Their faces said it all.
Blank stares gave way to frustrated sighs as New York Jets players struggled to make sense of what just transpired.
They had practiced and prepared, they said, spent hours dissecting film and discussing all the ways to contain LeSean McCoy. And they stepped into New Era Field Sunday determined not to let the Bills running back beat them.
Yet somehow, Todd Bowles’ vaunted run defense was rendered ineffective by the 5-foot-9, 210-pound playmaker.
“He’s a special back. Barry Sanders-like,” Jets cornerback Buster Skrine said of McCoy, who repeatedly dangled the ball away from his body without fear of being touched or tackled, en route to 159 total yards in the Bills' 21-12 win. “I’ve never seen a guy hold the ball with one hand and run the ball like that.”
The Jets had seen him coming, though.
They had anticipated each carry and each catch before the ball ever fell into McCoy’s capable hands. And each time, he left defenders in his dust.
He pranced through porous coverage, sliced his way through slivers of daylight, and burst through every gap created by an out-of-position linebacker or rookie safety. McCoy carried the ball 22 times for 110 yards and caught five passes for 49 yards to pave the way for the first Bills’ victory of the season and sole possession of first place in the AFC East standings.
Discarded three years ago by the Philadelphia Eagles, McCoy was every bit as dominant, every bit as explosive as in the past. And while Father Time grabs hold of every athlete, especially running backs nearing 30, McCoy has yet to show signs of slowing down.
“We’re fortunate to have him,” said head coach Sean McDermott, who earned his first victory with the organization.
The future of the franchise remains uncertain with a new head coach, general manager and a new-look roster. And one win over the hapless Jets won't mean as much if the Bills fail to carry the momentum with them to Carolina next week. But McCoy proved Sunday that he’s still got it. And as long as he stays healthy, Bills fans will at least have something exciting to watch this season.
“I’ve always been undersized,” McCoy said matter-of-factly, after surpassing 12,000 scrimmage yards in his nine-year career. “But I’ve always been one of the better guys on the field, whoever is on the field with me. I’m used to it. I embrace it. …Overall, I want the challenge. I want the ball.”
Standing behind the lectern postgame, McCoy praised the poise of Tyrod Taylor (16 of 28 for 224 yards and two touchdowns), calling the quarterback “our leader on offense.” But in the visitors locker room across the hall, it was clear who was the key to the Bills’ victory.
“It’s frustrating,” Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “We’re supposed to set the edges on this guy, don’t let him get outside and don’t let the quarterback scramble. And we go out there and let them do everything we practiced not to let them do.”
The Jets had the 11th-best run defense in 2016, allowing 98.8 rushing yards a game. Now, they’ve given up their first 100-yard rushing performance in Week One.
“How our defense is set up, if everybody’s not on one accord, and the running back finds it, usually you can gash us,” added Jets nose tackle Steve McClendon.
And “Shady” did just that.
The Jets’ game plan had been simple: Stop McCoy at all costs. But it was the one thing they collectively couldn't do.
“When you get a chance to hit him, you have to really hit him,” McClendon said, reiterating their objective. “You have to put your body on him and be physical with him. For 60 minutes. In the run and the pass game.”
But they failed.
Instead, McCoy outmaneuvered their corners, shook off their safeties and out-ran their linebackers all over the field. “I don’t take a lot of real shots,” McCoy said, smiling. “You’re not going to see a lot of ‘Oooh’ hits with me.”
In fact, the only thing that stopped McCoy all day was the wrist injury he suffered while trying to make it into the end zone in the fourth quarter.
“I jumped in there and I guess the placement of the ball and my wrist, it went numb,” he said of needing to be taken out briefly in favor of fullback Mike Tolbert, who scored on 1-yard touchdown run with 12:47 left. “I didn’t want to be selfish and try to get a touchdown with a numb right hand. I’m known as a back with ball security …It hurt a little bit and then I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t squeeze the ball. Besides we’ve got a 260-pound back and (I) let him get the touchdown.”