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McGee not up to challenge in return from injury

Terrence McGee wasn't kidding himself. He knew what was in store for him. He knew it was coming, a dead certainty, like Halloween, the election and the cold Buffalo winter.

"Oh, yeah," McGee said late Sunday after the Bills' 25-16 loss to the Dolphins. "I knew since Tuesday they were going to try something. I was fresh off an injury. Sure, they were going to test my knee. I already knew that."

McGee returned to his position at starting cornerback after missing two games with a sprained left knee. The Bills needed him. The Dolphins needed to test him. That's how it works in the NFL, where coaches are paid to seek out weakness and go after them with merciless glee.

So the Dolphins went after McGee, and they never stopped. They threw at him again and again, like a patsy in a carnival dunk tank. On the first play of the day, Ted Ginn got behind McGee and caught a 46-yard bomb from Chad Pennington to set up Miami's first touchdown.

It got worse from there. Ginn, regarded as a colossal disappointment in his year and a half in the NFL, wound up with seven catches for a career-high 175 yards, most of it against McGee, who gutted it out and tried his best but was helpless to stop it.

We've seen enough of Pennington through the years to know he'll carve you up if you play soft. You beat him by playing "press" coverage, by having your cornerbacks crowd the opposing receivers, taking away the underneath stuff and daring Pennington to beat you deep.

But by his own admission, McGee wasn't up to it. "The position is tough enough, even when you're 110 percent," he said.

Compromised by the knee and inhibited by a bulky knee brace and a heavy wrap, he played safe in coverage. It hardly mattered. Ginn beat him deep, he beat him short, he beat him like a cake mix.

"I felt a step behind anybody who was out there," McGee said. "My mama could have been out there and I'd have felt a step behind. I was a step behind, so I wanted to make sure I was on top of everything and at least kept things in front of me so I could make a play."

He made very few. Ginn, the ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft, came into the game with 20 catches for 177 yards in six games, 2 yards more than he piled up Sunday. His longest reception had been 19 yards. He had grabs of 46 and 64 yards against the Bills.

The 64-yarder was a momentum-changer. The Bills had marched 70 yards on the first possession of the second half to take a 16-7 lead. They rushed for 45 yards in the drive. They seemed poised for one of their commanding second halves.

Then, boom. On Miami's next play, Pennington heaved a pass down the right sideline for Ginn, who beat McGee for 64 yards. Five plays later, the Dolphins kicked a field goal and were back in the game.

I shouldn't be too hard on McGee. Dick Jauron knew he wasn't 100 percent. Ashton Youboty was out with an injury, so the Bills were thin at corner. But why couldn't rookie Leodis McKelvin play more snaps? They took McKelvin 11th overall in the draft. When you invest that high a pick on a guy, he's supposed to help out right away. But apparently, the Bills didn't trust him as much as a guy who admitted he'd have trouble covering his mother.

McGee had plenty of company in the dunce chair. Trent Edwards was awful. He had his worst game of the season, throwing an interception, fumbling the ball away on a third-down sneak and bouncing several throws to his receivers. He made J.P. Losman seem like a plausible option.

The pass rush was ordinary. The linebackers didn't make any big plays. Neither did the special teams. Just when you'd begun to take the long snapper for granted again, Ryan Neill hiked the football over Brian Moorman's head at his own goal-line.

But McGee stuck out like a socialist at a Palin rally. Cornerback is one of the most unforgiving jobs in sports. There's no place to hide. Last week, Sports Illustrated did a story on the hard lives of NFL cornerbacks, titled "Tough, or Toast."

McGee was both on Sunday. He toughed it out. Afterward, he sat at his locker, facing the music. It was reminiscent of another grim day in Miami three seasons ago, when Chris Chambers lit up Nate Clements and Co. for 15 catches and 238 yards in a stunning Dolphins victory.

"I didn't think about it until you brought it up just now," McGee said.

He's the team's best corner when he's healthy. He gave it his best shot. In retrospect, perhaps the Bills should have waited another week before putting McGee back on the field.

"I don't even know how to answer that one," said McGee, who couldn't say whether he'd be OK for next week's test against the Jets and Brett Favre. "So I'm going to just pass on that one."

Donte Whitner, who played some cornerback when McGee rested, said McGee "took one for the team." Whitner said the Bills played sloppy and weren't as prepared as they'd thought. He said the Dolphins had a sound game plan and executed it well.

"Cornerback is an unforgiving position," said Whitner, who grew up with Ginn and speaks with him daily. "We don't make any excuses. But anybody in the world knows Terrence wasn't 100 percent. Put a big brace on your knee and try to go there and cover one of the fastest guys in football.

"We're going to get better, and he's going to get healthy," said Whitner. "We'll be OK. It's one game, one loss. We're not putting our heads down. I told Ted we're looking forward to seeing him again in December, and we'll leave it at that."

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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