NEW ORLEANS -- C.J. Spiller was just saying the other day how he learned from mentor Warrick Dunn not to get caught up in how many times he touches the ball and to just take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
“So if the opportunities present themselves, I’ll make sure I’m dialed in,” Spiller said on Wednesday -- four days before he took that philosophy to the extreme with an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown catch in overtime that gave the New Orleans Saints a 26-20 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Through 40 minutes on Sunday night, Spiller had just two touches for a total of minus-1 yard.
Through 60 minutes, he had just six touches for 29 yards.
And this coming on the heels of coach Sean Payton talking throughout the week about how he needed to find ways to get Spiller more opportunities.
But as promised, Spiller stayed “dialed in.” And on the second play of overtime, when Saints quarterback Drew Brees noticed the Cowboys defense being slow to line up in man-to-man coverage, Brees called for a quick snap and targeted Spiller about 25 yards down the field. Spiller did the rest.
“You know this, if C.J. gets behind anybody, he’s the fastest guy on the field, so there’s nobody catching him,” Brees said.
Spiller easily got behind linebacker Damien Wilson before the catch then bounced off of a tackle attempt by safety Barry Church near midfield before cruising the rest of the way for what he said was his first-ever walk-off touchdown.
“The tackle he breaks against the safety is huge,” said Payton, who explained that the challenge against Dallas’ defense was how well they got into a down-safety defense for most of the night. But Payton said the Saints “caught them in man-to-man” for the big gainer.
Spiller insisted afterward that he didn’t battle any frustration during the game.
“I’m staying in-tune, because you never know when you’re gonna be out there,” Spiller said. “I wasn’t worried about how many times I was touching it throughout the game. I was just making sure I was keeping my legs loose and also encouraging Mark (Ingram) and Khiry (Robinson) and the other guys.”
Dunn is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But Spiller explained that he became a mentor to him because Spiller grew up near Gainesville, Florida, as a huge fan of Dunn at Florida State -- the reason why he wears No. 28. Spiller got the chance to meet Dunn when he was being recruited by Florida State. Even though Spiller went to Clemson, he said the two stayed in touch.
Spiller’s fantasy owners might have trouble staying as patient as the man himself. He had just four touches in Week 2 and three in Week 3 after returning from a minor knee surgery. So he is clearly fighting for opportunities in a crowded Saints backfield that includes Ingram and Robinson.
But Spiller remains the home run threat, which is why the Saints signed him to a four-year, $16 million contract in free agency and why Payton talked excitedly about him all offseason.
Payton was already talking about getting Spiller more involved before he made the biggest play of the Saints’ season to date. Now the running back should be even more motivated.
“You keep putting a guy in a position to utilize his strengths," Brees said. "And eventually one hits."