Darius Butler is a big play not waiting to happen.
The fifth-year cornerback has appeared in 25 games and started only nine in parts of two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts but he has eight interceptions and has returned three for touchdowns.
No other Colts defender has more than four interceptions over those two years. No other Colt has returned more than one for a touchdown.
“D-Buts,” as Colts coach Chuck Pagano and some teammates call him, is a difference-maker. He had a pair of interceptions Sunday, both of which set up field goals that helped beat the Houston Texans 25-3 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
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He put himself in position to do even more.
Butler had good coverage on wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a third-quarter pass, read quarterback Case Keenum and timed his break perfectly. Interceptor and football converged with no Texan to impede a 25-yard stroll to the Houston end zone.
“No excuse for dropping that one,” Butler said. “I got a good break on it. Should have been a pick-six, really, but I guess I kind of took my eyes off it. I pictured the end zone and didn’t concentrate and bring it in.”
Had Butler secured the ball and reached the end zone, he would have shared second place on the franchise career chart for interception returns for touchdowns.
Bobby Boyd had four while playing 121 games over nine seasons. Jerry Logan holds the record with five, achieved over 140 games and 10 seasons. Both were Pro Bowl defensive backs for the franchise in Baltimore.
None of the six players with whom Butler is tied at three played fewer than four seasons with the Colts. Call him a fast starter.
“He’s got great instincts, great ball skills, studies and prepares extremely well and knows the opponent inside and out come game day,” Pagano said.
“(He had) another one that was batted down by (Colts end) Cory Redding. Case was getting ready to throw a little in-breaking route to Andre Johnson that (Butler) had stepped in front of. Could have been four yesterday.”
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Butler was at a crossroads and the Colts were in crisis when the two got together last September. The Colts needed a healthy cornerback. Butler needed a job.
A second-round draft pick of the New England Patriots who had four interceptions as a rookie in 2009, Butler was waived by the Patriots after the 2010 season, spent 2011 with the Carolina Panthers and was waived again.
He worked out for several teams and said a couple were interested before he arrived in Indianapolis. Butler never left. It didn’t matter that the Colts were coming off a 2-14 season and were 1-2 at the time.
He took a chance on them.
“They took a chance on me,” he said.
Butler liked the cut of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. He held veterans such as safety Antoine Bethea and linebacker Robert Mathis and wide receiver Reggie Wayne in high regard. He was impressed by Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson.
Butler knew it was time to shine. He believed this was the place to do it.
“Coming in as a high-round pick, I had a good rookie year,” Butler said. “My second year was kind of shaky. My third year in Carolina was so-so. So that’s why, like I said, it was kind of now or never.
“It was my third stop, my fourth year in the league. I know what I’m capable of, people knew what I was capable of. It was just a matter of me doing it and putting it all together.”
The Colts re-signed Butler during the offseason to a two-year, $4 million contract, with $2 million guaranteed.
They have used him primarily as their nickel back because they like how he operates in traffic over the middle covering slot receivers, but his first start was an eye-opener.
In a November, 2012 game at Jacksonville, he intercepted two passes, returned one 11 yards for a touchdown and caused and recovered a fumble. He was the first Colt with three takeaways in a game in more than a quarter-century.
His other two touchdown returns have measured 32 and 41 yards. He returned a second interception in that Jacksonville game 51 yards.
Those kinds of difference-making plays have always stamped him. He had a 91-yard touchdown return as a Patriots rookie. He scored on an 86-yard interception return and a 90-yard kickoff return as a UConn freshman.
“I always played offense when I was growing up,” Butler said. “I know you could really turn around a game or put somebody in a hole even deeper if you score on defense or score on special teams.”
Sometimes the return is unnecessary.
Butler intercepted a Russell Wilson pass at the Colts 38-yard line with 1:23 to play this October. That game-changer enabled the Colts offense to line up in its Victory-formation and Luck to kneel twice to kill the clock and hand the Seattle Seahawks one of their two losses this season.
They say cornerbacks need short memories. Butler will tell you that’s not necessarily true.
Johnson burned the Colts secondary for nine catches, 229 yards and touchdowns of 62, 41 and 5 yards when the Colts and Texans met in Houston last month.
Butler and teammate Vontae Davis remembered. They refused to forget.
Johnson is a six-time Pro Bowl player and one of the best receivers of his era. He caught four passes for 18 yards against the Colts on Sunday.
Davis played him tough. So did Butler, who according to Pro Football Focus, was targeted six times. He yielded two completions, had two interceptions and broke up a pass.
There was no need for a short memory Sunday.
Just for starters
Cornerback Darius Butler has played only parts of only two seasons for the Colts, appearing in 25 games and starting nine, but his three interception returns for touchdowns give him a share of third place on the club’s career list. Everyone else on the list played at least four seasons.