Keith Ford looked around and had a lonely feeling.
The Buffalo Bills’ rookie undrafted running back was the only player left at his position Sunday. Without starter LeSean McCoy and top backup Chris Ivory to start the game against Detroit because of injuries, the Bills lost third-stringer Marcus Murphy in the second quarter because of an arm injury.
That meant it was Ford’s show at running back.
“It's just me,” he said of what went through his mind when he saw Murphy go down. “I've got to step up. I'm not doing it for me. I'm 1/11th. I've got to play my role and know what to do to contribute. When your name is called, you've got to be ready.”
Ford joined the 53-man roster early in the week after McCoy suffered a hamstring injury and Ivory went out with a shoulder injury last week against the Jets. Although both were listed as questionable, neither was able to face the Lions, which meant Ford made his NFL debut.
“What can you say? Rookie undrafted free agent, to come out in his first action and really handle himself with great composure,” coach Sean McDermott said.
Murphy had 11 carries for 35 yards before getting hurt. Ford finished with 13 carries for 45 yards. He just missed a chance to seal the win when he came up inches short on a third-and-2 run with just more than a minute left, but McDermott kept the offense on the field on fourth-and-1 from the Lions’ 41-yard line. Rookie quarterback Josh Allen converted the first down with a 2-yard quarterback sneak, allowing the Bills to run out the clock.
“Whatever situation you're in, you have to get through it,” Ford said. “I felt like I had the first down. Didn't get it, but it doesn't matter. It was just resilience.”
With just Ford at running back, the team got creative in the second half, giving fullback Patrick DiMarco and wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud carries in the third quarter.
"I've got to know all the fullback stuff, all the tailback stuff, and most of the tight end stuff, just in case something happens,” DiMarco said. “We only had two tight ends up, so if one of them goes down, we can't lose personnel groups. ... I prepared for everything this week, and the preparation helped out.”
DiMarco took his only carry of the game for 9 yards.
“I think I finally got myself out of a negative average,” DiMarco said. “Shoot, I can probably retire now.”
That’s actually true: DiMarco came into the game with minus-2 rushing yards on three carries in his seven-year career.
Ford also had to leave the field briefly in the third quarter, but was able to return.
“It's the league. Injuries happen,” he said. “When your name is called, you have to take advantage of it. I played pretty well tonight, but I know I have to come back next week and prepare even harder.
2. Here’s who Allen was getting the ball to Sunday, and where they were drafted: Running backs Murphy (2015 seventh round) and Ford (rookie undrafted free agent), wide receivers Zay Jones (2017 second round), Robert Foster (rookie undrafted free agent), Isaiah McKenzie (2017 fifth-round pick) and Ray-Ray McCloud (2018 sixth-round pick) and tight ends Charles Clay (2011 sixth round) and Jason Croom (2017 undrafted free agent).
Another way to look at that, courtesy of spotrac.com, is by salary-cap hit: Clay is at $9 million and Allen is at $3.8 million as the seventh overall draft pick. After that, it’s peanuts by NFL standards: Murphy ($630,000), Ford ($84,000), Jones ($1.5 million), McCloud ($519,000), Foster ($225,000), McKenzie ($261,000) and Croom ($480,000).
Fans wanting the Bills to invest in more weapons this offseason for Allen will point to a series in the fourth quarter as justification. On first down, Allen went deep for veteran Deonte Thompson. The throw wasn’t perfect, but it’s a catch an NFL receiver probably should make.
Ditto for the second-down play, when Allen threw slightly high for Zay Jones. Again, the ball placement wasn’t perfect, but good enough that an NFL receiver should make the play.
3. Foster continues to be a find. He became the first undrafted free agent in franchise history to have back-to-back 100-yard games after finishing with four catches for 108 yards. Foster has all three of the Bills’ 100-yard receiving games this year, making him the first receiver since Sammy Watkins in 2015 to have at least that many in a season. Foster is averaging 24.6 yards per catch, which would lead the NFL if it qualified (a player needs at least two catches per their team’s games played to qualify – Foster has 19 catches this year).
“As fast as he runs out there, he runs that fast in practice, as well,” fellow receiver Isaiah McKenzie said. “Each and every practice, we go hard. He's done a great job so far. I like what he's doing.”
4. It doesn’t happen often, but Tre’Davious White had a tough first half. The Bills’ No. 1 cornerback gave up a pair of long completions to wide receiver Kenny Golladay and also took a defensive holding penalty.
Golladay had a career-high 115 receiving yards in the first half alone. That included an impressive catch that he ripped away from Bills cornerback Levi Wallace. It was also a diffciult first half for Wallace, who was in coverage on Lions receiver Andy Jones’ 4-yard touchdown catch.
5. The injury bug continued to bite in the third quarter when McKenzie suffered a non-contact leg injury on a punt return. McKenzie, who at the time was the team’s leading receiver with six catches for 53 yards, was carted off the field. He jogged back out to the sideline a minute into the fourth quarter, and re-entered the game a short time later. He said afterward that he had twisted his ankle on a sweep earlier, and then got cramps in both legs on the punt return.
“It was embarrassing to get the cart, but I couldn't really move,” McKenzie said. “I was telling them not to, but at the same time, in my mind, I'm like, 'I need it.' ”
6. It’s fair to wonder how healthy kicker Stephen Hauschka was. The team elected not to try a 54-yard field goal in the first quarter with Hauschka, who was questionable for the game because of a hip injury. Maybe that was out of his range, although he’s tried 16 field goals from 50-plus yards in two years with the Bills, and wind wasn’t much of a factor.
In the third quarter, the Bills passed up what would have been a 31-yard field-goal attempt and went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Detroit 13-yard line. That seems oddly aggressive for the normally conservative McDermott, considering a field goal would have cut the Bills’ deficit to 13-10.
7. A week after failing to record even one quarterback hit against Jets rookie Sam Darnold, the Bills’ pass rush was largely ineffective again. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford was not sacked. Stafford, who was never the most mobile quarterback, came into the game questionable with a back injury. The Bills did register four quarterback hits -- two each from Lorenzo Alexander and Shaq Lawson -- a week after finishing with none.
"I loved the energy that Shaq brought," McDermott said of Lawson. "He’s one of our juice guys in terms of just the energy he brings to practice, the energy he brings to the game field. I'm really proud of the way he’s grown this year."
8. Already down one linebacker, the Bills lost another one in the first half when rookie Tremaine Edmunds came off just more than a minute into the second half. Edmunds was taken to the sideline medical tent, but ultimately missed just one play. The Bills played for the first time this season without Matt Milano, who suffered a broken fibula last week against New York.
9. Tight end Charles Clay was invisible again, failing to record a catch on just one target. Backup Jason Croom had just one catch, but it was a big one. He hauled in a 25-yard reception on second and 9 with 2:46 remaining, keeping the offense on the field and allowing the Bills to bleed more clock.
10. Quarterback Derek Anderson, who cleared concussion protocol Friday, was inactive. That meant Matt Barkley continued to serve as Allen’s backup. Tight end Logan Thomas also missed the game because of a hamstring injury. The other inactives were cornerback Ryan Lewis (concussion), safety Dean Marlowe and guard Vlad Ducasse.