PITONIAK: McCoy carries the load in Bills season-opening victory

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               For a few anxious moments Sunday afternoon in a ragged game that occasionally felt like an extension of the preseason, citizens of Bills Nation held their collective breath. After setting up the fourth-quarter touchdown that would secure a hard-fought 21-12 victory against the lowly (that is being kind) New York Jets, LeSean McCoy trotted to the sidelines holding his throbbing right wrist – and the Bills season – in his left hand.
 
                “It really hurt for a little bit,’’ the ninth-year running back said from the post-game podium. “I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t squeeze. It was numb.”
 
                Trainers spent several minutes tending to him on the sidelines and even brought him inside the make-shift medical tent. After what seemed an eternity, McCoy emerged holding his helmet. The announcement came in the press box that he was cleared to return. And when he did, you could feel the majority of the 68,751 fans inside sunny New Era Field exhale.
 
                The reality is that the Bills probably are going nowhere this season, as new coach Sean McDermott and new general manager Brandon Beane perform an extreme makeover. McCoy, meanwhile, looks as if he going to a sixth Pro Bowl as he continues a journey he hopes one day will lead him to Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
 
                “Just got to keep pushing man, keep pushing,’’ he said. “Get more wins. With wins, the numbers come. And that’s the mindset, man. Just trying to lead this team in the right direction.”
 
                Although he surpassed the 12,000-yards-from-scrimmage milestone during Sunday’s game, McCoy has many miles to go before he reaps. But as he proved again vs. the Jets he remains one of football’s premier playmakers. At age 29 and with more than 2,300 touches, McCoy continues to hit the hole, rather than the wall. He finished his day with 110 yards on 22 carries – a nifty five-yards-per-carry average. And he did so against a Jets defense that definitely was game-planning against him with eight men in the box. He also had five receptions for 49 yards. One of his catches and runs lived up to his CutonDime25 twitter handle, as he split two linebackers assigned to shadow him for a 21-yard gain.
 
                The Bills recently added more than $2-million worth of incentives to his contract, and McCoy seemed intent on earning many of them in Week One. Twenty-seven touches is an awful lot for a slightly built running back with so much wear-and-tear. But McCoy was swift to dismiss questions about his ability to handle heavy workloads.
 
                “I mean, I’m used to that,’’ he said. “I don’t take a lot of real shots. You’re not going to see many “oooh” hits with me. … I’ve been playing this way for so long. I’ve always been undersized, but I’ve always been one of the better guys on the field, whoever is on the field with me. So, you know I’m used to it. I embrace it.”
 
                True that, but the Bills are going to have to guard against overusing McCoy because he is engine that drives their offense. He is the most indispensable Bill. Twenty-seven touches per game equates to 432 over a 16-game schedule, and that’s not going to happen. There was much concern going into the season about who would spell McCoy – a role Mike Gillislee so capably filled last season before bolting for the free agent dollars the New England Patriots threw at him. If the Jets game is any indication, the new Gillislee may be Mike Tolbert, a 5-foot-9, 260-pound human bowling ball who rushed for 42 yards on 12 carries and also caught a pass for 12 yards.
 
                McCoy wasn’t going to be greedy or foolish after dinging his wrist. He gladly turned over the keys to Tolbert, who capped the day’s scoring with a one-yard touchdown run. “We got a 260-pound back,’’ McCoy said, smiling. “Let him get a touchdown.”
 
                It’s still a head-scratcher why the Philadelphia Eagles traded McCoy two years ago for former Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had sat out the previous season with a leg injury. Former Philly coach Chip Kelly didn’t think McCoy’s style fit his team any more. After a season in which the running back’s rushing yardage had dropped from an NFL-best 1,607 in 2013 to 1,319 in 2014, the arrogant coach believed McCoy was on the decline. Some decline. In 27 games with Buffalo, he is averaging 110 yards from scrimmage per contest.
 
                After McCoy helped Sean McDermott win his first game, the rookie Bills head coach was asked if he could fathom how the Eagles could have traded a back so talented who was still in his prime. McDermott paused and smiled, before saying, “Yeah, we’re fortunate to have him.”
 
                Yes, they are. It still portends to be a long, long season, even with the supremely talented McCoy on their roster. But watching him run with the football truly is worth the price of admission.
                 
 
NOTES: This is not a misprint or fake news, the Bills are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. Admittedly, this might be something that will only be true until next Sunday, but if you are a Bills fan who has endured the 17-year playoff famine, you savor any good moment you can. Thursday night’s decisive loss by the New England Patriots, coupled with the cancellation of the Miami Dolphins opener because of Hurricane Irma and the Bills victory resulted in something Buffalo hasn’t experienced in quite some time. … Quarterback Tyrod Taylor played a solid game, completing 16-of-28 for 224 yards and two scores. He also tossed a costly interception at the goal-line and gained 38 yards on eight carries. Five of his first eight completions were on plays over the middle. That’s an encouraging development, because in his first two seasons as a starter, he often seemed reluctant to throw between the numbers. … Tight end Charles Clay had four catches on nine targets for 53 yards and a score. Second-round draft pick Zay Jones had one catch for 21 yards. First-round pick Tre’Davious White had four tackles and two pass breakups in his first NFL start at cornerback. … New starting safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer had interceptions.
 
                Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is in his seventh season as a Bills contributor for WROC-TV.

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