Two years ago, Fred Jackson was working as a part-time youth counselor and living in his mother-in-law's basement. Five weeks ago, he earned an official place in NFL history books even though he accomplished nothing, defined as having one carry for 1 yard and one catch for minus-1 yard.
And four days from now, the 26-year-old rookie could be an NFL starter. The Buffalo Bills will likely turn toward Jackson if Marshawn Lynch and Anthony Thomas, both hobbled by leg injuries, are unable to play against the Washington Redskins.
On Tuesday, Jackson was still trying to digest his performance Sunday, when he had five carries for 18 yards and five catches for 47 yards in the 36-14 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Most of his production came during garbage time, but it was the first time he was given extensive action. He had four carries and three catches going into the game.
"Oh, man, it's been a long time coming," Jackson said. "All week, we were running some plays for me. I was excited about it, looking forward to it. I had a lot of family members back home who were waiting to watch the game. I was excited and ready to do something for them."
Lynch has missed the past two games with a sprained ankle and is not expected to be available Sunday. Thomas suffered a strained calf against the Jaguars. Jackson hopes he provided enough evidence Sunday to show the Bills they can count on him against the Redskins.
"It was definitely a positive, a step in the right direction," Jackson said. "I have to use it as a building block. I definitely wanted to go out and try to contribute. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity I was going to get and show the coaches I was ready to step up to the plate and make some plays for them."
Jackson played collegiately at Coe College, General Manager Marv Levy's alma mater. Jackson spent two years playing in the United Indoor Football League, making about $100 a game. He made more money working as a counselor and lived with his mother-in-law to save money.
The Bills signed him to the practice squad last season after Levy invited him to training camp. He played one year in NFL Europe and made the Bills' 53-man roster this season by leading the team with 126 yards rushing in the preseason. He was activated against the Jets, had a limited role in a blowout loss to New England and played well Sunday.
"In the last two games, he's been in there against the varsity, so to speak, and I thought he looked the same as he looked in preseason," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "He looks fast. He looks elusive. He's tough. He catches the ball well. He runs it well. He runs it hard. I was very impressed with his game."
The Bills also have rookie Dwayne Wright. He has carried the ball 26 times for 77 yards but his role has been reduced the last three games. In that time, he carried the ball twice. He did not touch the ball Sunday. Wright was a fourth-round pick in April.
Josh Reed wasn't too thrilled with CBS commentator Rich Gannon, who incorrectly assumed during the game Sunday that the receiver was worried about getting hit by strong safety Sam Knight while shying from a pass in the fourth quarter.
Reed made it clear that wasn't the case. The sun was directly in his eyes, and he never saw the pass from J.P. Losman. He curled up as a reaction to not seeing the ball, not because he was in Knight's path.
"Didn't he play football before?" Reed said of Gannon. "I never saw the ball, never spotted it. It was right in the sun, and I was lucky it didn't hit me in the helmet. Sam Knight said he didn't see it, either. It looked really bad, but the guys on the sideline knew. It wasn't like I saw it and lost it in the sun. I never saw the pass at all."
Wide receiver Lee Evans on rookie quarterback Trent Edwards replacing veteran J.P. Losman: "It's tough. We all knew the situation he was in. When he didn't play well, we all knew it was a matter of time. Offensively, you've got to go back and do some basic things now. Hopefully, the change will be for the best."
The Bills' penchant for beating the NFL's weaker teams and losing to stronger ones continued against Jacksonville. Buffalo's five wins have come against teams that currently have a 12-42 record. Their six losses came against teams with a 52-13 record. Their five remaining opponents are a combined 24-31.