MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – There's one thing virtually every member of the Bills agreed upon after a disheartening 28-25 loss to the Dolphins here Sunday afternoon: They needed to watch the film.
That's the customary reaction when players are asked to evaluate a bad loss. You can't comment on getting run over like a beetle under a cement truck until you've seen the film. Of course, it's amazing how much clarity and insight you get after a rousing win.
But I don't need to watch film to know this: LeSean McCoy should not have been on the field at Hard Rock Stadium. A week earlier, McCoy was being touted for MVP. Against the Dolphins, he was MIA. Running on a hamstring that he'd tweaked in practice on Wednesday, McCoy was a shell of himself on a day when the Bills desperately needed a running game.
McCoy ran eight times for 11 yards. That's 1.4 yards a carry, the third-worst day of his eight-year NFL career. And to think, McCoy came into the game averaging 5.6 yards a rush, the top figure in the NFL. He had gained 100 yards by halftime of his previous two games, against the Rams and 49ers.
But we're supposed to believe that McCoy was 100 percent coming into a game against a run defense ranked 31st in the league. If that was the case, he certainly wasn't 100 percent for long. McCoy took himself out of the game midway through the third quarter after feeling a twinge in his left hamstring while running a pass pattern.
"We never play a guy that, uh, that our doctors and our trainers don't clear," Rex Ryan said after the Bills saw their four-game winning streak come crashing to an end. "So he was cleared to play and we thought he was fine."
McCoy said he passed all the tests with the doctors and trainers before the game and felt great during warmups. Well, warmups are one thing, running in an NFL game against physical freaks with mayhem in their hearts is quite another. McCoy said he "kind of felt it" when he decided to leave the game. He said it was "like a warning."
Really? Like the warning he got at the start of practice last Wednesday, the one that kept him from practicing fully on Friday? Whose job is it to heed the "warning" and shut down the most important player on the team so the injury doesn't become long-term?
Ryan said he wouldn't play McCoy if he wasn't 100 percent. There were reports that McCoy wouldn't play, then that he would play a reduced number of snaps. Then he played virtually every snap against the Dolphins until he couldn't play any longer.
They should have taken the conservative route and held McCoy out, so they wouldn't compromise his availability for the showdown against the Patriots at New Era next Sunday, or for the daunting Monday night visit to Seattle the following week.
Instead, they took their chances. Ryan wanted to get a division win in his pocket and deferred to the doctors and the player. McCoy is a fierce competitor who played hurt much of last year. You know he was going to play if he had a sliver of a chance.
Afterward, he admitted it might have been better for the team if he hadn't played.
"Seriously, you might be right," he said. "For the team, that might have been the best thing." McCoy said it's easy to sit in a chair and second-guess a competitor's decision. That's why they created sports writers, after all.
Why not let Mike Gillislee carry the load at tailback for a day? That's why you pay a backup, right? He was excited about the prospect during the week. On his first carry after McCoy exited, Gillislee broke a 20-yard run, gaining more yards on one run than McCoy had the entire day.
Gillislee isn't McCoy, who defies the prevailing "dime a dozen" notion of NFL running backs, but he's one of the better backups around. Coming into Sunday's game, Gillislee was averaging 5.98 yards a carry since joining the Bills last season.
Granted, it was a miserable day for the running game. The offensive line didn't get much push and the Dolphins were crowding the box, daring Tyrod Taylor to beat them. McCoy might have struggled if he really was in top form, as he did in the opener at Baltimore.
But you have to think Gillislee would have done better than McCoy.
Ryan had better hope that playing McCoy against the Dolphins didn't aggravate the injury and make it more likely to linger into November or later. Rex will have plenty to answer for if that's the case. He's the head coach. He could have persuaded McCoy to sit.
But this was a day when a lot went wrong for Ryan. The Dolphins took his winning formula and shoved it back in his face. The Bills didn't run or stop the run. Jay Ajayi gashed them for 214 yards, the second-most ever against Buffalo. At least it wasn't another case of an obscure back having his coming-out party against the Bills. Ajayi had 204 against Pittsburgh the week before.
For the first time in awhile, an opponent punched the Bills in the mouth and Ryan's guys didn't have a response. Down 17-6, the Dolphins didn't panic. They took a page out of Rex's book, sticking with the running game and continuing to pound away with Ajayi.
"At 17-6, we thought we'd be able to pin our ears back and go get 'em," said tackle Corbin Bryant. "But they stayed with their game plan and kept running the ball while we were in some sub packages and things. They stuck with their game plan and were able to get a quick score. You get a quick score in this game, you're right back in it."
When pounding it on the ground and playing tough defense doesn't work, you need more than a "mistake-free" passing game to bail you out. Tyrod Taylor had his moments – notably a 67-yard TD bomb to Marquise Goodwin – but he once again looked out of his depth when trying to lead a team from behind through the air in a desperate situation.
This is the sixth straight time the Bills have been behind by seven or tied in a fourth quarter and lost with Taylor at quarterback. You can't put it all on him. The defense was unraveling in the second half. He's down his top three receivers, if you include Greg Salas. Still, he seems lost when things are most desperate.
It's no time for panic. The Bills did a nice job to win four in a row and get back in the race. But this was a bad loss, one for seasoned, skeptical Bills fans to file away in the archive of regret. It was the fifth time in a row that they traveled to Miami with a winning record and lost.
They had a 17-6 lead in the third quarter and were on their way to a fifth straight win, and it all went quickly to pieces.
Somehow, it felt like more than one loss. The Bills are 4-3, in the thick of the playoff hunt, but 1-3 in the AFC with the mighty Pats up next. Those bad conference losses tend to haunt you later in the year, when it's time to figure out the playoff tiebreakers.
They lost a game to the entire division (the Jets and Pats won) and allowed an average Miami team to climb back in the race. The Dolphins have successive wins over the Steelers and Bills and have new-found confidence. Even Mario Williams seemed inspired.
The Bills come home to take on the Patriots and Tom Brady, who will be motivated to make up for that 16-0 loss in Foxborough back on Oct. 2. They'll need to be at their very best next week, which makes the decision to play McCoy in Miami all the more dubious.