It was four years and 26 days since running back Bryce Brown started a football game. It was well worth the wait for the Eagles rookie.
Brown set a franchise rookie record with 178 rushing yards on 19 carries (9.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns as he started for LeSean McCoy, who was sidelined with a concussion. However, it was not enough as the Eagles lost to the Carolina Panthers, 30-22, on Monday night.
"I knew we were going to run the ball coming into the game and I was prepared for it," Brown said. "The coaches warned me. They told me that we're going to run the ball and help Nick (Foles) out. I was up for the challenge. I anticipated it happening and it did."
The last time Brown started a game was October 31, 2008 when he suited up for Wichita East (Kan.) High School to take on local rival Southeast High. Brown's unique road to the NFL began as the nation's top running back prospect when he enrolled at Tennessee. After a promising freshman season, Volunteers head coach Lane Kiffin bolted for USC. Brown left the school to play with his brother, Arthur, at Kansas State. Brown sat out the 2010 season due to the transfer rule. He suffered an ankle injury and played in just one game for Kansas State in 2011.
The Eagles were nevertheless intrigued by Brown and used a seventh-round pick on him back in April. They felt the draft pick was worth a gamble considering Brown's rare blend of size (6-0, 220 pounds), speed and lack of wear-and-tear. Brown won the backup running back job in the preseason, but still never had more than five carries in a game this season. That changed on Monday night as the Eagles also started a rookie at quarterback in Foles due to Michael Vick's concussion. On the game's opening drive, Brown took a direct snap for a 7-yard gain. His next run was to the left side which gained 19 yards. That opening drive led to a field goal.
Brown's breakout play came in the second quarter. The play call was 94 weak. Brown took the handoff from Foles and raced behind a huge hold on the right side and sprinted down the sideline and didn't stop until he was in the end zone 65 yards later.
"They brought a firezone blitz and the d-end dropped on the backside and it was wide open," Brown said.
Brown gained 129 yards in the first half and broke the previous franchise rookie single-game rushing mark held by Correll Buckhalter (134 yards, vs. Arizona, October 7, 2001) in the third quarter. He also scored his second touchdown of the game on a 5-yard run in the third quarter, which at the time gave the Eagles a 22-21 lead. However, Brown will remember two costly fumbles that both came in the third quarter. The second of the two resulted in the game-winning field goal by Graham Gano.
"My performance doesn't mean anything to me at all. The important thing to me was for us to get a win and that didn't happen tonight," Brown said. "I feel like a lot of that has to do with my two turnovers that happened to really cost us.
"You get caught up in the moment. You're trying your hardest. You're going out there trying to do it all and just fight for your team. When you're doing that, you have to remember the little things count. Protecting the ball is key."
Still, in a season filled with disappointment, Brown's performance showcases the talent and depth that the Eagles have at running back with him and the All-Pro McCoy.
"My main thing is showing them what I can do. And they believe in me. That's the only thing that matters," Brown said. "I just want to make them proud of me.
"It's all about getting better and the next game I'll do better."
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