ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few hours before the Buffalo Bills kicked off their only prime-time game of the season Monday night against the New England Patriots, coach Sean McDermott was asked if running back LeSean McCoy was important to Buffalo's chances to beat its long-dominant AFC East foe.
"Correct," McDermott told WGR 550, chuckling at how obvious the answer seemed.
McDermott was prescient, but not in the way he would have preferred. McCoy, who McDermott said was in full health after being cleared Sunday from the concussion protocol, gained 12 yards on the Bills' first play after taking a direct snap in a Wildcat formation. His next 11 runs went for a total of 1 yard in a 25-6 loss to the Patriots that dropped the Bills to 2-6.
For a six-time Pro Bowl running back who counts $9 million against the Bills’ salary cap this season, something seemed lacking against a Patriots defense that allowed the league’s eighth-highest yards per carry entering Week 8.
With the NFL's trade deadline approaching at 4 p.m. Tuesday, it is fair to question whether McCoy's star has faded and what value he could bring to the Bills over the remainder of his contract, which expires after the 2019 season.
Although McCoy led the Bills with six catches for 82 yards on Monday night, he entered the game ranked 34th in the NFL in yards per carry (3.87) this season and 37th since the start of the 2017 season (3.95). His most recent touchdown -- rushing or receiving -- came in Week 15 of last season.
A noticeably sullen McCoy sat with his head down at his locker for several minutes after Monday’s game before answering questions from reporters, at times seemingly holding back tears.
“The hard work I’ve put in my whole life, my career, for it to happen like this every game, it’s tough,” he said. “You see the defense out there, just grinding. It is frustrating.”
McCoy has 257 yards on 75 carries this season, a 3.4 yards-per-carry average that is by far the worst of his 10-year career.
“I ain’t expect to have no season like this,” he said. “I’m not really playing well at all. We’re not doing much on offense. ... What do I got, 200 yards? In the [eighth game]? That’s never happened to me. Yeah, it’s different. It’s a different season. I’m 30 years old, playing since when I’ve been in high school. This stuff [has] never happened to me. It is tough.”
McCoy, 30, believes his skills have not declined.
“I still can play,” he said. “Defenses know I still can play. You see the way they approach me when I’m in the game.”
Entering Week 8, McCoy was averaging 2.7 yards per carry in the first halves of games. Some blame for that lack of production should fall on the offensive line, which lost stalwart center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito to retirement last offseason, but McCoy's struggles to consistently gain positive yards and make game-breaking runs have become striking.
The Bills had an opportunity to escape Monday with a win over the Patriots (6-2) because of their defense's ability to hold New England's offense to field goals. However, the Bills' inability to establish their ground attack compounded the more expected issues at quarterback that showed up again in the fourth quarter, when Derek Anderson threw a game-clinching interception that was returned for a touchdown by Devin McCourty.
Anderson left the game with trainers on the Bills’ final drive after taking a big hit on a sack. McDermott said Anderson’s injury was being evaluated after the game and did not provide further details.
Trading McCoy might not drastically change the Bills' offense in the second half of the season. Backup Chris Ivory appeared more effective Monday night, gaining as many yards (13) on one run as McCoy had the entire game. Ivory, who entered Monday night ranked 56th among all NFL running backs in yards per carry since the start of the 2017 season, finished with 34 yards on six carries.
Asked about how Tuesday’s trade deadline, McCoy responded, “Who knows,” but made it clear he does not want out of Buffalo.
“This is my team,” he said. “They’ve done a lot to me. Loyalty to me. I’m happy here. But it doesn’t matter whether I was here or anywhere else, playing a season like this, you would be mad. I don’t think it’s a matter of where I’m at. It’s just what’s been taking place and how things are going offensively.”