As much as Fitzpatrick has done to seal Buffalo’s two stunning comebacks, they’ve all been sparked by coach Chan Gailey’s willingness to stick with the run, and Jackson has delivered.
Jackson ignited a second-half rally against the Oakland Raiders that erased a 21-point deficit with a nifty 43-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter in Week 2, and his 1-yard scoring plunge in the fourth quarter against New England tied the game at 24.
“That’s what’s gotten us going, just in terms of Fred having those big runs,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s been important to us — not giving up on it, staying with it, getting some of those plus-10, plus-15 yard runs, that have really sparked our offense.”
After two weeks, Jackson led the league in rushing after a 112-yard day in Week 1 against Kansas City and a 117-yard performance against the Raiders. He ranks fourth in the NFL with 303 yards on 47 carries and three touchdowns, and his 6.4 yards-per-attempt is tied for the league-high with Oakland’s Darren McFadden.
Combine those numbers with Fitzpatrick averaging 280 yards passing per game, and suddenly the Bills offensive line doesn’t look as thin and inexperienced any longer.
“They’re doing a great job,” Jackson said about his teammates up front. “They’re doing a great job picking up blitzes, keeping Fitz up on his feet, opening up holes for C.J. (Spiller) and myself. As long as they continue to play well, we think we’ll continue to play well as an offense. Play in and play out we don’t have to worry about, ‘Are they going to get it right this time, are they going to get it right the next time?'”
Jackson’s hot hand has put on hold Gailey’s plan of utilizing Spiller more. The team’s top pick last year, Spiller has carried the ball just 10 times.
“He’s believed in me,” Jackson said about Gailey. “I think as long as he continues to believe in me, I’ll continue to try to make plays for him.”
That belief has given Gailey the luxury of not abandoning the ground game no matter what the deficit.
“It’s really important,” guard Andy Levitre said. “If you get a team thinking you’re just going to be throwing the ball all the time, and you can be successful with some run plays, you can get some big plays in there. I think we’ve had a few big plays like that this year so far.”
Jackson’s unique blend of finesse, power and strength makes tackling him a chore, and his uncanny ability to turn his body sideways when taking on a hit in the open field allows him to slip away from trouble.
“He never takes flush hits,” offensive coordinator/running backs coach Curtis Modkins said. “He’s a long back, but he’s able to give a defender only about a quarter of his body to hit.”
Jackson’s also adept at doing the other, blue-collar things that enamors him to Fitzpatrick.
“He’s awesome,” Fitzpatrick said. “My favorite football player I’ve ever played with. You see all the stuff that he does in terms of running the ball and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, but he’s also probably the best running back in the league in terms of picking up blitzes.
“He is a complete back.”
With 217 more yards, Jackson will move into fourth place on the all-time list for most rushing yards by an undrafted player, and his streak of appearing in 58 straight games at running back is the third-longest in the league among active NFL backs.
But even with his team’s unblemished 3-0 mark, Jackson’s thoughts are on matching the team’s four-win total from last year.
“It’s just three weeks,” he said. “We had more wins last year than where we’re at right now, and that’s kind of how we’re approaching it. We’ve gotten off to a great start, no doubt, but we have a lot of work that we can still look at and see where we can improve as an offense even with the stats we’re putting up now.”