INDIANAPOLIS — The football careers of Indianapolis cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Darius Butler didn’t officially intersect until Sept. 25.
By then, Davis already had a 15-tackle head start.
Acquired by the Colts in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, Davis enjoyed the luxury of getting to know new teammates and a new system in the days leading up to the team’s Sept. 9 opener at Chicago. Indy plucked Butler off the waiver wire two days after the embarrassing Week 3 home loss to woeful Jacksonville.
The Colts are Butler’s third team in four seasons. Davis is on franchise No. 2 in this, his fourth year.
It’s an experiment that could have blown up in the face of general manager Ryan Grigson, pairing two physically gifted — albeit it rumored-to-be underachieving — athletes in the Colts’ defensive secondary.
The opposite has occurred.
This playmaking duo gradually turned what had been one of the team’s Achilles heels into a strength as the regular season progressed — Davis with his 51 tackles and three interceptions and Butler with his four picks and two touchdowns.
In Butler’s case, it simply came down to playing relaxed.
“For me, personally, my second year was kind of rough and I had been playing tentative,” said Butler, who was drafted by New England, played two seasons with the Patriots before being waived and picked up by Carolina. “One of the last things (Panthers coach) Ron Rivera told me before I left was to just let it go, and if I did I could be one of the best players in the league. That’s what I’ve done.”
No need trying to convince offensive players at Jacksonville and Kansas City. On Nov. 8, Butler’s two interceptions — including an 11-yarder for a score — helped Indianapolis beat the Jaguars, 27-10. His Week 16 32-yard pick-six opened the scoring and proved huge in a 20-13 escape against the host Chiefs.
Drafted in the second round by New England in 2009, Butler was rumored to possibly be on his way out of the league if he didn’t begin living up to his vast potential. The call from the Colts proved the perfect wake-up call.
“The biggest thing that’s come back to me is just playing. It’s about earning it and making plays,” Butler said. “You have to have a short-term memory out there.”
Davis can surely vouch for that. NFL cornerbacks in a matter of only a few plays can switch from hero to goat and back to hero again. Precision quarterbacking and the world-class athletes paid to catch their passes can indeed make for a humbling combination.
And yet Davis, who at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, is the larger of the Colts’ starting corners, has prevailed more often than not. His statistics this season heading into Sunday night’s AFC playoff game at Baltimore are based on only 10 games, having sat out six due to ankle and knee injuries.
Sunday’s two interceptions and five solo tackles in the 28-16 win over Houston earned Davis AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. It marked the third time a Colts cornerback has so been honored this season, following Butler in Week 10 and Cassius Vaughn in Week 14.
“As a defensive back, it’s like having a short-term memory. Just like turnovers, you can’t get frustrated if they don’t come because when they do come, they come in bunches,” said Davis, the younger brother of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. “Darius Butler, he had a couple of interceptions back-to-back; and myself, I had three interceptions in two games. So they do come in bunches.”
Fielding two big-play cornerbacks at the same time isn’t something the Colts have been known for since moving to Indianapolis. Butler and Davis seem determined to change that.
“The sky’s the limit. I feel that (as a defense) we have gotten better over the weeks,” Davis said. “A lot of guys are playing with confidence right now, and you couldn’t ask for (more) with a big week and the Baltimore Ravens game in the playoffs.”