The last time an NFL running back averaged at least 10 yards per carry through the first two weeks of a season was 1963. John F. Kennedy was in the final two months of his life, the Bills were a three-year-old franchise in the fledgling AFL and the back's name was Jim Brown. Almost half a century later, C.J. Spiller's name is now alongside the Hall of Famer.
Spiller had his second straight huge game as the Bills rolled their old AFL rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-17, on Sunday. After a 169-yard explosion in New York, Spiller added 123 yards in the blowout win over the Chiefs. With 292 yards on 29 carries, Spiller leads the NFL in rushing.
"I'm just having great weeks of preparation," said Spiller, who has taken over as the starter with Fred Jackson sidelined a month with a knee injury. "The offensive line is doing a great job covering these (tacklers) up. We knew coming into the game we were going to have to be very decisive running - put your foot down and take what they give. So I think it all starts with our preparation."
When the Bills picked Spiller No. 9 overall in 2010, it was considered a dubious pick because the team already had Jackson, and it needed help at several other weaker positions. When Spiller did almost nothing as a rookie, the pick looked even worse. But last year when Jackson missed the final six games, Spiller stepped in and rushed for 446 yards in the last six weeks. That, as it turned out, was just a glimpse of what was possible.
"I knew he could be (great)," coach Chan Gailey said. "I didn't know whether it would happen or not. I would like to tell you, 'Oh sure, I saw that.' But it would be a lie. I didn't see it happening like this. I knew it was capable of happening, but I didn't know it would."
Spiller, who leads the league in rushing, now has enough career carries with the Bills to qualify for their all-time records, and his 5.4 average per carry is more than half a yard better than the Bills' leader, O.J. Simpson, who averaged 4.8 yards during his Hall of Fame career.
Spiller also joined Simpson on the short list of Bills backs who have opened a season with back-to-back 100-yard games. Simpson did it twice, in 1973 and 1975, Thurman Thomas did it in 1991 and Jackson did it last year.
"C.J. has shown, and something he has done a good job of over the last eight, nine games, is his vision has been very good in terms of making cuts," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "Seeing a hole, just trusting himself and going. He has learned a lot of things, I think, from sitting back and watching Fred and the way he runs. When C.J. gets in the open field he is hard to bring down."
Gailey has been known to fall in love with the pass, but it is becoming increasingly evident that Spiller is the team's best offensive threat. In the last two years, when Fitzpatrick has attempted fewer than 30 passes in a game, the Bills are 5-0. In two of those games, Spiller topped 100 yards in rushing. That's a trend that Gailey should pay attention to.
"I'd rather control the clock, run the football, that's old-school," said Gailey. "We would rather be a physical run team that throws it when we have to or throws it on surprise situations. I was a wishbone coach when I first started."
The wishbone wouldn't be a good idea, but giving the bulk of the work to Spiller, and limiting Fitzpatrick's attempts, seems like the prudent way to go for the Buffalo offense.
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