INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Brown’s first start with the Indianapolis Colts, second in four seasons and fifth in his five-year career essentially boiled down to:
Is the special teams contributor who’s been a part-time corner the best option against Derek Carr and the New Orleans Saints?
The Colts have been mixing and matching at the position all season because of Dallis Flowers’ season-ending Achilles injury and JuJu Brents’ quadriceps injury that kept the second-round draft pick out of Sunday’s 38-27 loss to the Saints.
The offseason decision to trade Stefon Gilmore and not re-sign Brandon Facyson, coupled with losing Isaiah Rodgers to a suspension for violating the NFL’s gambling policy, coincided with the Colts’ opting to go into the season with a young, inexperienced cornerbacks’ room.
Bradley and position coach Ron Milus considered their options during practice last week – stick with Darrell Baker Jr., who struggled against Cleveland, or turn to Brown – and opted for someone who had been on the field for one defensive snap in seven games and only 10 the past two seasons.
“We just felt like, ‘Well, we don’t know exactly how Tony would play. We kind of have a pretty idea of DJ (Baker), what he brings. Tony’s got some good speed. He understands the package well,’’ Bradley said.
“It was a little bit of, ‘Let’s see what we have here in (Brown)’ based off practice last week.’’
Based on Brown’s performance against the Derek Carr-led Saints, it wasn’t good enough.
ESPN’s NextGen Stats posted after the game that Brown was the nearest Colt in coverage on seven of Carr’s 27 attempts. It noted Carr had the highest rating possible when targeting Brown: 158.3 based on 7-for-7, 187 yards and a 58-yard touchdown to Rashid Shaheed.
Bradley insisted the shock play to Shaheed wasn’t Brown’s fault.
“That was not Tony Brown,’’ he said.
On second-and-5 from his own 42, Carr sent the speedy Shaheed out wide left and had him run a deep post. Brown initially backpedaled at the snap and Shaheed ran past him and under Carr’s pass.
At the goal line, safety Julian Blackmon glanced back over his shoulder.
As it turns out, the other safety, Rodney Thomas II, was supposed to give Brown deep help. Instead, Thomas provided underneath help to linebacker Segun Olubi on Chris Olave, who ran an “out’’ on the play.
“I know (Brown) was running with the post all by himself,’’ Bradley explained, “but he should have, based on the read, had free safety play on that . . . with Rodney based on his read. Rodney should have been on the post.
“It appeared like, ‘Oh, that’s Tony Brown,’ when really Tony did what he was supposed to.’’’
Even so, it was Brown who gave up a game-sealing 51-yard Carr-to-Shaheed completion on third-and-13 with 3 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Bradley dialed up a blitz on the pivotal play to pressure Carr. Brown was lined up opposite Shaheed on the far left of the Saints’ formation, and Shaheed used an inside move off the line to create immediate separation.
After the game, Brown took the blame for Shaheed’s critical third-down reception.
“As a competitor, there’s always a level of frustration when you don’t win at first, second or third down,’’ he said. “Being it’s third down . . . I take full responsibility for plays like that.
“It’s tough to get the last play. I feel like (it’s) on me.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.