The Bills uncovered a modern marvel in Jackson. So many teams hunt — usually without luck — for diamonds in the rough. In Canada, in Europe, in jail (cough, Vick, cough), wherever talent may be hidden. And for most of this decade, Buffalo's search has been fruitless.
Until now. In Jackson, the silky smooth yet punishing finisher from tiny Coe College, the Bills found their identity. It took two years and a bonehead suspension from Marshawn Lynch. But after Sunday's commanding 33-20 win over Tampa Bay, it's obvious.
Suspension or no suspension, Fred Jackson is the No. 1 back. Marshawn Lynch is the No. 2. Dominic Rhodes is, uhh, cut. Enough said. Yes, Buffalo's 1-2 punch should work in conjunction together somehow. Jackson and Lynch could potentially form one of the league's best duos. Some mash. Some dash. Their blend of talents will directly increase the sale of Nyquil in Miami, New England and East Rutherford. Plenty of sleepless nights are on tap for defensive coordinators.
But if the Bills shelter Jackson, they're crazy. Depriving Jackson of touches is like keeping a Corvette locked in the garage all summer. Pointless. You have to flaunt something like this. Jackson is a one-man wrecking crew this team has lacked all decade — a dynamic, by-air-or-by-ground weapon out of the backfield. Against a better-than-you-think Tampa Bay run defense, Jackson rushed for 163 yards on 28 pounding carries.
In other words, one loud "shove it" to everyone who still considers him nothing but a handy change-of-pace back. Please. That overused term is an insult now. Jackson proved over and over again Sunday that he deserves to be the heartbeat of this offense.
To some, this may be a revelation. It's not.
"We've know that about Fred since he's been here," wide receiver Lee Evans said. "Now he's getting the opportunity to show it. He's been running hard, getting a lot of yards after contact and you can never count him down. He's always going and really carried the load for our offense today."
His running style adapts to any situation. Whereas Lynch has the tendency to beast-mode himself into a cloud of dust, making plays far more difficult than they need to be, Jackson runs with no-nonsense authority. There's no wasted motion. At times, he used a subtle shoulder lean to freeze a Bucs defender. Other times, he gained the edge and glided up the sideline finishing runs with a lower-shoulder kaboom.
Through it all, Jackson pounded away at the Buccaneers' defense for four quarters. He was one very long piece of duct tape on the Buccaneers' hairy back, slowly and painfully ripping away.
All offseason, Buffalo's brass scrambled for a free agent running back. With bigger, more glaring needs elsewhere, running back suddenly became a priority after Lynch's arrect.
Petrified of life without their former first-round pick, the Bills gave numerous backs tours through The Ralph. DeShaun Foster, Kevin Jones, Rhodes, etc. Looks silly now. The Bills had a clear-cut No. 1 all along. They just needed to pay him and play him. Critics pointed to Jackson's yards per carry as a tainted stat, an aberration. Sure he averaged five yards a carry, they said, but it came on delays, draws, counters, any and every type of run the defense wasn't expecting.
So much for that dumb logic. Jackson dominated with seven and eight defenders in the box Sunday. He dominated on basic runs. He dominated on creative runs.
Oh yeah, he's also Trent Edwards' most trusted receiver. In two games, Jackson has 11 receptions 108 yards and a touchdown. And oh yeah, he's the reason for Lee Evans and Terrell Owens touchdown heaves. Both were playaction fakes to Jackson. Not to mention the bomb that T.O. dropped on playaction. All of it, Jackson manufactured.
Heading into this season, everybody thought Owens would be the one creating a catalytic effect throughout the whole offense. Wrong. It's Jackson. In two weeks, Fred Jackson has become the eye Buffalo's offensive storm. Everything flows through him. He's the one making everybody's life easier.
Why on earth would you ever keep him on the sideline?
I'll admit it. Lynch's off-field malaise still hovers in the back of my head here as some readers have pointed out in emails. Guilty as charged. You got me. But such annual hooliganism should account for something, should play into the picture. Too often in our society, past sins are ignored. Call it the Michael Jackson treatment. My gosh, a pedophile was treated like Martin Luther King Jr. at his memorial service. That's just wrong.
Lynch hits another human being with his vehicle (on a bar strip), gets away with it and then is caught with a gun one year later? Buffalo should be in absolutely no rush to get him back onto the field. Let the punishment linger. Make Lynch earn his way back. Jackson's production makes this an easy decision. He's a good person and a great football player.
And now, he has given the Bills no choice. Stripping Jackson of his No. 1 job would be grounds for Dick Jauron's dismissal. Buffalo's maligned head coach has one of the single-best weapons in the AFC. It's time to green-light Jackson as the unquestioned starting running back.
He's waited for this opportunity for two years. Now it's Lynch's turn to take a seat.
Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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