My takeaways from the Bills’ had-to-have-it win over the Dolphins on Sunday at New Era Field.
1. Exhale, Bills fans. LeSean McCoy is OK. On the play in which he topped a huge milestone of 10,000 career rushing yards, McCoy stayed down hurt. After coming out of the lineup, he missed just one play. McCoy capped off an excellent first half with a 16-yard touchdown catch to put the Bills up, 14-6, after Stephen Hauschka’s extra point. It was his second touchdown of the game, following a 4-yard run in the opening quarter. McCoy had 92 yards from scrimmage in the first two quarters alone, leading what was the offense’s best half of football in 2017.
2. Of course, a ton of credit has to go to quarterback Tyrod Taylor for that, too. He was at his best in the first half, scrambling away from trouble, sensing pressure, making plays with his feet and being deadly accurate when throwing. Taylor’s touchdown pass to McCoy and 29-yard completion to tight end Charles Clay on his next throw were two of his best this season. He expertly directed an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with his 9-yard scoring run right before halftime in what was one of the best drives of the season. You almost felt bad for the Dolphins’ defenders, watching them try to chase down Taylor.
3. More on McCoy: His milestone day raises an interesting question – will he be back next season? McCoy is still producing at a high level at age 29, but is due to count $8.95 million against the salary cap in 2018. That’s scheduled to be the most in the NFL by nearly $2 million (although Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will likely surpass it). If I were making the call, I’d bring McCoy back for one more season and draft a running back in the middle rounds to groom as his replacement, similar to how the Colts have veteran Frank Gore and rookie Marlon Mack this year.
4. Speaking of running backs, the Bills made Mike Tolbert a healthy inactive. After missing three games because of a hamstring injury, Tolbert lost a fumble last week against the Colts. Perhaps that was enough for the coaching staff to determine it was time to make Travaris Cadet the No. 2 behind LeSean McCoy. That’s a move the team’s fans have been ready to make for a while now, based on my interactions on social media. Cadet had four carries
for 24 yards and caught a 14-yard pass on his only target.
5. Looking for an unsung hero from Sunday? Try Ryan Davis. The defensive end had a sack in the red zone in the first half on a third-down play, helping to hold the Dolphins to a field goal. In the third quarter, Davis assisted on a tackle that resulted in a 2-yard Miami loss off a completion to Kenyan Drake. Fellow defensive end Eddie Yarbrough also had a tackle for loss against Drake in run defense. In the two games since he went out, the Bills haven’t really missed Shaq Lawson.
6. This will come across as hypocritical, but I didn’t love the Bills going for it on fourth-and-7 from the Dolphins’ 36-yard line in the third quarter. More specifically, if that was go-for-it territory, I didn’t like the third-down play call, which was an incomplete deep pass intended for Deonte Thompson. The fourth-down play, an incomplete deep pass intended for Charles Clay, also wasn’t what I would have dialed up. At that point in the game, with a 21-6 lead, pinning Miami deep would have been OK in my mind. The ideal scenario, though, would have been gaining some yardage on third down that could have set Stephen Haushcka up for a field-goal attempt.
7. The only knock against cornerback E.J. Gaines is durability. He has been very good when in the lineup, but injuries have caused him to miss a lot of time. The latest one of those came in the third quarter when he suffered a knee injury that led to him being carted off the field. Gaines’ replacement, Shareece Wright, came up with an interception of Cutler, but the Bills have to hope Gaines’ injury isn’t serious.
8. Jay Cutler looked like he would rather be anywhere in the world other than Orchard Park on Sunday. The Dolphins’ quarterback was intercepted twice in the third quarter, both on terrible throws, and then just dropped the ball on a third-down play early in the fourth quarter, giving the Bills a rare “team sack.” When he’s on, Cutler can look dynamite. Too often, though, he turns in efforts like we saw Sunday.
9. Adolphus Washington’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter was one of the dumbest plays of the season for the Bills. After stopping Drake on a third-and-goal play, the defensive tackle tried to slap the ball out of the Miami running back’s hands well after the whistle. The penalty gave Miami an automatic first down and two plays later Drake scored on a 1-yard run.
10. It feels like I write this every week, but punter Colton Schmidt has been very good for the Bills this season. His net average was just 34.4 yards, but that’s because Schmidt was punting on short fields a few times. He did it well, too, including once when he pinned Miami at the 1-yard line after excellent coverage by Lafayette Pitts and Andre Holmes.
Story topics: Adolphus Washington/ Andre Holmes/ Charles Clay/ Colton Schmidt/ Deonte Thompson/ E.J. Gaines/ Lafayette Pitts/ LeSean McCoy/ Mike Tolbert/ ryan davis/ Shaq Lawson/ shareece wright/ Stephen Hauschka/ Travaris Cadet/ Tyrod Taylor