With Fred Jackson on season-ending injured reserve with a knee sprain, C.J. Spiller inherits the team's undisputed role as No. 1 running back for the final three games of the year.
Critics of coach Chan Gailey's rotation system that has seen Spiller, easily Buffalo's most dangerous offensive weapon, average just 11 carries per game welcome the development. That's not a knock on Jackson, a powerful runner/receiver who provides the Bills with great leadership and production. It's just that nobody is quite like Spiller, who is averaging 6.55 yards per carry, more than a guy named O.J. Simpson averaged during his historic 2,003-yard season of 1973.
When Jackson has been sidelined in the past by injuries, Gailey didn't necessarily just give the ball to Spiller, instead giving valuable carries to journeyman third-stringer Tashard Choice. So what will be different this time as the Bills (5-8) get set to host Seattle (8-5) on Sunday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto?
"You would always like for players to get it more and it just ended up not working out that way (with Spiller)," Gailey said. "(But) we are going to get the opportunity here in the next few weeks for him to get it a lot. We will not have what I term two 'great' backs. I think Tashard (Choice) is a very good back, but to me, he is not in Fred's category. There will not be a lot of sharing of duties. C.J. will have to take a big part of the load now."
Spiller received just seven carries and eight touches overall out of 58 offensive plays in last week's 15-12 loss to St. Louis. There have been long stretches of games where Spiller hasn't been on the field -- like 11 minutes during a loss at Indianapolis. He rarely is used in the red zone where his ability to get to the edge would be very effective.
Gailey's only explanation is that it wasn't Spiller's turn in the rotation with Jackson or that he was "winded" after making a long run or long catch. Spiller has been put on the defensive about the insinuation that he's out of shape.
"I'm not going to get into a battle with my head coach whether I'm winded," Spiller told reporters. "I'm in shape; if I wasn't in shape then I shouldn't be on the field. I'm in shape and I'm going to leave it at that. I'll sit down with coach and get a better understanding."
Spiller -- any player for that matter -- has the leeway to "tap" himself out of the game if he feels he needs a blow. Spiller ripped off two 13-yard runs in a span of three snaps against the Rams to open the second half and then wasn't seen in that drive again as Buffalo drove 75 yards in nine plays to a touchdown. Spiller, who had just one carry in the fourth quarter against St. Louis when three Bills' drives stalled, said the only time he actually asked to come out of the game was the first quarter after a screen pass picked up 15 yards.
He said he could run 13 yards "waking up out of my sleep."
"I can't control how many times I touch the ball," Spiller said. "Of course I want to touch it more but there's no need to sit around and mope and groan. That's high school. That's childish."
Spiller has 144 carries for 944 yards and can top the 1,000-yard mark against Seattle, which features the NFL's No. 3 defense. Jackson had 115 carries for 437 yards. Together, their combined 259 carries for 1,381 yards and eight TDs are just about what ex-teammate Marshawn Lynch has all by himself for Seattle -- 261 carries, 1,206 yards, nine touchdowns.
Until he got to Buffalo, Gailey had been a fan of a one-back system but after the Bills drafted Spiller first overall in 2010, he had three solid backs to consider: Spiller, Jackson and Lynch.
Lynch was traded and a rotation system was devised for Spiller and Jackson this year.
"Last year when C.J. got a chance to play (after Jackson broke his leg) and showed how explosive he was, we came into this season saying, 'We have got two great backs. Let's use them both. Let's let them both get carries,'" Gailey explained. "That way we may not wear one down and we may keep them for the whole year -- which did not work out. That was the plan."
Even with two good backs, Gailey has shied from setting a tone with his running game, shying away from eight-men-in-the-box alignments. He said his team has the ability to get physical in the run game but each game is different.
"Sometimes you can get in some formations that say 'Hey, we do not care. We are going to run the football,'" he said. "We do that from time to time, but we have been a more productive offense spreading people out and taking what they give us than we have lining up and trying to play smash mouth for the entire ball game."