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THOMAS TURNS BACK CLOCK WHILE PILING UP THE MILES

Thurman Thomas' 30-year-old legs are looking pretty good halfway through his ninth NFL season.

Thomas is on his way to an NFL-record eighth straight 1,000-yard season. And he has been by far the biggest plus in a mostly dismal Buffalo Bills' offense.

Thomas ranks seventh in the AFC with 608 yards on 169 attempts, a 3.6-yard average per carry. He's on pace for 1,200 rushing yards, which would be his best output in three years.

"I'm definitely feeling real good about the way I'm running the football and the way I'm feeling physically, especially at the halfway point of the season," Thomas said.

"Thurman's playing great," coach Marv Levy said. "He's magnificent. He's a tremendous competitor. They are tough yards he's getting."

The mileage on Thomas' legs was a concern for the Bills entering the season. Counting playoffs, he had logged a remarkable 15,345 yards rushing and receiving his first eight years. How much was left in his tank?

Plenty, based on the first eight games. Thomas' legs looked sluggish the first two games, even though he had 97 yards rushing in the season opener. But ever since the third game, he has run with a spring in his step. He has darted through holes and run hard. His legs look fresh.

In fact, over the past six games he has averaged a healthy 4.0 yards a carry. Many of those yards have come out of the two-receiver/two-tight-end formation, which the Bills have been relying on. They're running well out of it. They're not passing well out of it.

"No matter what offense we've been in the last three or four weeks, I have been running the ball effectively," Thomas said. "The offensive line has been doing a great job blocking for me."

Thomas, nevertheless, prefers the three-receiver set.

"The guys who have been here a long time are more comfortable with the K-Gun," he said. "But again, that's a coaches' decision. I'm not going to try to put pressure on them."

In Sunday's loss to New England, Thomas did much of his damage up the middle. The Bills seemed more selective in using their counter plays, which the New York Jets did a good job of fouling up the previous week.

"It's been that way the past couple weeks," Thomas said. "You know, I'm not 24 anymore. My thing is to get the ball and make a play happen as soon as possible, rather than to wait for a developing counter play where you have to pull a guard and a tackle.

"The last couple weeks my thing has been to go straight ahead and let me and Darick Holmes pick a hole. Obviously the last three or four weeks that has been happening. The offensive line has been doing a great job covering guys up."

Thomas is on pace for 338 carries, which would be the third most of his career. Nevertheless, he has not hesitated to let Holmes give him a breather, which no doubt is a good idea given his age.

"I've been carrying the ball a lot, but I haven't been taking the big hits," Thomas said. "It has helped me that Darick Holmes has been there for me."

Thomas, Detroit's Barry Sanders and retired Eric Dickerson are the only backs in league history to have seven straight 1,000-yard seasons. Sanders and Thomas are among 15 backs on pace to break 1,000 yards this year. Of course, it's easier to gain 1,000 yards now compared to when the league played a 14-game schedule, before 1978. In a 14-game season, a back had to average 71 yards a game, which would equal 1,136 yards in a 16-game season.

Off and Running

At their current pace, Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders would become the only backs in NFL history with eight straight seasons of 1,000 yards or more rushing:

7 Thurman Thomas ....1989-95

7 Barry Sanders ....1989-95

7 Eric Dickerson ....1983-89

6 Franco Harris ....1974-79

6 Walter Payton ....1976-81

5 Emmitt Smith ....1991-95

5 Rodney Hampton ....1991-95

5 Jim Taylor ....1960-64

5 O.J. Simpson ....1972-76

5 Tony Dorsett ....1977-81

This season's rushing yardage for active backs on the list: Sanders 645, Thomas 608, Smith 606, Hampton 501.

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