ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — The shelf life for running backs in the modern NFL is short. Get drafted, start playing and hope to get a second contract. By the time most backs reach their 30s, they’re typically out of the league living in retirement.
Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch are defying those odds, still producing at the respective ages of 35 and 32. The two will share a field on Sunday when Lynch’s Oakland Raiders (0-2) visit Gore and the Miami Dolphins (2-0).
“That’s my man. Marshawn is my man,” Gore said this week. “I know him. He’s a friend of mine. I love the way he plays the game of football. I’m happy that he came back because I knew that he still could play the game. I’m happy that a dude who came in back when I came in is still going. That’s a plus for us.”
Gore has carried 18 times for 86 yards this season. He moved into fourth place on the career rushing list last week, passing Hall of Famer Curtis Martin with 14,112 yards in his career.
Only Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders are ahead of Gore, who has never led the NFL in rushing but has 12 straight seasons with at least 800 yards. Only Smith was more consistent in his career with 13 straight 800-yard seasons.
“He is one of my favorites,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who faced Gore twice when he coached in Tampa Bay more than a decade ago. “He has been able to adapt and prove that he can play in any offense. He’s been one of the great two-back I (formation) runners that I’ve seen in my time as a coach. Then (QB) Alex Smith came along and they morphed into a shotgun operation. He played with (QB Colin) Kaepernick, he proved that he could play in that style of offense. Did some really good things, quietly, in Indianapolis, I think. It’s really cool to see him back in Miami where it all started.”
Lynch, who sat out the 2016 season, has 29 carries for 106 yards the first two weeks and has scored touchdowns in each game. On Oakland’s opening drive of the season, Lynch scored on a 10-yard run against the Rams. He was stood up at the 3 but still managed to bowl his way into the end zone with help from a rugby-style push from his offensive linemen.
“I know this, he’s extremely hard to tackle still,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “He almost popped out a big one last week again. He’s a dangerous guy to deal with. He’s a big man that does not like to touch the ground. I’ve seen him way too much it seems like.”
The Raiders want to see even more out of Lynch this week as they try for their first win of the season. He went from 11 carries in the opener to 18 last week in Denver, but still has only one run longer than 10 yards.
Right tackle Donald Penn said that’s more of a reflection on the way the line has blocked than how Lynch has run.
“We need to help him out a lot more,” Penn said. “We have to be more consistent. We kind of have that roller-coaster thing going again, like we have in the past. But when we’re consistent he’s looking really good. But he is doing a lot of good things for us. Our main thing is to just try and get him to the second level. When he gets to the second level, I would bet on him against anybody.”
The only other running back age 32 or older with more than five carries the first two weeks is 33-year-old Adrian Peterson, who has 37 carries for 116 yards in Washington so far.
This is not new for Gore and Lynch, who were the two most productive running backs in their 30s last year, with Gore leading the old-timers with 961 yards and Lynch close behind at 891.
Gore has rushed for 5,273 yards since turning 30 in 2013, a total topped only by Smith (5,789) and John Riggins (5,683). Gore has a chance to top that list by the end of this season.
“I still want to have success,” Gore said. “I still feel good. I still feel I can play with the young guys. Like I said, when my number gets called, I try my best to make some plays.”