OK, so this wasn’t Babe Ruth tilting the bat toward the sky. These Buffalo Bills were on a not-so-glorious journey to 8-8.
But last Wednesday, cornerback Leodis McKelvin called his shot. In a conversation with The News, and on the verge of facing one of the NFL’s hottest quarterbacks, the cornerback didn’t hold back.
“As a defender, you have to always remember Fitz is still Fitz,” he said then. “He’s going to always give you opportunities to make plays.”
McKelvin would know. He was with Ryan Fitzpatrick the quarterback’s entire Bills career. Yet once McKelvin’s words were shared on social media, Jets fans lost their collective minds.
Sunday arrived, McKelvin swung for the fences and … he connected. His interception of Fitzpatrick was the difference in Buffalo’s 22-17 upset win over the Jets. No, the longest-tenured Bill did not want Fitz and the Jets in the playoffs. He said he’d get an opportunity at a pick and then, game on the line, NostraMcKelvin proved prophetic.
Approached in the Bills locker room afterward, McKelvin couldn’t wait to look back at that Wednesday chat.
“We know Fitz!” he said. “Fitz is going to be Fitz. Like I said, you have to put yourself in a good position to get the ball. And that’s all it was. Good position.”
Fitzpatrick ended up throwing interceptions on his final three drives, none bigger than the first to McKelvin. The Jets were down 19-17, on Buffalo’s 14-yard line, when McKelvin knew exactly what was coming. He knew New York was copying what the Washington Redskins did to him two weeks ago with tight end Jordan Reed.
That game, he played outside of Reed on a post route and the result was an 18-yard touchdown. So the Jets sent receiver Eric Decker on a “Dino” route against Buffalo’s quarters coverage.
“They send two up the middle to get one safety because we were in quarters – as a quarters beater,” McKelvin said. “They’re sending two to get the safety. … They try to throw it right in the hole. It’s up to the corner not to widen out whenever he does that.”
This time, McKelvin didn’t take the bait. He stayed inside Decker and jumped the route for the pick. Arms outstretched, the cornerback screamed and soaked in the moment.
Fitzpatrick himself said that McKelvin made a great read.
“Obviously a huge point of the game,” Fitzpatrick said, “and I wish I had that one back.”
Really, it was only a matter of time. In the first half, safety Corey Graham dropped a potential pick-six. He went 16 of 37. This crowd of 70,000-plus lived the highs and lows of #FitzMagic for four seasons in Western New York. For all the moxie, the guts, the facial hair, Fitzpatrick is still a quarterback prone to a game-killing turnover.
What was running through McKelvin’s head this point of the game? His future.
“That it’s a possibility this could be your last game in Buffalo,” McKelvin said. “How would you want to go out? I mean, that’s how I feel. I didn’t want to be someone who gave up a touchdown for the Jets to go in. You’d all come in here and drill me about it. Right?”
Now, there’s a good chance the Bills ask McKelvin to take a pay cut. He has a 2016 salary cap hit of $4.9 million and Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby and Nickell Robey are all entrenched as the top three corners. In a gust of honesty this week, McKelvin said he’s fine with taking less money and/or moving to safety if it means staying in Buffalo.
He’s been here for eight playoff-less seasons. He wants to get this team over the hump.
“If it’s up to me if I want to continue to stay here in Buffalo,” McKelvin said, “continue to fight and continue to try to do something nobody has ever done in the past 15, 16 years – get to the playoffs. That’s my goal. How many players play for one team?
“I’m going to have to live my life if we never make it to the playoffs but I’m going to fight to get us there.”
Because you know what? He’s sick and tired of the December descent into irrelevancy.
Sick of the surreal games the Bills have no business losing. Sick of seeing his team’s logo “in the hunt” on TV graphics. Sick of being a punch line. On Sunday, McKelvin was the hero but all his heroics produced was a .500 record.
He promises that this group is different – that there’s more fight. Players don’t lay down.
Next year, he wants more.
“It’s not like we’re far out of contention of being in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s been ‘in the hunt, in the hunt, in the hunt.’ And then we (mess) around and lose a game we’re not supposed to be losing. Now, we’re out of the playoff picture. That’s like that every year. You never know.
“We have to get over that hump. We have to get over those games we’re supposed to win and just go out there and go win.”