- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was easier for Ahmad Bradshaw, given that the New York Giants were playing a Monday night game. The running back has had an eye on his yards all season, and knew exactly where he stood in relation to Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster.
"I keep up with it," Bradshaw said.
And when he gained his 100th yard against the Dallas Cowboys, Bradshaw had a good idea he had become the top rusher in the NFL. He has 708 yards on the season, better than Peterson (684), Johnson (662) and Foster (635).
"It was a goal that I set for myself at the beginning of the year," Bradshaw said Wednesday as the Giants prepared for their bye week. "Something I really work hard for. Just being able to be a starter and be at the top of the list is a big achievement for me right now."
This is just a snapshot, and one that comes at the beginning of a long season. Where the bye week falls also plays into the stats, since Peterson's break came in Week 4. And Bradshaw, like his teammates, is wary of reading too much into numbers early on. This is a team that took a 5-0 start and frittered it away as the 2009 season deteriorated. The finish line is still a few months away.
But it is miles from where Bradshaw was last season. He played despite cracks in the bones in his feet, and had surgeries in January to correct the injuries and remove bone spurs fron one ankle.
"When he got hurt and everyone got hurt the first game of the year and they turned to me and said, 'I don't know if Ahmad can go,'" running backs coach Jerald Ingram remembered, "I turned to him and I said, 'Ahmad you don't have a choice.'"
Bradshaw played. In 15 games last season, he had 778 yards on 163 carries. He'll probably need another game or two to overtake those totals.
Ingram describes Bradshaw as a brooding, angry player -- and he means that in the best possible way. To watch him play through the kind of pain he did last season was impressive.
"He's the last person I have to worry about on game day," Ingram said.
This is the final year of Bradshaw's contract. He may be the leading rusher, but he is still the second highest-paid running back on the team behind Brandon Jacobs. In 2009, Jacobs signed a four-year, $25 million contract. Bradshaw will make a little more than $1 million this season and, with an uncertain labor situation, may not get the customary extension before the end of this year.
"I respect that, and like I said I can't do anything about it," Bradshaw said. "All I can do is play football."
Bradshaw will head home to Virginia for the abbreviated bye week. He will even hit his alma mater, Marshall, to watch the homecoming game. This is a good time to return.
"It's a joy to go back always, but to go back at this moment, be on top of the league, makes you more proud," Bradshaw said. "When you get home, you realize where you come from."
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