(Eds: Updates with details, quotes. Should stand. With AP Photos.)By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.AP Sports Writer
Chris Ivory slipped through one tackle, and then another. And, then, two more.
By the time Oakland’s Tracy Porter tried to take him down in last Sunday’s game, the New York Jets’ bruising running back just carried him on his back over the goal line.
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Five missed tackles and one powerful 15-yard touchdown run.
”Man, he’s a thumper,” right tackle Austin Howard said. ”He’s fast and he’s agile, but he’s got that `thump’ to him.”
Ivory is establishing a reputation for being one of the most physical players in the NFL. From dragging players to powering through tackle attempts, Ivory is one tough guy to bring down.
His average of 3.1 yards after contact leads the league among running backs, according to the statistics-based site ProFootballFocus.com.
”I just pride myself in making explosive plays,” Ivory said. ”I just try to make plays when there’s not really anything there. When you make a play, I think that’s big, when you turn something out of nothing.”
Ivory has been doing that for most of this season, his first with the Jets after three years with the New Orleans Saints. Healthy after dealing with hamstring issues during training camp and early in the season, Ivory leads New York with 639 yards rushing and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
And, a lot of those yards have come after a defensive player tried – and failed – to bring him down.
”If I have a little space to work with, I’ll try to work with it,” Ivory said. ”Other than that, my mentality is I just won’t be denied. I’m going to come at you and try to make a statement.”
He’s also a dangerous blocker, as witnessed by Oakland linebacker Sio Moore, who briefly left last week’s game after his blitz was thwarted by a bone-rattling pop from Ivory.
”Any time your running back can be one of the most physical guys on the field, it puts a spark to the offense,” wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. ”It shows the character and heart that he has and the determination.”
When Ivory carries the ball, his long dreads fly about behind his helmet as his legs keep churning. Several times, Ivory has appeared to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, but somehow stays upright and bounces out of the pile.
He’s not exactly Earl Campbell or Christian Okoye, who always ran over or through defenders. But the 6-foot, 222-pound Ivory certainly makes defensive players earn every tackle on him.
”He really loves contact,” Howard said. ”He starts off behind me, but more often than not, he ends up in front of me. He’s a guy that on a short-yardage run play, he can break it for a huge gainer. That’s not typical, you know?”
Ivory says the split-second decision he makes before contact all depends on the down and situation in the game:
If the Jets need a yard, he envisions plowing through a defender.
If he has some space to work with, Ivory is going to try to make everyone in front of him miss.
”A lot of it has to do with feel, like the pursuit backside,” he said. ”You’ve got to think about those other guys, too, those linebackers who are running pretty fast, 4.4s and 4.5s. You can’t just try to, boom, make moves all the time. By the time you try to make a move, you’re tackled. You’re not going anywhere.
”That’s kind of why I run the way I do.”
Ivory will face a stiff test Sunday against Carolina’s top-ranked run defense. If the Jets (6-7) are to keep pace in the AFC playoff race, a lot of it will depend on whether their starting running back can pound some of the Panthers’ vaunted front seven for extra yards.
Carolina has allowed just one 100-yard rusher – Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller in Week 2 this season – and four rushing touchdowns since Week 14 of the 2012 season.
”Tough defense, but we’ll be ready,” Ivory said. ”We’ve put in the preparation and hopefully it will transfer onto the field on Sunday.”
Ivory is one of the quietest guys in the locker room around reporters, speaking barely above a whisper most times. On the field, though, his presence is anything but low key.
”I’ve always been that way,” he said. ”It’s just how way I am. But the game, yeah, it gets a little different out there. There’s a time for it, switch on and off, but there’s a different feeling.
”You’re competing and you’ve got a guy trying to take your head off. It always changes the mentality.”
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