C.J. Spiller has done something not done in the NFL since Jim Brown. ’bout that.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — When an NFL running back achieves something not done since Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns in 1963 — hey, you know it’s gotta be for something spectacular.
And it is.
‘Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller is the first NFLer since Brown to average 10 yards per carry after two games, minimum 25 carries.
After another dazzling performance Sunday in the Bills’ home opener — a 35-17 pasting of the Kansas City Chiefs — Spiller has amassed 292 yards on 29 carries, for a 10.1-yard average.
He rushed for 169 yards on 14 carries in the Bills’ loss last week to the New York Jets, and he had 123 on 15 carries against the Chiefs, before 69,402 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Spiller was by far the most dominant skill-position player on the field, as the Bills (1-1) dominated the Chiefs (0-2) in every phase on this bright, windy late-summer day. Buffalo led 35-3 deep into the second half until allowing two meaningless garbage-time TDs.
“First and foremost, the honour goes to God,” Spiller told me in a locker-room interview afterward. “And after that to the offensive line, wide receivers and tight ends. Those guys are blocking phenomenally.
They’re hatting these guys up, and opening some big running lanes. And I’m just taking what they give me.”
Not bad for a backup.
Indeed, Spiller wouldn’t be getting nearly this many touches if Fred Jackson, the nominal starting running back, hadn’t gone down with a sprained ligament in his right knee early in last week’s opener. Jackson is not expected to return for another 3-7 weeks.
Spiller has exploded in his place. Even more than he did last year, when Jackson missed the final six games with a broken bone in his right leg.
One doesn’t average 10 yards per carry without racking up a slew of big gains, and that’s what Spiller is doing.
He scored Buffalo’s first TD Sunday on a 17-yard run. He set up the second with a 38-yard burst. And he teed up the third, also before halftime, on a bubble-screen pass he took 27 yards inside the 5.
Spiller, 25, racked up 139 all-purpose yardage by halftime, on only 14 touches. The Chiefs were powerless to stop him.
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams wasn’t surprised.
“Well, I practise against the guy, and I know he’s got a burst maybe like one or two guys in the league do. If he gets a sliver, he could take it the distance at any time.”
A 5-foot-11, 200-pounder, Spiller was drafted out of Clemson three years ago in the first round. He was raw, and didn’t play much his first two years.
What’s happened since?
Bills centre Eric Wood hit on it.
“Early in his career when he was touching the ball six or seven times a game, he was putting a lot of pressure on himself to make a home run. When you’re doing that, you’re trying to really press.”
And it wasn’t working. Spiller would get frustrated, press harder, play worse, and it would spiral.
“I understand now that a two- and three-yard gain early in the game is good enough, and eventually we’ll pop one,” Spiller told me.
In head coach Chan Gailey‘s offence, Spiller lines up occasionally as a slot wide receiver, even as a wideout.
Did Gailey know he could be this dynamic?
“I would like to tell you, ‘Oh sure, I saw that,’ but it would be a lie,” Gailey said. “I did not see it happening like this.”
The phone calls from national media were already coming in after Sunday’s game. Spiller is going to be a big deal this week.
Is he ready for it?
“I think I’ll handle it well,” he said. “I understand where the blessings come from. I understand that people can praise you one day, and criticize you the next.”
There’s no reason it can’t continue. Wood said the offensive linemen know they just have to get Spiller through, or around, the defensive front seven.
“C.J. in the open space is pretty deadly, because he’s physical now and he’s got the speed to go with it …
That’s what he’s doing right now. We’re getting him to the safeties. That’s on him as a running back to make them miss, and he’s doing a heck of a job at it.”
Like the old saying goes, they can’t hit ya if they can’t catch ya.
Ask the Chiefs about that. Or Jim Brown.
CHIEFS’ HALI A CHEAP-SHOT ARTIST, BILLS LINEMEN CHARGE:
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Maybe Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali should be playing for the Charlestown Chiefs.
Ya know, of Slap Shot fame?
Because late in the first half of Kansas City’s 35-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Hali took a couple of attempt-to-injure “cheap shots,” according to two Bills offensive linemen.
The Bills were on the Chiefs’ 2-yard line with 4:21 left in the half, after another long gain by Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller.
K.C. stuffed Buffalo running back Dorin Dickerson for an eight-yard loss. That’s when Hali apparently lost his cool.
“I think I tripped or something and fell, so he thought I was trying to cut him,” Bills left guard Andy Levitre said. “And he tried to twist my neck. He took both of his arms and pinched them around my helmet and (twisted), so that got me going a little bit. So I reacted to that.
“We were talking back and forth, and on the following play he tried to come inside, and I threw him on the ground.”
That play was a touchdown, a 10-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Scott Chandler that put the Bills up 21-0. On the play Hali targeted rookie Buffalo left tackle Cordy Glenn, “trying to (twist his) arm out of the socket,” Bills centre Eric Wood said.
“We’re not going to stand for that.”
Indeed, within seconds three Bills linemen appeared to jump on Hali in defence of Glenn, as the rest of their teammates were celebrating the score. It was quite the scrum but, incredibly, no flags were thrown.
Both Levitre and Wood said several Chiefs later “started jawing off” like they did last year during the Bills’ 41-7 victory.
On Hali and the two plays in question, Wood said he went after “Andy and Cordy — guys that are performing. (The Chiefs) get ticked off. You get a team down, and like I said, they’re going to take some shots at you. That’s why we weren’t taking our foot off their throats at the end.
“It’s something I’m sure the league will review, but … that stuff rubs you pretty wrong. And going into the half we were pretty ticked off, for sure.”
“That got us fired up a little bit. As an offensive line, we’re all together. We don’t take any crap from anybody.”