Turn on ESPN, dial in to a national sports talk radio show or engage any fan outside Packer Nation on the subject of the best running backs in the NFL and you'll likely hear the same list of names. Priest Holmes, Jamal Lewis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Stephen Davis, maybe Deuce McAllister, or even Clinton Portis. Whose name don't you hear? That would be Green Bay's Ahman Green.
Somehow, on the way to the best season of his career, Green has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL – no respect. All Green has done is lead the league in total yards from scrimmage with 1,152 through eight games, rank second overall with 11 touchdowns and tie for third in rushing with 871 yards.
Not only should Green be the first or second name on the lips of football fans discussing the creme of the NFL's running back crop, but his name belongs in any mid-season conversation about potential league MVP's. Well on his way to a fourth consecutive 1,000 yard season, the two-time Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro passed the 5,000 career yard mark late in last Sunday's game and should be part of the collective sports consciousness by now. Yet, he garners barely a mention on the national scene.
Maybe it's his five fumbles, or the timing of said fumbles or the fact that Green Bay is only 4-4 at the halfway mark of the season. There's no denying Green would like to have some of those lost balls back – particularly the one that popped out of his grasp in overtime against Kansas City. The Packers would certainly like to have a better record than they currently do, but Tomlinson's Chargers are 1-7 and McAllister's Saints are 4-5, so what gives?
Green's 35 yards on 20 carries in St. Louis didn't help, but Tomlinson has had two sub-40 yard rushing performances this season, McAllister had an eight-yard stinker against Tennessee while Davis had just 20 against them. And despite his struggles against the Rams, Green is still on pace to shatter Jim Taylor's franchise record of 19 touchdowns and 1,474 yards. He's been called ‘Priest-Lite' by some of TV's talking heads but with the numbers he's putting up, Green could be ‘Priest Extra-Stout' by seasons' end.
It could be because as long as quarterback Brett Favre is pulling on his No. 4 jersey, the sporting world still considers the Packers his team. That's actually true. Still, Green has the chance to become to Favre what Terrell Davis was to John Elway later in his career. Aside from the gaudy rushing totals, Green also is Favre's leading receiver. Has been three of the past four seasons. But while Favre remains the heart and soul of the organization, Green is, at the very least, the adrenaline pumping through the offense. That much was evident Sunday night when Green Bay saved its season with a 30-27 victory over division arch-rival Minnesota in the unfriendly confines of the Metrodome.
Running with a blend of speed, power and grace, Green was equal parts bulldozer and ballerina, rolling up 137 yards on 21 carries and adding 52 yards and a touchdown on five receptions. He had 95 yards rushing by halftime.
"We had some plays where I could take even more advantage of cutting back," Green said. "Maybe what we were doing confused them a little bit, but we just went out and ran the plan."
Throughout the season, Green has had a number of jaw-dropping plays, but none matched the last play of the third quarter at Minnesota. Taking the ball at Green Bay's 46 and heading right, he was met in the backfield by linebacker Chris Claiborne. In what appeared to be a tackle for a loss, Green busted out a ‘Matrix'-like move and left Claiborne gasping a Keanu-esque ‘Whoaaa' as he spun away from the tackle, put his hand down on the ground, popped back up and took off to his left. On his way to a 17-yard gain, he picked up a key block from none other than the broken-thumbed Favre, who took out both defensive back Denard Walker and teammate Robert Ferguson on the play. Green's run set up a touchdown pass from Favre to Javon Walker that put the Packers up 27-20.
"I'm not going down that easily," Green said. "If you watch (Walter) Payton, sometimes he's down, but other times you have to give extra effort. On that play, if he got me down, he got me down. But I was able to spin out of it."
If ever a play was reminiscent of the late, great Bears back, that one was it, and in typical Payton fashion, Green finished it off with a shoulder to the sternum of the Vikings' Corey Chavous rather than heading out of bounds. Before every game, Green watches ‘Pure Payton' a highlight video of his football idol. Sans the mustache and the trademark Kangaroos on his feet, he's done an admirable job impersonating ‘Sweetness.'
As beautiful as that play was, it wasn't what Head Coach/GM Mike Sherman had been preaching. Sherman guaranteed he would get Green's fumbling fixed after the loss in St. Louis and the obvious solution seemed to be telling Green to cover the ball up when he's hit and go down, rather than struggling for extra yards. But that's easier said than done and there's a chance that fans may have to grin and bear Green's fumbles the same way they do with Favre's interceptions.
Eventually, every back will fumble. But few will ever do the kinds of things Green does when he hangs on to the ball. It's time everyone took notice.
W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and a longtime contributor to the Packer Report. Check out his weekly Hot Read column every Thursday.