All along it was supposed to be Doug Martin who was elusive. Not stardom.
He had been good. On the other hand, he had been a couple of yards short of great. He had been decent. Still, he hadnt been quite dynamic. He had been solid. In the search for the next Bucs running back, he had not been convincing.
For Martin and Tampa Bay, everything changed in Thursday nights win over the Vikings.
The former Boise State star spun, and he slashed, and he somersaulted. He was evasive, he was elusive, and he was explosive. In short, he performed as if his first NFL prime-time game should be called the Doug Martin Variety Show.
Martin had the first 100-yard day of his career in the Bucs 36-17 victory. He carried the ball 29 times, more than any game this season. He had a 41-yard run. He had a 64-yard catch. He scored the clinching touchdown.
Also, he introduced his nickname, Muscle Hamster, to America.
Oh, so thats why the Bucs drafted Martin in the first round.
This was the back the Bucs have expected all along, a guy who can keep the chain moving, a guy who can pick up the slack on a night Josh Freeman struggles to get everyone involved.
If Martin can make this kind of impact, it promises to add another dimension to the Bucs offensive attack. It will make Freeman better, and it will help the offensive line control play, and it will enable coach Greg Schiano to play the clock and field position the way he has wished to play them all along.
To be fair, there hasnt been anything particularly disappointing about Martins performance. Its just that a lot of people expected more. They expected, well, this. They expected another weapon in the arsenal.
Martin never had the luxury of being a rookie. From the time he was drafted, he was supposed to make a difference. Along the way, there have been times Martin has been asked to do too much, and times he has been used too little. As the Bucs coaching staff has searched for answers for Freeman and the Tampa Bay offense, Martin has seemed to be the wheel that didnt quite squeak.
Remember the Dallas game, when Martin ran 19 times and was held to 2 yards or fewer on 11 of those carries? After that, his carries were reduced from 21 a game in the first three games to 12 times over the past three.
Who saw this coming? Going into Thursday night, Martin was 19th in the NFL in rushing. Counting quarterbacks and wide receivers, his 4.1 yards per carry was 111th in the league.
Still, there had been signs. Martin averaged 5.9 yards per run against the Chiefs (76 yards) and 5.3 against the Saints (85 yards).
For most of the night, Minnesota left the impression that it was one big play, maybe two, from making it a game. Then Martin would make another play.
By the end of the night, you had finally seen what is special about Martin. A few more efforts like this one, he might be as popular as former Bucs great Mike Alstott.
After this, Martin isnt just carrying the ball.
Hes carrying the possibilities.