FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the Buffalo Bills end their 2018 season next Sunday at New Era Field against the Miami Dolphins, it is becoming increasingly clear that coach Sean McDermott's young team and veteran running back LeSean McCoy are two trains traveling along different tracks.
McDermott made establishing a winning culture the focus of this season while integrating less-experienced players into the lineup on both sides of the ball. McCoy, 30, expressed his desire not only to win this season but also march closer to 12,000 career rushing yards and strengthen his case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The two seemingly competing goals might have coexisted this season, but Sunday's 24-12 loss to the New England Patriots showed signs of strain that suggest a divorce could be best for both sides this offseason.
McCoy did not start the game as discipline for what the six-time Pro Bowl running back called only a "private situation" and McDermott "putting [him] in [his] place." The benching came three days after McCoy scoffed at a reporter who suggested McCoy might not be the featured back as the Bills attempted to give undrafted rookie Keith Ford late-season playing time.
"C'mon man. Yo, this dude. Am I the feature back? Am I gonna come off the bench?" McCoy sarcastically asked the reporter Thursday.
Given that McCoy came off the bench Sunday for the first time since 2010, it is less than a stretch to connect the dots back to McCoy's comments last week and conclude McDermott wanted to send McCoy a message about putting the team first. McDermott was not asked about the benching at his postgame news conference, while McCoy spoke in the locker room.
McCoy made it clear to reporters as he exited the locker room that he intended to rebound from a 2018 season in which he will almost certainly set career lows in both rushing yards (488) and yards per carry (3.2), while tying a career low in rushing touchdowns (2). Perhaps he will, but the Bills should not be afraid to allow that to happen for another team.
Beyond the question of whether McCoy's mission at this stage of his career aligns with McDermott's, the six-time Pro Bowl running back has looked like a shell of former self this season. He rushed six times for nine yards and was outgained by Ford, who had 33 yards in seven carries.
The Bills' suspect offensive line should bear some blame for McCoy's lack of production this season, but Ford (3.8 yards per carry), Chris Ivory (3.4) and Marcus Murphy (4.8) have all performed better behind the same line. Buffalo's lack of a fearsome passing game might have shifted the attention of some defenses toward McCoy, but entering Sunday he faced eight or more defenders in the box on only 21 of his 145 rushes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That percentage of his carries (14.5) against at least an eight-man box is less than he faced in 2017 (23.0 percent) and 2016 (16.7 percent).
McCoy's struggles Sunday were even more alarming against a Patriots defense that entered the game allowing 4.99 yards per carry, the second-worst rate in the league. In the two games prior to Sunday's, New England gave up 142 rushing yards to Pittsburgh Steelers backup Jaylen Samuels and 189 rushing yards to the Miami Dolphins.
It is possible that McCoy is in the midst of an expected decline for a 30-year-old running back. In that case, the Bills should move on potentially a year too early instead of a year too late.
In terms of the salary cap, the Bills do not have to make a decision on McCoy until the start of the 2019 regular season. Whether they trade or release him in March or wait until roster cut-down day at the end of the preseason, the Bills would save $6.4 million of his $9 million salary-cap number.