his 54 yards on the Colts' final drive and scoring Indy's only touchdown in a 22-14 victory over Tennessee that put them on the verge of an eighth AFC South title in 11 years.
"I knew regardless of what happened, my number would get called in some form or fashion," Brown said Monday. "When it is, you just make the most of it."
Coach Chuck Pagano was so impressed with Brown's effort that he said Monday that Brown would start again this weekend when the AFC South-leading Colts (8-4) visit AFC North-leading Cincinnati (8-4) — a pivotal game for playoff seeding.
Brown has seen just about everything in his 4½ seasons in the league.
As a rookie, he was part of a team chasing perfection on its way to an AFC title. Two years ago, he endured the ignominy of an 0-13 start and the chase of imperfection. Last year, he was part of the second-greatest turnaround in league history, and now the Colts are one win, or one Titans loss, away from clinching their eighth division crown in 11 years.
But for most of that time, Brown has watched those things happened — and this season has been no different.
When starting running back Vick Ballard went down with a season-ending knee injury after the season opener, Indy turned to offseason acquisition Ahmad Bradshaw. When Bradshaw was lost with a season-ending neck injury after Week 3, the newly acquired Trent Richardson inherited the job even though he was still learning the offense. And as Richardson's struggles continued and the patience of fans waned, the Colts continued to make Brown the change-of-pace guy.
Brown never complained. Instead, he just kept working, knowing his chance would come.
"He is the ultimate team guy," NFL sacks leader Robert Mathis said. "He doesn't like to talk about himself because he's not his favorite subject. He just goes to work and he just lets his play do all the talking."
Brown prefers it that way.
But this was not the plan Indy had when it took the UConn star with the 27th overall pick in 2009. Back then, the Colts envisioned Brown becoming the workhorse back and the eventual replacement for Joseph Addai.
Though he never quite lived up to the billing, he refused to give up and became one of the most respected guys in the locker room.
"He's a great pro. He's reliable. He's accountable," Pagano said.
It's been tough.
Brown started only nine times in his first two seasons, running for just 778 combined yards and five touchdowns. Even in 2011, with Peyton Manning out and the Colts' offense sputtering, Brown was one of the lone bright spots averaging 4.8 yards on 134 carries. Yet he still found himself playing behind Addai and making only two starts.
It looked like Brown might get another chance when Indy cleaned house last season and kept Brown around.
Instead, after taking Luck's first NFL pass for a long touchdown in the 2012 preseason opener, Brown lost the starting job to Ballard when he got hurt and never won it back. Brown finished the season with 57 carries for 324 yards and three TDs.
Critics have long complained Brown can't pass block, pointing to a blown pickup on fourth down late in a loss to Miami in Week 2 as one illustration, and that he didn't hit holes hard enough. Today, those same people champion Brown's patience to set up blocks, something they don't believe Richardson has done well enough. Richardson is averaging 2.8 yards per carry since coming over from Cleveland in a September trade, while Brown has thrived in mostly limited action.
He rushed three times for 65 yards at Jacksonville, six times for 37 yards against Seattle, three times for 15 yards at San Diego, six times for 49 yards at Houston and 14 times for 80 yards and two TDs at Tennessee before Sundays' showing. Indy's only lost just one game during that stretch — to the Chargers.
And Brown doesn't have any plans to change things now.
"Just staying the course," he said when asked what's different this year. "Knock on wood, staying healthy, staying strong. Just obviously studying the game plan inside and out. It's knowing what everybody else is doing and then obviously knowing what the defense is going to do. It's just studying, staying healthy and just staying patient."
Notes: Pagano said Daniel "Boom" Herron will have surgery for a torn pectoral muscle and will be placed on season-injured reserve. ... Starting defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois is expected to miss two to four weeks after being diagnosed with a partially torn plantar fascia. ... Pagano also said Jeff Linkenbach, who started at right guard Sunday, has a slight tear in his quad and is listed as week-to-week. ... The Colts are planning to ease three other injured players — cornerbacks Josh Gordy (groin) and Greg Toler (groin) and backup linebacker Kavell Conner (ankle) back into practice this week in hopes all three could play against the Bengals.
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