Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has been patient. Since he arrived back in Buffalo he's been a proponent of making C.J. Spiller the focal point of the offense. On Sunday Spiller proved him right, and got an assist from his backfield partner in the process.
All season long due in large part to persistent injuries Spiller and Fred Jackson have been unable to be the kind of game-breaking backs they are. Coming off a well-earned bye week the pair were carrying Buffalo's offense in the way they were expected to at the start of the season.
Spiller got rolling early ripping off a 77-yard run on the team's first possession on an inside zone play, Buffalo's bread and butter run play.
"Our offensive line did a great job blocking and Stevie (Johnson) did a great job blocking and I just didn't finish the play," said Spiller. "It should've been a touchdown. It's probably the first time I've been caught like that. Those guys did a great job up front and I got up in there and saw daylight and just tried to hit it. Unfortunately I wasn't able to finish it."
Spiller was caught by Atlanta rookie CB Desmond Trufant, who ran a 4.3 40-time at last spring's NFL Combine. Buffalo was able to put the ball over the goal line and finish the drive when EJ Manuel scrambled and reached the front right pylon on a one-yard scoring run and an early touchdown lead.
Jackson soon followed on the team's next possession capping a nine-play drive with a four-yard touchdown run. While Jackson was steady, Spiller was again the explosive back who wowed fans averaging six yards a carry last season.
On Sunday Spiller averaged almost 10 yards a carry (9.9) rolling up 149 yards on just 15 rushes.
"I thought he came out well," said head coach Doug Marrone. "I think he's been working extremely hard. He goes in there and makes a big run, then he gets nicked up and starts limping a little bit, and gets himself back in there and it's kind of been that kind of season for C.J., but I think you can see he can make some big plays out there and I was happy to see him do that."
Jackson meanwhile accounted for 78 all-purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns. His biggest play came in with six minutes left in the third quarter after Atlanta had taken its first lead of the game.
One play after Kiko Alonso recovered a fumble at the Falcons 21-yard line, Jackson took a swing out to the left flat from EJ Manuel and juked a cornerback that was coming up in support and streaked to the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game at 24.
Spiller would then follow up Jackson's scoring play with his most important play of the game. After Manuel hit Robert Woods on a 33-yard pass play, that also saw Atlanta assessed a 15-yard penalty, Spiller ran a strikingly similar play to the one he took 77 yards in the first quarter. Only this time he reached the end zone.
"They were almost identical, same play," said Spiller of his 36-yard TD run. "Offensive line did a great job, the receiver blocking to the right I think it was Robert Woods. All of the sudden the safety was coming down and I cut behind those guys and made him miss and I wasn't going to be caught on that one."
The touchdown was the 12th of Spiller's career, but the fifth that was carried 35 or more yards. Perhaps it's a sign that his ankle is finally healthy allowing him to plant and drive off that left foot like he always has.
His 149-yard rushing day was the second-best of his career, as he accounted for all but 46 yards of the team's ground game. Still, the men on offense were proud to get some quality production out of their rushing attack.
"Well it's not just Fred and C.J., but also the O-line," said Spiller. "They really wanted to get the running game started for us. They did an awesome job starting up front with Eric Wood. He's our anchor down there on the line. He did an awesome job and all the other front four guys. And C.J. and Fred made some huge runs and got it going, but it wasn't enough."
Unfortunately averaging 6.3 yards per carry as a team and rolling up a total of 195 was not enough to claim victory. The small solace they take from the game is their run game is alive and well.
"We had a great day running the ball," said a subdued Spiller postgame "That was our goal coming into this game. We were going to run it. And I had said during the bye week that we were going to fix the running game and (Sunday) was a great example of that. Our guys did a great job up front blocking and we just tried to find holes and tried to take advantage of them."