LeSean McCoy meet Thomas Wolfe. He was the novelist who warned that you can’t go home again.
From the moment McCoy was traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Bills early this year, he had this game circled on the schedule. Sunday was going to be his triumphant homecoming; a day in which Philadelphia’s all-time rushing leader would run wild and stick it to his former coach, Chip Kelly.
Before kickoff, McCoy hugged Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, posed with some young fans in green jerseys and kissed the turf at Lincoln Financial Field, which had been his football home the previous six seasons.
When the game began, McCoy let his dancing feet do the talking for him. He definitely was feeling it the first 20 to 25 minutes. A 24-yard burst midway through the second quarter gave him 59 yards on just nine carries, a robust average of 6.6 yards per pop. But it was tough sledding after that as he managed just 13 yards on his final 11 carries. The fact he racked up his seventh consecutive game with at least 100 yards of offense (74 rushing, 35 receiving) was little consolation.
After the gun sounded on a 23-20 loss that all but extinguished the Bills playoff hopes for a not-so-sweet 16th consecutive season, McCoy was the first one off the field and through the tunnel. He didn’t shake a single hand. Although his departure was class-less and he didn’t have the guts to speak with reporters afterward, he was not the reason Buffalo dropped to 6-7. There were plenty of goats during this balmy December afternoon in which the Bills committed 15 penalties for 101 yards, fumbled away a punt that led to the Eagles go-ahead touchdown, misfired on some passes and fanned on some key tackles with the game still within grasp.
“We’ve got ourselves to blame on this one,’’ said Bills Coach Rex Ryan. “We are going to be sick if this costs us, which it probably will. It was a disgrace. We had way too many penalties and that’s on us.”
Left guard Richie Icognito, the most consistent Bills offensive lineman this season, picked a bad day to have a bad outing. He was flagged twice for holding, resulting in minus 25 yards. He also allowed Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox blow by him several times. One of his whiffs enabled Cox to drop McCoy for a 10-yard loss. “He ate my lunch today,’’ Incognito said. “I’m man enough to admit it.”
Icognito had plenty of company as the offensive line was beset with numerous drive-killing holding and false start penalties.
Jerry Hughes also was flagged a few times and now leads NFL linebackers and defensive ends with 100 penalty yards this season.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor regressed a bit Sunday, missing on a few deep balls, including one intended for Robert Woods that was picked off safety Ed Reynolds with just under a minute remaining. The interception was Taylor’s first since October 4 and ended a pick-less streak at 222. He completed 19-of-36 for 268 yards and one score – a 47-yarder to Sammy Watkins in the first quarter. Taylor is now 0-5 in games in which he throws at least 30 passes.
Marcus Thigpen began the season as the Bills primary kick returner, but after several lackluster games was cut and replaced by Denarious Moore. Moore didn’t provide a spark and had a crucial fumble, prompting Buffalo to release him and bring back Thigpen a few weeks ago. He wound up muffing a punt that the Eagles cashed in for the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter.
Leodis McKelvin, starting in place of injured cornerback Stephon Gilmore, made a terrific interception with 12:55 to go, stealing the ball from tight end Brent Celek along the sideline at the Bills 5-yard line. Later, though, McKelvin was shucked away by tight end Zach Ertz, who turned a short-gain into a 41-yard catch and run that led to the go-ahead field goal. The Eagles appeared to run an illegal pick on the play, but it wasn’t called and McKelvin should have made the tackle.
It all added up to another “woulda-shoulda-coulda” loss for a franchise on the brink of extending the longest playoff drought in North American major professional sports. As if this latest loss wasn’t tough enough for Bills fans to swallow, it occurred on a day when the Chiefs, Jets and Steelers all won to improve to 8-5, and remain comfortably ahead of Buffalo in the playoff seedings. To keep their slim hopes alive, the Bills have to win out and hope that the aforementioned teams suffer major meltdowns down the stretch.
NOTES: The 15 penalties are the fourth most in Bills history . . . Receiver Robert Woods was one of the few bright spots with five catches for 106 yards. Watkins finished with five catches for 81 yards and one score. . . . Fletcher, who was celebrating his 25th birthday, had eight tackles, including a sack and two other tackles for losses. “I was laughing when I heard (Cox) being compared to (former Eagles Pro Bowler) Jerome Brown,’’ Ryan said. “I’m not laughing now.”. . . McCoy needs 144 rushing yards in the final three games to reach 1,000 for the season. . . Taylor needs 106 rushing yards to eclipse Doug Flutie’s team record for most by a quarterback in a season (476). . . The Bills visit Washington next Sunday. Washington is 5-1 at home and needs the game to stay in first place in the NFC East. Buffalo closes with home games vs. Dallas (December 27) and the Jets (Jan. 3).
WROC-TV correspondent Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills for 31 years and has written five books about the team’s history. The Professional Football Writers of America has recognized his work 11 times, including the past two years when he has finished first in column writing.