INDIANAPOLIS –Last Sunday, Donald Brown averaged nearly five yards per rush on his 17 attempts, but it was his final carry that brought success and setback.
Brown scored on a two-point rush with 35 seconds left to provide Indianapolis with a three-point cushion in an eventual 30-27 win. The score forced Green Bay to need a field goal to tie the game, something it did not accomplish.
That moment brought setback, however, because Brown sustained cartilage damage to a knee and will be out for the near future.
The absence of the fourth-year player and team-leading rusher (60 rushes, 239 yards) will open up opportunity for a trio of backs – rookie Vick Ballard and veterans Mewelde Moore and Delone Carter.
"Donald had surgery yesterday. It looks like everything went well," said Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians. "We hope to have him back quickly. He had a torn cartilage in his knee on the the two-point play. … We think two, maybe three weeks (he'll be out), at the most.
"(It's) next man up. Vick (Ballard) will start. We'll get Mewelde (Moore) back. Delone (Carter), who has been waiting for his chance, is going to get a good chance. (It's) a great opportunity for him to go out and show what he's capable of doing."
Brown had started each game this year and has not missed an outing since week six of 2010. His ability to bounce plays to the outside has been evident in games this year. Arians said Brown's loss will not alter preparations as Indianapolis visits New York on Sunday.
"No, it's just the style of a runner, and it's a thing that he has and gave us that we need," said Arians. "Vick has done a pretty good job of popping some things outside. I know Mewelde can. Delone is more of a power-back. I'm anxious to see those guys run the football."
Arians was teamed with Moore, a nine-year pro, for the last four seasons in Pittsburgh. Carter played with the Colts last year as a rookie, starting three of 16 games and rushing for 377 yards and a 3.7 average. His progress was slowed this off-season by an injury, but Carter was able to be around for the full installation of the offense.
Ballard, 5-10, 217, was a fifth-round pick this year and in 48 collegiate games split two years each at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Mississippi State, he rushed for 4,440 yards and 63 touchdowns.
In 2011, he rushed for 1,189 yards and 10 touchdowns, while holding a 6.1 average at Mississippi State, playing in the nation's premier conference.
Arians coached there two previous times, and he got good pre-draft reviews of Ballard. He believes the time is right to let Ballard play, and he likely will let others play, too.
"He's more than ready. He's shown that he's ready to do it," said Arians. "I'm anxious to see Delone Carter. He's been hurt and he kind of lost his spot because of injury. He's a guy who can hit it between the tackles for us. He did a great job in training camp in short-yardage and goal-line. I'm anxious to see him carry the ball."
"I don't think any test is too big for me," said Ballard. "All I can do is go out there, do what I've been coached to do, not try to be Superman, not try to play outside myself, just do my job.
"They tell us to prepare like we are going to be the starter because sudden changes like this can happen. (I'll) just prepare like I'm a starter and do what I've been doing."
Ballard has rushed 21 times for 42 yards in spot duty in the first four games. He is excited by the chance to carry the ball more to establish a rhythm.
"That's one big thing for me, getting in a rhythm. I think I'm a rhythm runner," said Ballard. "I think I'll be a little more productive than in the past."
Tight end Dwayne Allen has been a rookie contributor in the offense, along with fellow position mate Coby Fleener. Both have helped Andrew Luck succeed, and Allen thinks Ballard will do fine.
"Vick is an explosive runner. I definitely think he can get us some yards after contact, and he's hungry," said Allen. "He's been waiting for this opportunity. Hopefully, he makes the best of it."
Ballard has had an itch to get on the field as he has learned along the way. After not getting offers coming out of high school and then proving himself in the SEC, he has had a nose for opportunity.
"As a rookie, on the sideline, you always want to get into the game, especially coming from college where you were maybe the 'go-to' guy," said Ballard. "You get to the NFL, you might be on the sideline. I think I've approached it pretty well.
"I approach every week like I'm going to be the starter. A second-string person is one snap from being a starter. That's how I kind of approach every week. I'm going to keep doing it that way. To me, practice is no different. I'll probably get the same amount of reps. The game reps are now going to change. I think I'm going to handle it pretty well."
Carter has been preparing for a return as well. He is excited about a possible bigger role.
"Definitely. It's unfortunate we lost Donald," said Carter. "We're hoping to get him back as fast as possible, but I've been waiting for my opportunity to get out there and show what I can do. Any way I can help the team, I'm ready to do it.
"In practice, I'll go full out, try to simulate the game and prepare as if I'm going to get in it. I'm going to go out against this tough defense and be patient, try to identify it and go through my pass protections. Running will take care of itself. It's a different offense, but my comfort level is fine. I had a chance to come in early this year and learn it. That definitely helped me."
Luck will be sharing the backfield with a new starting back for the first time in his career. Luck appreciates Brown's contributions but does not think the attack will be disrupted to any alarming degree.
"It shouldn't. It's 'Next Man Up,' which is not to discredit (Brown)," said Luck. "Donald is a phenomenal back. Guys have to step up, whoever that may be. We have to keep right on track."
On the injury front, Arians said players who will have different practice participations during the week and who are iffy for Sunday include linebackers Pat Angerer and Robert Mathis, defensive linemen Martin Tevaseu and Fili Moala, offensive guard Joe Reitz and cornerback Vontae Davis.
"There's no way Joe can come back after five weeks of no activity and play. Hopefully, we can get him on the practice field," said Arians. He said center Samson Satele likely is back and that his knee will be monitored. Arians was pleased with the play of A.Q. Shipley, who started for Satele against Green Bay. Arians said linebacker Dwight Freeney came out of the Green Bay game fine and will be worked on a smart practice basis this week.