METAIRIE, La. (AP) — C.J. Spiller's 80-yard touchdown catch that beat Dallas in overtime earlier this season was supposed to be his breakout moment with the New Orleans Saints.
It hasn't worked out that way.
Spiller, a free agent acquisition from the Buffalo Bills, touched the ball just three times in New Orleans' 34-28 overtime loss to Tennessee on Sunday. Even though backup running back Khiry Robinson is sidelined for the season by a knee injury, the Saints stuck with starter Mark Ingram almost all the way.
"I haven't gone up there (to the coaches) and asked for an explanation," Spiller said. "Obviously there has to be a reason behind it, but that's for other people to answer. I feel good. Obviously you want to go out there and play more, but I was more ticked off that we lost playing at home."
Spiller was not healthy earlier in the year, missing the entire preseason and the first week of the regular season after having arthroscopic knee surgery in training camp. He started slowly when he returned, gaining 21 yards on six carries and making seven catches for 60 yards through three games right up until the start of overtime against the Cowboys.
On the second play, he caught a pass near the sideline and was off on an 80-yard TD to give the Saints their first victory of the year.
But his role has been limited since then. More than halfway through the season, he has 22 carries for 86 yards (3.9) average and 24 catches for 198 yards. His longest run is for 11 yards.
The low point came Sunday against Tennessee. He played six downs.
"When we had the multiple running backs (Ingram, Robinson and Spiller), sometimes the challenge by game was getting him carries," coach Sean Payton said. "In (the Titans) game specifically, there was quite a bit of pressure (on quarterback Drew Brees). Mark's typically been our protecting back."
No one expected Spiller to approach his career-best season of 2012, when he rushed for 1,244 yards and caught 56 passes for another 459 yards with the Bills. His role was supposed to be as a third-down back like Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles before him.
Spiller's impact has been negligible. Ingram, with a team-high 584 rushing yards, also has outpaced Spiller as a receiver with 37 catches for 316 yards.
"It's really nothing" Spiller is doing wrong, Brees said. "Mark is our feature back. He's earned that right, and he's a complete back, so he's going to be out there a lot."
At Buffalo, Spiller's role shrank when Doug Marrone replaced Chan Gailey after 2012, but he still gained 933 yards in 2013 before missing seven games last season with a shoulder injury.
Despite Spiller's lack of production with the Saints, Washington coach Jay Gruden is taking him seriously in preparation for Sunday's game with New Orleans.
"We know how explosive he was at Buffalo," Gruden said. "You have to know where he is all the time."
Lately, that spot has been on the sideline.
"If it were my first rodeo, it would be frustrating, but I've dealt with this my whole career," Spiller said. "It's nothing new to me. I'm pretty sure the coaches haven't forgotten I can run the ball pretty well."
Notes: The Saints signed veteran quarterback Matt Flynn to replace Luke McCown, who was placed on injured reserve with a back injury. Flynn, who played for LSU and lives in Louisiana, was released by the New York Jets on Sept. 5. He will compete with rookie Garrett Grayson for the backup spot to Brees.
Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted on Thu, November 12, 2015
by GUERRY SMITH, Associated Press