Jackson leading Bills to respectability

Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson moves the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles in the...

Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson moves the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second quarter of their NFL football game in Orchard Park, New York October 9, 2011. (REUTERS/Doug Benz)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:05 PM ET

Until Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson gets a sniff of a playoff game, you best hold the comparisons to one of the franchise greats.

But the more Jackson drives the team’s offence, the more the temptation will grow to link him to Thurman Thomas.

Besides being a star in the Bills’ Super Bowl years, Thomas is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame now and Jackson is just a few seasons removed from going nowhere in arena football, so no need to get carried away.

But the undrafted, once unloved dual threat is right at the top of the list of reasons responsible for the Bills impressive 4-1 start this season.

And if Jackson can have a big game against the New York Giants this afternoon at MetLife Stadium and help get his Bills to 5-1, look out.

Thomas is as taken as any with the emergence of Jackson and understands completely the love he’s getting from the three sellout crowds at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

And his story is as good as his success.

Undrafted out of tiny Division III Coe College, at age 30, Jackson is late to a starring role. Much of his 20s he spent bouncing around various football parts unknown in Arena Football and NFL Europe until fellow Coe alum, Marv Levy, invited him to try out for the Bills in 2006.

Jackson’s role gradually expanded and in Week 12 of the 2009 season he took over the starter’s spot from Marshawn Lynch.

“People should be kicking themselves in the butt right now and saying, ‘Why didn’t we take a chance on this guy,’” Thomas told ESPN.com recently.

“He’s just an outstanding leader for the Buffalo Bills. He fits the Buffalo area as far as being a blue-collar guy. He’s a perfect example of what hard work and heart will get you.”

That heart is a big reason why Bills fans rose to their feet through much of the second half in last Sunday’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles, serenading Jackson with a “Freddie, Freddie, Freddie” chant.

Through five games, Jackson is third in the NFL in combined yardages (712) behind only Matt Forte of the Bears (785) and Wes Welker of the Patriots (740). He can run it and he can catch it and more and more the Bills offence seems to go through him.

“Fred means a lot to us, I think everybody kind of sees that now,” Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said this past week. “He’s our guy. When he gets the ball in his hand, he’s going to do something special with it.

“Whether it’s making a few guys miss, breaking tackles and having a three-yard run, it’s something that gets us all fired up.”

Fitzpatrick has done his part, too, and the fact that the Bills offence is so versatile has helped make room for Jackson. But with a banged-up receiving corps and the weather starting to turn, the ground game will be instrumental in the Bills continuing as playoff contenders.

Opposing defences figure to focus on Jackson as his impact continues, but that’s easier said than done with the different looks the Bills have been using and the danger factor of Jackson once he gets momentum.

“Half of his yards are after first contact,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team has been vulnerable against the run in recent weeks. “You have to tackle.”

There are impressive numbers that stand out with the Bills beyond Jackson, some of which may be difficult to sustain. The league-leading plus-11 differential in turnovers and the 100% red zone efficiency (15 touchdowns, five field goals in 20 trips inside the opponent’s 20) are just two of them.

At some point, the team will need to tighten up on defence because while those turnovers have been fabulous, they are masking the fact that opponents have averaged 420 yards of net offence.

But if Jackson continues to be such a challenge to slow down, the idea of the Bills as playoff contenders will get more serious by the week.


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