After breaking three ribs in a victory over Green Bay on Nov. 5 and sitting out two games, running back Willis McGahee made a dramatic return to the lineup in last Sunday's victory over Jacksonville.
McGahee rushed 12 times for 63 yards, an average of 5.3 yards per carry, and scored on runs of 4 and 30 yards. It was McGahee's first multi-TD game since the final game of the 2004 season against Pittsburgh, and he tripled his season output.
But maybe more important were the points McGahee scored in the toughness column.
"It's something that won't heal until the season is over," McGahee said of his ribs. "My body is in shock therapy right now. I felt OK the next day after the game, but it kicked in (Tuesday)."
McGahee is practicing sparingly this week as the Bills (5-6) get set to host San Diego (9-2) and LaDainian Tomlinson, who leads the NFL in all-purpose yardage and touchdowns with 24.
A year ago, McGahee caused a stir when he declared himself the NFL's best running back. Tomlinson said he understood where McGahee was coming from.
"Any running back is supposed to think they're the best at what they do," Tomlinson said. "That's how we're built as athletes and competitors. So I definitely understand what Willis was saying. You have to think that way. He should think that way."
When asked if he were ready to concede that Tomlinson is the NFL's best back, McGahee would only say, "He's up there."
But he was impressed by Tomlinson's ability to find the end zone. Tomlinson is just five TDs from breaking Shaun Alexander's NFL single-season record of 28 set a year ago.
"He has over 21 touchdowns," McGahee said of Tomlinson. "That's hard to do in the NFL. I'm struggling to get five."
McGahee needs to average 112 yards per game over his final five games to top 1,200 yards for a second consecutive season. Tomlinson needs just 54 yards to hit that milestone for a sixth consecutive year. Only Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson has run for 1,200 yards six years in a row.
-- SS Matt Bowen, who broke his foot in training camp, saw his first action last Sunday against Jacksonville, playing special teams. If the veteran free agent continues to improve, he could see some action on regular downs backing up rookie Donte Whitner or in special packages when a bigger body is needed against double tight ends.
-- QB J.P. Losman, who has led back-to-back winning TD drives on the last possession of the game, wasn't sacked last week for the first time in his 19 career starts. Helping out the line is Losman going to more three- and five-step drops instead of seven-step drops.
-- RB Willis McGahee, who returned to the lineup last week after missing two games with three broken ribs, practiced again on a limited basis. He said his ribs will not fully heal until the season is finished and he's playing in pain, but it's tolerable with medication and extra padding.
-- TE Robert Royal now has 14 catches for 122 yards, but his 8.7-yard average isn't exactly the kind of downfield threat Buffalo wanted from the position.
-- WR Lee Evans is just 116 yards from his first 1,000-yard season.
--DE Anthony Hargrove registered his first sack with the Bills in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville. He now has 1.5 sacks on the year.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Many receivers have unfair expectations placed on them when they enter the league because of what they did in college. However, a majority of first-year receivers don't burst upon the scene and catch 80 passes. So far this season, New England fans are finding out Chad Jackson is the rule rather than the exception.
The exceptions have been players such as Terry Glenn, Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin. They were some of the few receivers who entered the NFL and immediately played like veterans. Boldin is probably the best case. He had 101 receptions for 1,377 yards in his first year, both rookie records. While some expected Jackson to make a similar impact with the Patriots, Bill Belichick points out that every player is unique and develops at his own pace.
"You can't put a timetable on young players," Belichick said. "You just can't do it. A lot of it is based on opportunity, a lot of it is based on progression, and there's no set formula for any player at any position."
Jackson was projected to go in the first round of this year's draft but slipped to the Patriots, who traded up to get him with the 36th overall selection. After picking Laurence Maroney in Round 1, many fans and media believed the Patriots came away with two players who had first-round ability.
While Maroney has made an instant impact on the Patriots offense, Jackson has been slower to catch on. The rookie suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out of all but three practices during training camp. Jackson also missed the Patriots' four preseason games, along with the season opener against Buffalo.
Heading into the Patriots' matchup with the Lions, people aren't just wondering where Jackson is, some have even gone so far as to throw the "bust" label on him just 11 games into his rookie season.
"I don't know which fans you are talking to out there, but it's probably some of the same ones that said the same thing about Ty Warren three years ago," Belichick replied in early November when asked about his thoughts about the criticism. "So, go back and see what people were saying about Ty Warren."
It's hard to compare Jackson and Warren because they play different positions, although Belichick's comments have merit when comparing Jackson's rookie numbers with those of the best receivers in the NFL today. Steve Smith (10), Plaxico Burress (22), Javon Walker (23) and even Terrell Owens (35) had less than stellar rookie seasons. That's because it takes time for a receiver to pick up an offense and build chemistry with his quarterback, where a running back can just take a handoff and use his instincts.
