LeSean McCoy offered me a Gatorade from the cooler in the Bills’ locker room after the game Sunday before stretching his arm around my shoulder. I must admit that it was a little unnerving because we’re not exactly friends and, well, did you hear about his dustup with the Philly cops?
The relationship between players and media can be uncomfortable at times, especially when losses pile up and people like me start distributing blame. It happens when people with different jobs are speeding toward the same intersection. Every now and again, they crash into one another and both sides suffer consequences. At times, it can get ugly.
On Sunday, however, after McCoy had stepped away from the microphone and begun making his way to the parking lot behind New Era Field with another big game under his belt, we found common ground after switching roles. McCoy was the one asking questions, and I was being forced to explain myself.
“So you thought they should cut me, huh?” McCoy asked.
Indeed, back in February, after he was involved in the scuffle with the aforementioned off-duty Philadelphia police officers, I wrote that the Bills should dump McCoy and the remains of his five-year, $40 million contract. The column was based on numerous factors, some related to football and others involving his character.
McCoy was hardly the first NFL player to brush against the law. You can’t get through a week without some knucklehead getting arrested. My opinion was formed from evidence available at the time. McCoy made $1 million per game last season, and in return gave the Bills 895 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
It didn’t add up.
Running backs are a dime a dozen in the NFL, so it was difficult to justify his pay given his production. He was pocketing $8 million on average, absurd money for running backs. To me, he wasn’t worth $7.4 million per year more than Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee, who averaged more yards per carry and combined for 10 touchdowns.
Plus, McCoy was approaching his 28th birthday, an age when production from running backs generally falls off a cliff. And there were my minimal expectations about the Bills, who rallied for an 8-8 finish last season and had a tougher schedule this year. I questioned whether he was worth the money.
“At least you were being honest,” McCoy said. “But I’ve always been a higher-paid running back.”
In other words, he viewed himself as an elite running back who belonged in the same category with the best backs in the game.
And so we continued, McCoy and his biggest offseason critic, taking our fundamental differences into the parking lot after the Bills’ 45-16 blowout over the San Francisco 49ers. He was in a terrific mood, of course, after torching the Niners’ porous run defense for 140 yards rushing and three TDs.
“This is the first year that I’ve ever really been doubted,” McCoy said during his news conference. “Is this kid too good? Is he not good? Are we wasting our time? So to hear you say that, yeah, it can definitely drive you.”
McCoy is a proud guy and an emotional player. He carried himself like a good person after the game Sunday. He paid tribute to his aunt, breast-cancer survivor Carol Henderson, who attended the game. His postgame news conference began with him saying goodbye to his mother, who was checking on him after McCoy crumpled to the turf in the second quarter. He’s fine, by the way.
He came across more human Sunday than he did last year, when he demanded nondisclosure agreements from women attending his weird going-away party. At the time, he sounded like another entitled athlete. He pouted over his trade to the Bills and squeezed them for more money, as if playing in Buffalo came at a hefty price.
McCoy explained Sunday how much the trade bothered him, how he was emotionally wounded after the Eagles shipped him to Buffalo and physically compromised when last season began. During the offseason, he gathered negative stories about him and every perceived slight he could find to use as motivational tools in 2016.
“Every player does,” McCoy said. “The first time I ever faced adversity was in high school, when I broke my ankle. The second time I faced adversity was this. I’ve never been traded. To be traded means, ‘We don’t want you.’ People react differently, but I was really hurt by it. I was.”
Athletes are funny that way. They’ll rally around a box of popcorn if they think it will push them to be better. Rex Ryan could sense McCoy was more driven when he showed up in training camp. His competitive spirit thrives on people doubting his effectiveness and suggesting he’s not worth the money.
McCoy revealing his vulnerable human side Sunday was ironic considering it emerged after he looked invincible on the field. He has been the Bills’ best player through their four-game winning streak, and he dominated again Sunday. The truth is that @CutonDime25 has been worth every penny this season.
He was virtually unstoppable, particularly in the first half when he gained 106 yards and scored two touchdowns on only 11 carries. His third touchdown came in the fourth quarter on an 18-yard run after he wiggled through the teeth of the defense and danced into the end zone. He still hasn’t had 20 carries in a game this season.
McCoy looked like the back who rushed for 1,319 yards in 2014 and 1,607 yards in 2013. He has gained 587 yards through six games, putting him on pace for 1,565 yards. He’s averaging 5.6 yards per carry, best in his career. He has gained 470 yards during the Bills’ winning streak, including 290 in the past two games.
He snapped off a 38-yard run Sunday that would have gone for 67 yards and a TD if he didn’t get nailed accidentally by teammate Robert Woods. It postponed his 12-yard run for a touchdown that gave Buffalo a 14-10 lead. In the fourth quarter, he drew a pass-interference penalty in the end zone that led to Wood’s short TD reception.
What can I say? He has been spectacular.
Never mind me asking for forgiveness. The 49ers were practically begging for mercy Sunday while the Bills rushed for 312 yards, the most in a game since 1992. The Niners were second-last against the run, but nobody would have stopped the Bills’ attack Sunday. Gillislee and Tyrod Taylor each had more rushing yards than Niners feature back Carlos Hyde.
McCoy made sure to praise his offensive line without provocation, saying they were the reason for his big day and promising to buy them Rolex watches after the season. “If you want to give out any game balls today, you need to give it to the offensive line,” he said. “They whooped ‘em up and down the field.” He also copped to not playing his best last season, for whatever reason.
“I can give you all the excuses in the world, and they won’t mean anything,” McCoy said. “This year, we’re rolling. The guys are blocking really well. I’m healthy. Coach (Anthony) Lynn is calling some great calls. It’s that simple. That’s it.”
Believe me, Bills fans have made their feelings clear about their love for McCoy. If I contributed to him being motivated in some minuscule way, as he suggested, you’re welcome. At least it was with the Bills’ interests in mind.
Before he walked away, I mentioned to McCoy that we had something else in common: I lived in Harrisburg, Pa., which is McCoy’s hometown, when he was a boy. I moved to Philadelphia, where he made his name. I wanted him to know that I understood where he came from, that it was nothing personal.
“And you wanted them to cut me?” McCoy said with a smile. “C’mon, man. You’re like a brother to me.”