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Leo Roth: Buffalo Bills' C.J. Spiller shines in spotlight

3:33 AM, Nov 16, 2012   |    comments
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle)- C.J. Spiller was one of the most well-known players in college football during his playing days at Clemson.

Then he entered the Witness Protection Program. He got drafted by the Buffalo Bills.

Spiller is the best kept secret in the NFL, one, because the Bills make him share carries and catches with Fred Jackson, and two, because the Bills almost never play during prime time when the undivided attention of Football Nation is focused on just one game.

Well, all that changed Thursday night under the bright lights of Ralph Wilson Stadium when the Bills hosted the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football.

When Spiller actually broke a sweat and held a coming out party for America with 22 carries for 91 yards and three catches for another 39, helping lift the Bills over the Dolphins 19-14 on a chilly fall night that had the NFL Network crew bundled up like it was Siberia.

What a delightful sight that was.

Bills kicker Rian Lindell converted four field goals as the Bills continued to perfect their strength - the inability to finish drives. If football fans outside Buffalo didn't know who Lindell was, they do now.

But they also know who C.J. Spiller is.

Jackson, who suffered a concussion on Sunday in a loss at New England, was out of the lineup, elevating Spiller to the starting job. Still, I wasn't 100 percent sure Spiller would finally get those 20-plus carries we have all been yearning to see him get.

That's because to coach Chan Gailey, tailback isn't a player, it's a position.

Whether it's Jackson, Spiller, third-stringer Tashard Choice or a guy he pulls out of the Big Tree Inn down Abbott Road, he loves to spread the workload. To him, it's at minimum a two-person job. Unfortunately during this maddening season, Gailey's not-so-golden touch has turned Jackson and Spiller, his Batman and Robin, into a production too often suited for Beavis and Butt-head.

Entering the Dolphins game, Spiller was leading the NFL with a mind-blowing 7.3 yards-per-carry average, 3.3 more yards per carry than Jackson. Spiller had 12 more carries but only because Jackson missed two games with a sprained knee.

Giving Choice a shared workload with Spiller against Miami most definitely would have been the wrong choice and to Gailey's credit, that did not happen.

Oh, there was still too much Choice for our liking.

Like Choice on a wildcat play; Choice used in the red zone; Choice used on key third downs. Like Spiller gaining 21 yards on three carries (7.0 average) to open the second half, then going into mothballs for a long stretch.

In general, the Bills won in spite of Gailey's play calling, like the empty backfield, third-and-inches pass that was incomplete. Like settling for four first-half field goals that made this game much closer than it needed to be.

In the end, necessity was the mother of invention.

It helped that the game started out with Buffalo hitting the Staples button and saying, "That was easy," the result of a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown by Leodis McKelvin for a quick 7-0 lead.

And it helped that Buffalo's defense played like one of the better units in the NFL, not one of the worst, at least for a night. The defense sealed the victory with interceptions of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill by Jairus Byrd and Bryan Scott in the closing minutes.

But when Buffalo's offense needed something positive to happen, Spiller delivered as only he can. Running. Cutting. Spinning. Stopping on a dime and leaving change. He had one of the best 2-yard losses you'll ever see, making two players miss as he sped to the sideline where he flattened a defender with a stiff arm.

NFL Network even put together a nice package of C.J. highlights.

With 8:20 left and the Bills clinging to a five-point lead, the offense sputtered. Needing first downs, Spiller got three carries and produced just three yards, losing four on one run. Byrd came to the rescue then.

And inside of two minutes, Spiller was stuffed on a third-and-two play for no gain. Scott came to the rescue that time.

But when the smoke cleared from the fireworks, and the Bills showed they still had a pulse in the AFC East with a 4-6 record, Thriller Spiller had a night he could feel good about.

And so did his team.

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