The Detroit Lions have been looking for a running back since Barry Sanders suddenly retired five years ago. Their search may have ended when they drafted Kevin Jones. The rookie running back...

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions have been looking for a running back since Barry Sanders suddenly retired five years ago.

Their search may have ended when they drafted Kevin Jones.

The rookie running back has been the lone bright spot on offense for the reeling Lions, who have lost six of seven games since their 4-2 start.

Jones, who was chosen with the 30th pick of last April’s draft after starring at Virginia Tech, has run for an NFL-best 551 yards over the past four games, including 156 and 196 yards rushing and two touchdowns the past two weeks — even against defenses with eight-man fronts.

“That’s a testament to his running and the offensive line blocking,” guard Damien Woody said. “The encouraging thing is we’re still running the ball effectively against eight in the box.”

Despite being slowed by a sprained right ankle and limited playing time early in the season, Jones ranks fifth among NFC running backs — first among all rookies — with 859 yards rushing.

He won’t match Sanders’ rookie total of 1,470 yards rushing. But he has surpassed Sanders’ best single-game performance in 1989 and has become the first Lions rookie with back-to-back 150-yard rushing games. Still, he doesn’t even think about comparing himself to Sanders.

“I take pride in that, but I don’t know that for sure until they say it and they haven’t said it,” Jones said of any comparisons to the Hall of Famer. “I’m not sure if they’re confident in me or not. All I can do is run.”

If he runs for 150 yards Sunday at home against Minnesota, he will be just the ninth player in NFL history, and the first rookie, to do it at least three games in a row.

He has produced since coach Steve Mariucci decided to get Jones the ball more after he shared time with Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson early in the season. In the last five games, Jones has averaged about 22 carries after getting no more than 15 carries or 65 yards in any of the first eight games.

“We’ve been stubborn with it,” Mariucci said. “I was telling you all along that we were going to make the run game go one way or another even when we were rushing for 35 yards a game.”

Detroit traded up into the first round to draft Jones after St. Louis took Steven Jackson 24th overall. Cincinnati picked Chris Perry at No. 26, and Dallas traded out of the first round and landed Julius Jones.

Some scouts didn’t think Kevin Jones was fast enough for the NFL, but he’s proven those skeptics wrong. He has nine runs of 20-plus yards — a total that trails only the Seahawks’ Shaun Alexander — including a 74-yard gain.

“I thought I was the best running back coming out, but obviously some teams didn’t think so,” Jones said. “I was upset before, but not anymore. I’m in a good situation because I’m on a team that needed me to play right away.”

Duckett to miss at least one game after knee surgery

ATLANTA — Falcons running back T.J. Duckett is expected to miss one game after undergoing surgery on his left knee.

Atlanta coach Jim Mora said the surgery to repair the meniscus cartilage in Duckett’s left knee “went very well.”

“We don’t expect him to miss more than just this game,” said Mora of Saturday night’s home game against Carolina.

The surgery comes two days after Duckett rushed for a team-record four touchdowns in a 35-10 victory over Oakland that clinched the South Division title.

Duckett, bothered by persistent swelling in his left knee, had hoped to put off the arthroscopic surgery until after the season. Because the Falcons (10-3) clinched the playoff berth Sunday with three games left in the regular season and could qualify for a first-round bye in the playoffs — giving Duckett another week to heal — the team decided to proceed with the surgery.

Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair could sit out the final three games of the season with a bruised sternum that has kept him from playing the past two games.

With the Titans (4-9) officially eliminated from playoff contention, coach Jeff Fisher said that he will talk with McNair in the next few days to decide the immediate future.

Fisher has said McNair will need up to eight weeks of inactivity for his chest to heal.


• San Francisco RB Kevan Barlow is upset with coach Dennis Erickson‘s decision to start Maurice Hicks against the Washington Redskins on Saturday, even though Hicks rushed for 139 yards in his first NFL start last week while Barlow was sidelined by a concussion. Barlow is ready to return this week, and Hicks is hampered by a rib injury — but Hicks will start if he’s healthy enough.

“I was very disappointed. I didn’t agree with that,” Barlow said. “I think I deserve to be the starter, but I’ve said from day one I support coach Erickson, and do whatever he wants to do.”

Barlow repeatedly cited the organization’s commitment to him — in the form of a $20 million contract with $8 million in guaranteed money — as one reason he should keep the job.

“They invested in me,” Barlow said. “They want me to be the guy out there … and I want to do the job. I’m 25. I ain’t going nowhere no time soon. I’m happy to be here.”

• Philadelphia defensive tackle Hollis Thomas could miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, this time with a dislocated elbow.

• San Francisco cornerback Ahmed Plummer, who hasn’t played since Oct. 17, was placed on injured reserve because a bulging disc in his neck.

• The Cleveland Browns placed center Jeff Faine (ankle) on injured reserve, the 18th player and ninth starter Cleveland has lost for the season.

• Arizona placed offensive tackle L.J. Shelton (knee) on injured reserve, ending his season.

• Buffalo placed rookie tight end Tim Euhus on injured reserve with a right knee injury.