Heroic Performance From LeSean McCoy Not Enough for the Buffalo Bills

LeSean McCoy

When the cart came out for LeSean McCoy during last Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins, uncertainty abounded for both him and the Buffalo Bills.

At the time, their playoff hopes remained up in the air with them needing the Cincinnati Bengals to upset the Baltimore Ravens. And whenever a player gets carted to the locker room, there are always question marks surrounding the severity of the injury.

In the end, Buffalo got what they needed from the Bengals. Bills Mafia rejoiced and in so doing showed their sense of community in donating en masse to Andy Dalton‘s foundation. But the status of McCoy for the franchise’s first playoff game this century remained a matter of speculation.

That all changed when the Bills declared him active for Sunday’s showdown with the Jacksonville Jaguars. And the nine-year veteran showed few if any ill effects from the ankle injury suffered a week earlier in warmups. Nevertheless, you couldn’t help but worry about his effectiveness within Buffalo’s rushing attack in a full game setting.

Heroic Performance From LeSean McCoy Not Enough for the Buffalo Bills

The fact that this game put him in the crosshairs of a physical Jags defensive front elicited further concern. That’s especially true considering that Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue combined for 46 tackles for loss during the regular season. Their ability to disrupt Buffalo’s run game behind the line of scrimmage might be enhanced with a less than 100 percent McCoy.

Yes, the ankle seemed to be bothering him at times. Over the course of the afternoon, television cameras showed him favoring it while he was on the sidelines. But that didn’t prevent him from turning in a gritty performance in Sunday’s 10-3 loss. It showed in his 119 total yards that included 75 on the ground and a further 44 in the pass game.

It’s fairly safe to say he was the lone bright spot on an otherwise forgettable day for the Bills offense. Tyrod Taylor couldn’t find any semblance of consistency. For the game, completed just 46 percent of his passes for a paltry 134 yards. He also finished with a passer rating of 44.2, his third-worst total as Bills starting quarterback.

And yet the Bills coaching staff didn’t exactly leverage McCoy’s full potential on the day. The biggest example came in the second quarter. With the game still scoreless and Buffalo facing a first and goal from the one, a run play to McCoy appeared to be the best bet. After all, he accounted for 33 yards on the drive up to that point. Instead, Taylor attempted to find Kelvin Benjamin on a fade route.

Not only did it not result in a completion. But the officials threw a flag on Benjamin for offensive pass interference. The overly cute play-calling from offensive coordinator Rick Dennison forced the Bills ten yards back. Three incompletions later, Stephen Hauschka came on and gave them a 3-0 lead. But the inability to effectively utilize McCoy cost the Bills dearly.

Heading into this game, only Todd Gurley accounted for more of his team’s total offense than McCoy. That was one of the reasons pundits didn’t give the Bills much of a chance if he couldn’t go. On Sunday, he proved his worth in that regard, accounting for 45.9 percent of Buffalo’s total yardage on the day.

Overall, his dynamic play gave this franchise a chance to win its first playoff game since upending the Dolphins in the wild card round on December 30, 1995. But the team needed more from the offense as a whole. It squandered a fairly impressive performance on the other side of the ball on the part of the Bills.

There’s no doubting that erasing the dreaded “drought” is a step in the right direction. And Sean McDermott deserves a great deal of credit for getting it done in his first season at the helm. Buffalo has a solid core in place and a bevy of draft picks to add to it. But for McCoy, the biggest takeaway from this game was “missed opportunities.”

“We could have won this game,” McCoy told ESPN’s Mike Rodak post-game. “I’ve never won a playoff game. I wanted to win this game and get it rolling. We had a solid team, good enough team. A great defense. Playmakers. I don’t care about the ‘building blocks.’ I live now, in the moment. And the moment is that we could have won this game.”

That sentiment is understandable. McCoy put it all on the line today. To not have been rewarded with a win for such a heroic effort is undeniably frustrating. He realizes that when the 2018 season starts he’ll be on the wrong side of 30, the age which tends to signify downward decline for NFL running backs.

But assuming he returns 100 percent, there’s a chance for him to spearhead another playoff run next season. With a budding nucleus expected to remain intact, all that’s needed is some additional pieces at key positions. If the front office can make that a reality, this team can transition from wild card also rans into legitimate contenders.

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