Fred Taylor is just 123 yards shy of his personal-best rushing season, 1998, his rookie year, when he burst onto the NFL scene with 1,223 yards rushing and a litany of rookie records.
This season, after missing the first three games of the year with a knee injury that was more severe than first thought, Taylor has exploded with seven consecutive 100-yard performances that have him at 1,100 yards rushing with three games to play. A 1,500-yard season is not out of question and considering what he lost statistically at the beginning of the season, Taylor should remember 2000 fondly.
He will not, however, because of an offseason in which he had to deal with the loss of over $3 million to agent Tank Black, and fan criticism that Taylor had become a fragile player.
This will almost certainly be the most productive season of Taylor's career, but perceptions are tough to overcome.
"If you ask me if I'm a better player, I would say, yeah. I wouldn't say it was a better season. My rookie year we were scoring from everywhere. My rookie year was pretty much heaven; me getting used to the fan attention," Taylor said.
It was fresh and new. It was innocent. Taylor's rookie season was a fairy tale. This season has been the real world.
"This past offseason put a damper on my plans. I was upset as hell, but I tried not to show it; $3.3 million down the drain. That's tough," Taylor said of the money he lost when Black, without Taylor's knowledge, unscrupulously invested his client's professional football earnings in a scam that went bust.
Taylor is almost certain to break his rookie rushing mark, is on pace to have caught more passes, and currently has a higher yards-per-carry average.
"It's the way we started off. You would like to have it back, but you can't pout about it," Taylor said of the 2000 season.
That season will end with games against the Cardinals, Bengals and Giants. This Sunday, Taylor will face a Cardinals defense that is 29th in the league against the run and 29th overall. The following Sunday, Taylor will take aim at the Bengals, 23rd against the run. Consider the fact that Taylor did not play in early-season games against Cincinnati and Cleveland, the 30th-ranked run-defense in the league, which Taylor just torched for 181 yards.
What would this season have been for Taylor statistically had he played against Cincinnati and Cleveland once more each? Taylor didn't begin his string of 100-yard games until the seventh game of the season, when it became apparent that his knee was reasonably healthy for the first time this season.
"I don't know what would've happened if I had been healthy," Taylor said.
Could it have been a 2,000-yard season?
"I never said that," Taylor said.
Statistically, this season may become a point of reference, but, for now, it's just a year Taylor would like to forget.