Lost amid the hubbub over Matt McGloin’s performance in his first NFL start Sunday against the Houston Texans is the job being done by Oakland Raiders backup running back Rashad Jennings as he fills in for the injured Darren McFadden.
Jennings made his third start of the season Sunday and made it count—150 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in the Raiders’ 28-23 win that kept them within shouting distance of an AFC wild-card berth.
It was Jennings’ second 100-yard game in three weeks—he ran for 102 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 3, the game in which McFadden suffered his most recent injury—and in the last three games has 340 yards and two scores on 57 carries as well as 11 receptions for 91 yards.
Despite having five fewer carries than McFadden this season, Jennings has outgained him by more than 100 yards—480 to 352.
Injured quarterback Terrelle Pryor is the Raiders’ rushing leader this season with 502 yards.
Jennings is averaging 5.2 yards a carry to just 3.6 for McFadden, who has never played more than 13 games in any of his six NFL seasons, although he did top the 1,000-yard mark in 2010 when he piled up 1,157 yards on 223 carries for the Raiders.
But McFadden—the fourth-overall pick by Oakland in the 2008 draft—has not had the same explosiveness since returning from a foot injury that kept him out the final nine games of the 2011 season.
In 20 games in 2010-11, McFadden averaged 5.3 yards per carry. In 2012-13, that number is down to 3.4.
It’s no secret that running backs can age quickly, but McFadden is still only 26 years old and has fewer than 900 career carries. It could just be that the guy can’t stay healthy and the cumulative effect of those injuries is adding up.
Jennings, 28, is in his first year with the Raiders after spending the last four years backing up Maurice Jones-Drew with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
His 480 yards this season is already a career-high, he had 459 yards and four touchdowns for the Jags in 2010 and last year started six games, but managed just 283 yards on 2.8 yards a carry behind a Jacksonville offensive line that was disaster-declaration bad.
Jennings’ big play on Sunday was an 80-yard touchdown scamper during which he simply ran over Houston safety D.J. Swearinger and then ran away from everyone else.
Jennings doesn’t care whether he’s the No. 1 back or not.
“I got rid of that mentality my second year,” Jennings told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Being behind Maurice, you learn patience and when to hit things, and you never think about, ‘Are you the guy?’ That’s irrelevant. When you’re in, your job is to do your job.”
He did that, and then some, on Sunday and might end up being “the guy” whether he wants to be or not.