"You gotta prove yourself," Jackson said. "It's takes time, but I know I'm capable of making a lot of plays. I'm just waiting for my opportunity. I keep going out and working hard, working on my game, and I know good things will come."
After 12 weeks, Jackson is on pace to end up around the 20-catch mark. That's not only significantly lower than what many around New England expected, but other rookie receivers have gotten off to a much faster start. The one receiver selected ahead of him -- the Steelers' Santonio Holmes -- has 32 receptions. Meanwhile, two receivers drafted after the Patriots selected Jackson -- the Packers' Greg Jennings and the Saints' Marques Colston -- have 36 and 54 receptions, respectively. It doesn't help matters that Colston, who was taken in the seventh round by New Orleans, is one of the top candidates to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
While the Patriots wait for Jackson to emerge, the criticism of him continues to grow. The rookie isn't blind to it, he just chooses to ignore it.
"I've gotten a lot of criticism, in Sports Illustrated and the Boston papers," Jackson said. "I don't pay it no mind. I just keep my head up and keep moving forward."
There was once a guy in San Francisco who had trouble hanging on to the football early in his career. That guy's name was Jerry Rice, and he had a pedestrian 49 receptions and three touchdowns during his rookie season. While it's way too early to compare Jackson with Rice, it's also way too early to compare him to David Terrell. However, Jackson had better start seeing more action sooner than later because the criticism will continue to mount until the young receiver gets it done on the football field week in and week out.
-- OT Ryan O'Callaghan (neck), S Eugene Wilson (hamstring) and S Rodney Harrison (shoulder blade) were the players not present for the media-access portion of Thursday's practice. Harrison is out for Sunday, while O'Callaghan and Wilson remain questionable.
-- Practice squad WR Bam Childress wore a black jersey Thursday, meaning he was named the practice player of the week.
-- WR Chad Jackson (groin) showed up on the Patriots' injury report Thursday. He's listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
NEW YORK JETS
No, he isn't the player he once was, but you won't hear the Jets saying anything this week about how Brett Favre has slowed down, not with the Jets' first visit to Lambeau Field since 2000 coming up Sunday.
"Brett Favre is one of the best ever," strong safety Kerry Rhodes said. "He's started 232 (consecutive) games. That's a lot for any player, in any position. He's great. He can make all the throws. He's still running around, making plays. The last couple of games, he's been able to run around, make plays and outrun defenders, so he still looks like the old Brett Favre to me."
But Rhodes, who could bring some blitzes Favre's way, also said, "He can make every throw, and he's going to throw some up and make some big plays. Hopefully he will give us a chance (to make a big play); if he doesn't we'll try to make plays anyway."
Favre is having a better season than he did in 2005, when he threw 29 interceptions and only 20 touchdown passes, but he only has 14 touchdown passes to go with 10 interceptions. His gunslinger ways sometimes betray him these days, as he still tries to fit passes into tight spaces, but he doesn't quite have the same velocity that he used to.
He displayed that in a 34-24 Monday night loss to Seattle this week in which he threw three picks, two of them in the second half, after a driving snowstorm had stopped. He could have had a fourth interception, but Seattle linebacker Julian Peterson dropped a sure pick late in the game.
Favre also is playing through some pain, as usual, as he has a sore nerve in his throwing elbow. Of course he'll start Sunday. And the Jets know they have to be careful, because Favre still can make big plays for his own team, too.
"He throws a fastball, and he gets it into tight spots," Rhodes said, "so we have to be sound with coverage and get a read on where he's going to go."
"His interceptions are down compared to where they were last year," coach Eric Mangini said. "He has supreme confidence in his ability, and with good reason. He completes a lot of tough passes to really difficult spaces. He's able to make plays with his feet in terms of buying time and allowing the receivers to get open. He's won a lot of games throwing the ball to multiple receivers.
"I don't know how many other quarterbacks have come and gone (with other teams) since he's been in Green Bay, but it's been quite a few. He's impressive."
-- DE/OLB Bryan Thomas (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis Thursday and is listed as questionable. Thomas had a career-high two sacks against Houston.
-- CB Andre Dyson (neck) is practicing full and is probable for the Green Bay game.
-- RB Derrick Blaylock has been inactive for the past five games and hasn't had a touch since the game against New England on Sept. 17. He obviously won't figure in the Jets' plans for next season.
-- FB B.J. Askew (foot) is listed as questionable, and he didn't practice full Thursday. Askew, who has been inactive the past two games, apparently has lost his starting job to James Hodgins.
-- DB Guss Scott was waived this week after being claimed off waivers from the Texans last week. The move obviously was made so that the Jets could glean some knowledge about Houston's schemes from him.