Buckhalter still going strong for Eagles

January 2, 2009 6:33:19 PM PST
Like any Eagles running back, Correll Buckhalter is used to a break in the action. Usually, the pause comes when Philadelphia coach Andy Reid calls 16 straight passing plays and relegates the backfield to blockers, short-gain receivers or sideline watchers.

This time, it was an interruption in Buckhalter's explanation why the Eagles should remain committed to the running game.

"Every time you run the ball, you're not going to get 20, 30 yards right off the break," he said. "Sometimes you're going to get 2 or 3 yards, but..."

"Yeah, Buck!" shouted his eavesdropping locker stall neighbor, Brian Westbrook. "Tell 'em the truth!"

Buckhalter nodded and laughed, then picked up where he left off, "you've got to stay with it and eventually those 2 or 3 yards are going to turn into a 40- or 50-yard run."

No one can stick with things quite like Buckhalter, who has persevered through an injury-plagued career to become Westbrook's steady backup.

When the Eagles play Sunday at Minnesota in a divisional playoff game, the often-underutilized Buckhalter's numbers might prove as valuable as any contribution they get from Westbrook, Donovan McNabb or Brian Dawkins.

The career numbers prove that if Buckhalter touches the ball, the Eagles will likely win.

Call it a big bang for their Buck.

He averaged 4.9 yards per carry this season and his 4.5 career average is tied for fifth on the team's career list. When Buckhalter gets at least six touches (receptions and/or carries) a game, the Eagles are 5-1 this season. Philadelphia is 2-5-1 when he gets fewer than six.

Buckhalter rushed for a team rookie record 586 yards in 2001, and had a career-high nine TDs in 2003 as part of the "three-headed monster" with Duce Staley and Westbrook. Buckhalter's 369 yards rushing this season were the most since 2003, and the 6-foot back out of Nebraska thinks his numbers would spike if offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called his number more than a handful of plays a game.

"In my mind, I'm always thinking I can contribute at a high level," he said. "Why not think like that?"

Buckhalter's once-blossoming career hit a detour when he missed three of four seasons with serious injuries to both knees. He missed all of the 2004 and 2005 seasons with a torn tendon in his right knee and sat out the 2002 season with a torn ligament in his left knee.

He never quit, the Eagles never gave up on him and now he's one of the longest-tenured players on the team.

His knees took a beating, but his confidence rarely did.

Buckhalter, who set career highs this year in receptions (26), yards (324) and receiving touchdowns (2), showed how valuable he is in Philadelphia's 44-6 playoff-clinching win over Dallas on Sunday. He had 122 yards of total offense, including a career-best 59-yard reception. His total number of touches? Thirteen.

The stunner came in Philadelphia's 10-3 loss two weeks ago at Washington, when Reid and Mornhinweg called a whopping 16 straight passing plays.

Buckhalter had only one carry and two receptions in that one, a week after he averaged 9.2 yards a carry in a win over Cleveland. Westbrook had only 12 carries (he had 33 for 131 yards in a win last month at the Giants) and the two backs rightly wondered why they were ignored in the game plan.

Buckhalter, who missed two games this year with a knee injury, declined to say this week that a few more carries in key situations might have made a difference against the Redskins.

"Whenever we go into a game and we've lost and I really haven't had a chance to play, I always think about if I would have had an opportunity what I could have done," he said.

He had only two carries and no receptions in the dreadful 13-13 tie at Cincinnati.

Buckhalter's career high came in 2001 when he ran for 134 yards against Arizona. He rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and had seven catches for 85 yards in a win at San Francisco, when Westbrook was out with an injury.

Not surprisingly, Buckhalter believes more of a mix in the playcalling with Westbrook against the Vikings gives the Eagles a better chance at victory.

"I think it keeps him fresh and it keeps the defense honest," Buckhalter said. "It gives them two running backs that they've got to worry about."

The Vikings haven't seemed to worry much about any running back this season. They were No. 1 against the run, allowing only 76.9 yards on the ground per game with no 100-yard rushers.

The Eagles might have to buck that trend to press on in the playoffs.


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