We get it – the NFL is a macho man’s haven where playing hurt is about as routine as the sun rising in the morning.
But there is such a thing as protecting players from themselves and keeping the bigger picture in mind. Rex Ryan’s failure to do that this past week could cost the Buffalo Bills their first real good chance at a playoff berth since 1999.
Running back LeSean McCoy avoided major injury in Week 6 against the 49ers when he was rolling on the ground, grabbing his knee, but in practice last Wednesday, he suffered a hamstring injury. Due to the ailment, he didn’t practice the rest of the week.
McCoy entered last Sunday versus the Dolphins questionable, but he did suit up. Although he played, he didn’t look like his normal self, as he rushed for just 11 yards on eight attempts in a little over a half of action.
Ryan defenders will surely point to the fact Buffalo’s offense struggled to do much after McCoy left as a reason to leave him in the game. Aside from the 67-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin in the third quarter, Buffalo had just 111 yards of offense and seven first downs in the second half, and 75 of those yards and six of those first downs came on the Bills’ final drive when the Dolphins were in prevent defense. McCoy’s exit was a major reason Miami won.
Buffalo’s defense has played much better since Week 2, but without a doubt, McCoy was the biggest driving force behind the Bills’ four-game winning streak. All the more reason for Ryan to protect his running back and make sure he’s healthy before letting him back on the field.
Fans have high expectations for backup Mike Gillislee if he’s ever given the opportunity to start this year, but without McCoy, this is definitely not the same Bills team. When McCoy gains at least 80 rushing yards, Buffalo is 6-3 over the last two seasons. In all other games, the team is 6-8, and in contests where McCoy played and ran for under 80 rushing yards, the Bills are 3-7.
There might not be a more important running back to a team’s cause than McCoy in the entire NFL. Of course, Buffalo wants him out there every week, but the No. 1 goal after he suffered his hamstring injury should have been his long-term healthy. Hamstring issues tend to linger if they are tested too early, so rest was probably the best way to go last Sunday.
Instead, Ryan chose to play his running back, and he aggravated the injury. Now, McCoy is questionable to play this Sunday versus New England, the most important game of the early season.
Perhaps partial blame could be given to McCoy for failing to realize he probably shouldn’t risk further injury, but ultimately, players are going to play until told they can’t. The culture in the NFL is to play through injuries to help the team.
It’s a coach’s job to protect hurt players from themselves. Ryan failed to do that, and as a result, he’s faced with the same tough decision this week. If he sits McCoy, Buffalo’s chances of sweeping New England are diminished, and a loss would all but hand the division crown to the Patriots.
However, falling to 4-4 wouldn’t put the nail in the coffin for the Bills. It would, though, if McCoy has to miss the next several weeks because he aggravated his hamstring a second time.