ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Fred Jackson has been the most reliable player on the Buffalo Bills offense this year, but his right leg injury could derail the team's once-promising season.
Jackson won't play when the Bills (5-5) travel to New York to play the Jets (5-5) on Sunday in what is the biggest game of the season for both teams. Jackson was ruled out by Buffalo coach Chan Gailey on Wednesday, three days after Jackson was hurt in a blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins.
The somber news is not what the reeling Bills need as their playoff hopes continue to fade.
"If you've got a professional football team that's in the hunt and I've got to go give them some kind of talk to keep them motivated, we're in trouble," Gailey said. "My feeling is that if you've got a team that is that fragile, you're in trouble. I believe we have guys that understand about fighting through tough times and fighting through adversity."
Gailey also didn't sound optimistic when he was asked if Jackson would return before the season ends, saying the team will take a wait-and-see approach.
Jackson's absence is a significant blow to a Bills team that has dropped three straight by a combined score of 106-26.
"It's tough not having Fred out there on the field," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "We know where his heart is, and where his mind's going to be ... with us."
With Jackson out, the spotlight will be on his backup, second-year running back C.J. Spiller.
Spiller has not been the dynamic threat the Bills envisioned when they selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2010 draft. He's carried the ball just 21 times for 115 yards, and made 15 catches for a mere 82 yards this season.
"You're excited, but at the same time you're sad because one of our great players on this team is out for this week," Spiller said. "I've got to step up."
Despite the insertion of Spiller, Gailey said he's not anticipating a big change in the offensive philosophy.
"You've got 10 other guys that have been doing things, you can't change everything they've been doing, and you don't want to," Gailey said. "You want to let C.J. go in and do what he does best and give him an opportunity to make plays. He gets his chance now. He's probably looking forward to it and so are we."
Duplicating Jackson's production will be nearly impossible. Entering the Dolphins game he led the NFL in rushing, and his 1,376 yards from scrimmage through 10 games ranks behind only Chicago's Matt Forte (1,391).
"He's Mr. Everything," receiver David Nelson said.
But even with Jackson, the Bills have struggled during a three-game skid that has all but erased the memories of an electrifying 4-1 start. The offense averaged nearly 33 points in the first five games, but hasn't been close to that type of production since, scoring just 73 points over the last five.
The blame can be evenly passed around, from an offensive line that has failed to overcome some key injuries to Fitzpatrick's suddenly erratic throws. The slip-up has caught top receiver Stevie Johnson off guard.
"Yeah, it has because when you could move the ball so easy and when you feel like everything's sharp, and the past few weeks it's like, 'How can we get a first down?'" said Johnson, who has been held to seven receptions over the past three games after compiling 39 catches in the first seven contests. "I can't say it hasn't shocked me, because it has."
Fitzpatrick also acknowledged the slide has come as a surprise.
"It's something that we're looking to stop," he said. "We're trying to figure out some answers, and looking to see some results this week. We're going to have to have some guys break some tackles, and we have to have some of those superhuman plays in order to get some big plays."
But the task will be daunting without Jackson, who ranks third in the league in rushing with 934 yards.
"Knowing Fred, he's the kind of guy that you can always count on," Fitzpatrick said. "But C.J.'s going to get some looks and we'll see what we have on Sunday."
NOTES: Johnson (shoulder), Nelson (illness), receiver Naaman Roosevelt (shoulder) and starting safety George Wilson (neck) didn't practice Wednesday. ... Fitzpatrick has had little success in his career against the Jets. He's completed just 47.5 percent of his passes, and thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions in going 1-4 against them since 2008. ... After Andy Levitre struggled replacing the injured Eric Wood at center against the Dolphins, Kraig Urbik will be moved to center this week. Levitre will be back at his normal left guard position. ... The Bills and Jets have split the season series seven times since 2000. New York's win in the first meeting this year launched Buffalo's current three-game losing streak.