LOS ANGELES -- LeSean McCoy brightened last Wednesday when I asked if he was starting to feel like the man who led the NFL in rushing and gained 2,146 total yards for the Eagles in 2013, and if he expected to be a bigger part of the offense in Sammy Watkins's absence.
"More and more, I'm getting better and better," McCoy said. "Next time I look up, we should be in that top five in the running game."
Well, don't look now, but McCoy was at his dynamic best on Sunday, rushing 16 times for 154 yards -- his high for Buffalo -- as the Bills piled up 194 yards on the ground and escaped with a 30-19 victory over the Rams at the grand old LA Coliseum.
It wasn't easy.The Bills let the Rams back in the game after taking an early 10-point lead (it would have been 11 if not for a missed Dan Carpenter extra point). The offense went to sleep as Tyrod Taylor was unable to generate much of anything in the passing game after the Bills jumped ahead.
But in the end, they stayed true to the Rex Ryan "ground and pound" vision of football against an L.A. defense missing three of its four starting defensive linemen. This was a game the Bills should have won, and they responded.
Still, they needed an aroused effort from their defense to hold off the Rams and win a third straight game for the first time since early 2011. The Bills were wobbling after another failed offensive late in the third quarter gave the Rams the ball in their own end with the score tied, 16-all.
But Nickell Robey-Coleman picked off a Case Keenum pass in the right flat and returned it for a 41-yard touchdown to give the Bills a 23-16 lead and take a lot of pressure off a staggering Buffalo offense.
McCoy was sensational as the Bills built an early lead, going over 100 total yards before halftime. He rushed for 85 yards in the second quarter, including a 53-yard burst to set up Mike Gillislee 5-yard TD and a 17-yard run that led to a Carpenter field goal that made it 16-13 just before half.
It was an encouraging win, one that lifted the Bills to 3-2 and kept them a game back of the Patriots in the AFC East -- and two games cleared of the pathetic Dolphins and Jets. That return match against Brady and the Pats three weeks from now at New Era should be quite an event.
But despite McCoy's brilliance, this performance raised the old concerns about Taylor and the offense. The passing game was dreadful overall. The offensive line had problems with a weakened Rams defensive front. The offense didn't finish the job. It essentially let the home team stay in the game.
Taylor finished 12-for-23 passing for 124 yards and a TD. He didn't make many throws over the middle of the field (what happened to those slants from a week ago?). The Rams kept him from gaining the edge on a number of scrambles ... and was solid in coverage against an ordinary collection of Bills wide receivers.
After taking the 13-3 lead, the Bills went three-and-out on three of their next four possessions. They ran six and five plays on their two possessions surrounding the Robey-Coleman TD and went three-and-out again to give the Rams the ball back, down 23-19, with 4:42 to play.
But the Bills held on downs and stopped the Rams' dubious attempt at a fake punt. Then it was time for McCoy again. He ripped off a 24-yard run, putting the ball at the Rams' 1-yard line. Two plays later, Taylor found Marquise Goodwin for a 1-yard TD pass to put the game away.
OK, they won. It's a road win, a West Coast win, and they're all sweet. But imagine if the Rams hadn't been without Michael Brokers, William Hayes and Robert Quinn. Despite the weakened L.A. front, the offensive line had its struggles in the passing game.
The Bills have used the classic Ryan formula to win three straight after an 0-2 start: Run the ball, play stout defense and don't ask too much of your quarterback in the passing game.
It worked again Sunday. Whether it's a viable long-term formula, and whether it makes Taylor a franchise quarterback, is still very much in question.