By Jay Skurski
CLEVELAND -- As it was when C.J. Spiller stepped in for Fred Jackson in the season opener, the Bills stuck by their motto of “next guy up.” Today, that was Tashard Choice.
The Bills' third-string running back ripped off chunks of yardage in the second half in particular, the biggest of which was a 22-yard gain to start the Bills’ final touchdown drive.
“When I saw C.J. go down I knew I had to step up and be ready to go. That’s just how the game is, especially at our position,” Choice said. “… It was good to get a rhythm, good to get a chance to help my team out that way running the football.”
The Bills were noticeably shaken by Spiller's injury, which came in the first quarter.
"It hurt us a little bit, and we probably have to react a little bit better to that situation," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "It took a little bit out of us."
Choice, though, was able to help get some of that momentum back. Later on that final touchdown drive, he converted a first down in the red zone.
"It was a heck of a job by Tashard to step in there and do what he did today," Fitzpatrick said. "He ran really hard. He had some really tough yards today."
Choice’s production may have surprised some, but not coach Chan Gailey.
“I think we all knew what he brought to our football team. Nobody else did because we’ve got two marquee guys,” said Gailey, who was Choice’s college coach at Georgia Tech. “It’s great to have a guy like that on your football team that can go in and play the way he played.”
The Bills have a chance at getting Jackson back from his knee injury for Sunday’s home game against the New England Patriots, but have confidence in Choice to do the job if they don’t.
“We know Tashard’s capable of coming in. And if you didn’t know, he’ll tell you so,” tight end Scott Chandler said.
“I know he wore on some people during training camp, especially on defense. I don’t think he could talk any more than he already does. But that’s him and we have a lot of confidence in him as a player,” center Eric Wood said.
The excitable 5-foot-10 running back is familiar with the role of third-string running back, having served behind Felix Jones Marion Barber while with the Dallas Cowboys.
“Been here before, ain’t my first rodeo,” he matter-of-factly said about stepping into the lineup. “That’s something you gotta do. You take pride in that. You don’t want to be the player they say, ‘oh he ain’t good enough. The offense is stumbling because they don’t have anybody to keep producing at that position.’ That running back position, especially on this team, you gotta produce. That’s one thing our coach emphasizes.”
The Bills make sure to give their third running back some carries during the practice week, in case of a situation like Sunday. Fourth-string running back Johnny White even got a pair of carries, which he turned into 15 yards.
“It’s bad because you know how explosive he is, but then again we got other players on the team to help him out while he’s off the field,” Choice said of the injury to Spiller. “We’ve got to have 11 guys working on offense to be good.”
Choice’s 91 yards were the most he’s had since his only career 100-yard game, which came in a 38-35 overtime victory for the Cowboys on Dec. 5, 2010.
“Since I’ve been playing football, it’s always been a case of: ‘You get a chance, you’ve got to make the most of your opportunities,’ ” he said. “We got to keep stacking them [wins] up. We’re going to enjoy this one for 24 [hours], but we gotta make sure we come out and get ready for a big one at home. I can’t wait.”