"I didn't really want to watch it," Starks said Sunday night, grinning at the memory.
But sometimes, things have a way of working out. Starks was the 12th running back (out of 13) taken in that draft -- a sixth-rounder and the 193rd pick overall. He missed the first 11 games of his rookie season because of that shoulder surgery, and was active for only three of the final five for a team that was shredded at the position. But on Sunday, he rushed for 123 yards in the Packers' 21-16 playoff victory over the Eagles here, and that's why he couldn't stop grinning.
"I always had high hopes," Starks said. "I stayed focused and worked hard, and I believed everything would work out well for me. I believed there would be a day like this."
Even if you thought the Packers would come in here and beat the Eagles in this wild card round game, you couldn't have imagined James Starks rushing for 123 yards to help them do it. Starks, after all, had rushed for just 101 total yards in the regular season. Over the Packers' previous four games, he'd collected a total of 11 carries. So the 23 he got Sunday clearly caught the Eagles off guard.
"I mean, we knew he was back there, and we knew they were going to run the ball," Eagles safety Kurt Coleman said. "Maybe not as much as they did, but maybe they saw something on film. They were certainly opportunistic."
The Packers were stone-cold grinders in this one. Their three touchdown drives averaged 11 plays, 68.3 yards and took a total of 18:55 off the clock. A big part of that was their ability to pick up third downs (they were 8-for-13), but another big part was the surprising ability of a normally pass-heavy offense to gain positive yards in the run game.
"We knew that we could run the ball," Packers right guard Josh Sitton said. "In Week 1, we ran the ball well in spots against them. We wanted to grind them down."
Fair enough, but when the Packers won here in Week 1, they had their starting running back, Ryan Grant, healthy for the first part of the game. And when Grant went down with an injury, they got good production out of backup Brandon Jackson. Starks wasn't a part of the team or the game plan that day, so what sense does it make that he'd be one of the keys to the playoff rematch?
"Well, I don't think we generally care who's back there," Sitton said. "As an offensive line, it doesn't matter to us. It's about opening holes, getting guys blocked and moving them around. You could put (318-pound backup guard) T.J. Lang back there, and we'll still block for him."
The Packers have had an injury-plagued season but have hung together well enough that they find themselves two wins from the Super Bowl. They believe that speaks volumes about the mentality they applied to their injury issues.
"We've got a lot of resolve," left guard Daryn Colledge said. "We didn't start hunting for dudes to replace dudes. We felt we had guys in this room to fill in."
The still-injured Starks may not have been one of the dudes they were thinking about, but it's not as if he's just some dude. He was a bonafide star and record-setter at Buffalo, and had he not missed his senior season due to injury, he might have been drafted much earlier. Personally, he believes his lack of production and opportunity during his December/January cameo probably had more to do with rust than anything else. By the time he made his NFL debut, it had been 23 months and two days since his last football game -- Buffalo's 38-20 loss to Connecticut in the 2009 International Bowl.
"I had to almost re-learn a lot of fundamental things," Starks said. "Run with the ball low, ball security, getting back to the feeling of breaking tackles. All of that is stuff that takes a while to get back, stuff I've still got to get in tune with and get better at."
He took some heat from the coaching staff over the final few weeks of the season about his practice habits, but he said it never bothered him because he knew he could correct everything that was wrong just by knocking off some of that rust. Now that he seems to have done that, the Packers have a fresh, spry playoff running back who can hit a hole, make a cut and get to the second level of a defense.
"I'm excited," Colledge said. "If we keep blocking and making holes for this kid, I really think the sky's the limit."
The sky's a long way from where James Starks was on draft day. Heck, it's a long way from where he was when December started and he'd still never played an NFL game. But in the wake of a Packers playoff victory that he and his 123 yards helped deliver, it's exactly where he felt like he was.
"It's been a long time since I felt like this," Starks said. "But it's a good feeling."
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