By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
KIRKLAND – At long last, the name Mike Anderson is beginning to sound familiar to fans around the NFL.
Anderson is the latest unheralded rookie running back to break the 1,000-yard mark for the Denver Broncos.
Back-to-back games in which he ran for more than 190 yards, including a 251-yard performance Sunday that set an NFL record for rookies, have catapulted Anderson from the depths of anonymity.
To the Seattle Seahawks, Anderson’s first name might as well be Loni. No matter which Denver running back carries the ball against them, he’s certain to go over 100 yards.
In eight of the past nine meetings between these two teams, a Denver running back has broken the 100-yard barrier. Terrell Davis has done it six times in eight career games against Seattle. Olandis Gary did it once. And 11 days ago, Anderson added his name to the list with 195 yards on the ground.
In each of those outings, the Broncos came out winners.
“You have to wonder,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Sinclair said. “They’re great backs, but is it the system? They’ve got a good system. Philosophically, their offensive line understands the game.”
The trio of Davis, Gary and Anderson – each of whom has been the feature back for at least one game against the Seahawks – has combined for 1,355 yards on 254 carries in the 11 meetings since Davis came into the league. These guys have made a career out of Seattle’s run defense.
On paper, this week should be no different. The Seahawks rank 28th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, giving up an average of 144.8 per game. Enter Anderson, whose 1,222 yards this season make him a front-runner for the AFC’s rookie-of-the-year award.
He is the latest Broncos running back drafted after the third round to make 30 other scouting departments look foolish.
Anderson’s draft-day oversight – he was taken in the sixth round, after 188 other players – is understandable. The University of Utah product didn’t even play high school football (he quit tryouts as a freshman when the coaching staff asked him to play offensive line) and spent four years in the Marines before beginning his college career at Mt. San Jacinto Junior College in California.
With Gary out for the season because of a knee injury and Davis hobbled by a mysterious leg injury, Anderson has made the most of his opportunity.
“That’s how I look at life, too,” he said. “Whenever you get an opportunity, you have to step up and grab hold of it. You never know, it might not come around again.”
Anderson was having an impressive debut season through 11 weeks this season, but his exclamation point came against the Seahawks on Nov. 26. Anderson sealed that 38-31 victory with an 80-yard run in the closing minutes on his way to a career high in rushing yards. Last week, he broke Corey Dillon’s two-year-old rookie record by five yards against the New Orleans Saints’ seventh-ranked run defense.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell said. “They find them late, and they develop them.”
These days, the name Mike Anderson actually means something to NFL fans.
“I’m at the point now where, when I go places with my family, I get a lot of people that recognize me, come up to get autographs or shake my hand or just come talk to me,” Anderson said.
“When I first got here, people didn’t know who I was. I had no problems walking out and about in the community, but now it’s to the point where people recognize me everywhere I go.”
The legend of Mike Anderson continues to grow every week.
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