The one that Green Bay Packers fans and most of the media seemingly got after April's draft.
The one that said Starks wasn't making the team.
Lump in the former unsung hero of the 2010 postseason with the likes of running backs Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant — two other veterans from last year's squad who surely were on their way out after Green Bay selected Alabama's Eddie Lacy and UCLA's Jonathan Franklin in the second and fourth rounds. There was no way that Starks — who missed 13 games in the two seasons following the Super Bowl XLV championship — would hang around. DuJuan Harris? Sure. Alex Green? Maybe. But Starks? Nope. Wasn't happening.
Clearly, no one had told Starks, who practiced hard all summer, stayed out of the training room and made the team after Harris went on injured reserve with a knee injury, Franklin underwhelmed during training camp and Green ended up getting pink-slipped on the final cutdown. Suddenly, the hard-running Starks was knock-on-wood-healthy and backing up Lacy, the designated future of a yet-to-be revitalized running game.
But in the NFL, opportunity knocks when the player ahead of you gets knocked out of the game. So, when Lacy left with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit from Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather on the sixth play of the game, Starks entered the home opener and answered with a performance not seen out of a Packers back in nearly three years.
Starks ran around, over and through Washington's defense for a career-high 132 yards on 20 carries, including a 32-yard touchdown to help Green Bay to a 38-20 victory that included a career day from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 480 yards and four touchdowns.
"They kept me around," Starks said with a smile, sweat running down his face under the glare of television cameras. "They could've traded me or something like that. I'm still here. Coach gave me another opportunity and I'm happy that I am here. This is my family and I enjoy being here and I'm glad he gave me another shot."
Starks challeges Doughty in the open field. Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
The last time a Green Bay runner had a 100-yard game during the regular season was on Oct. 10, 2010, when Brandon Jackson ran for 115 yards, including a 71-yard score, in a 16-13 overtime loss at Washington. That 44-game draught is actually a little less if you count Starks' 123-yard steamrolling of Philadelphia during a Jan. 9, 2011, playoff victory. But either way, this performance had been a long time coming for the team, and Starks.
"I think in training camp, he was definitely on the bubble, but he kept a really good attitude and that's impressive to the guys," Rodgers said. "I'm not sure if that was the deciding factor or if it was the upside we saw in him or the run he had in 2010 when he played so well. But James is a guy who's gotten better every year. And this is the kind of performance we can see every week in practice, making these kinds of runs. He finishes hard. He's a big back with a lot of strength, as you saw on the run on the sidelines. I'm just really happy for him."
That run down the Packers' sideline by Starks went for 20 yards and was a key play on the drive, along with a 27-yard catch by James Jones that helped put the Packers ahead 17-0. Starks' run ironically put an end to Meriweather's day, who led with his helmet again in knocking the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Starks out of bounds but left the field with a concussion of his own. Starks, meanwhile, was just finding his groove, finishing with 91 total yards at halftime, including 36 through the air.
"I told him after he had a couple long runs and had that big collision on the sideline that when he runs like that, when he runs with that confidence and is breaking tackles and getting north and south — not thinking too much, just running the ball — that he's a tough runner to bring down," guard T.J. Lang said. "So, I'm really happy to see him step up and take advantage of Eddie going down and have a huge day for us.
"As an offensive lineman, you want to take pride when those runs get called and we did that today. James did a great job of finding open holes and getting some positive yards and making guys miss. It's been a long time since we've celebrated a 100-yard rusher. It definitely feels good. When you're an offensive lineman, you get sick of people talking about how we can't be effective running the ball, so it was good to show that today."
Starks had seven runs of 9 yards or more, including his 32-yard score in which he flashed the mix of balance and burst that tantalized fans during his rookie year. After a 37-yard Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson strike gave the Packers a first down at the Washington 32, Starks shot through the left side of the line behind a lead block from tight end Andrew Quarless on linebacker Perry Riley Jr. and left guard Josh Sitton's push of left end Stephen Bowen to the outside. Hopping over the dive of Meriweather's backup, Reed Doughty, at the 22, Starks had only green between him and the end zone, pushing away the arm tackle of cornerback Josh Wilson at the goal line.
"There were a couple times I couldn't get past that safety" Starks said. "I felt like I was one hit, one broken tackle away from a touchdown and then I was finally able to make him miss and take it the distance. It felt good."
It should. And it could again next week, depending on if Lacy is cleared to play.
"I'm going to go out there and work hard and I'm sure (McCarthy) will put us in a great position to win," Starks said, evading any hint of a controversy like it was wearing white jersey. "It's a team effort and everybody is on board with it. Everybody wants more touches, but it's up to the coach."
Lacy is still the running back of the future. But Starks is the running back of the present. And that looked better than anything Packers fans have seen since the last time Starks ran for a 100 yards.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.