FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (WKBW) — After Sunday's pivotal win against the New England Patriots, Bills center Mitch Morse didn't shy away from noticing the absences of wide receiver Cole Beasley. Buffalo's primary slot receiver was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday.
“Cole is a great teammate and great competitor. He has been the lifeblood of this team since he's been here," Bills center Mitch Morse said. "He is a tremendous football player, was an All-Pro last year, playing great ball. But to be honest, these last two weeks have just been crazy with guys in and out."
Enter Isaiah McKenzie.
After an up-and-down season that has seen him scratched twice this year, the Bills' self-proclaimed "face of the franchise" put it on display. McKenzie established new career highs in catches (11) and yards (125) and tacked on a score on the Bills' opening drive. His team-leading performance helped Buffalo to a 33-21 victory.
"I just had to step up, all my coaches believed in me. Josh [believed] in me," McKenzie said. "And I made plays. That’s all I wanted to do was help the team win.”
Buffalo's wide receiver, kick returner, and jet motion extraordinaire embraced the role of lead slot receiver when he had to rise to the occasion. After a costly fumble in Buffalo's crushing loss to the Indianapolis Colts game a month ago, he was left off the active roster in back-to-back contests.
"It was a learning experience. I had to take leave of myself and figure out what I had to do better. I just showed up in practice every day and do whatever it takes to do better," McKenzie said. "So those two weeks that I was inactive, I just thought about things and just reevaluated myself and then this was the opportunity that came around."
"You know it's important to him," head coach Sean McDermott said. "So it's a great testament to him the way he's worked to get himself back to get in this position to have this opportunity. When given the opportunity, he stepped up. I think that's a lesson for our entire team."
Everybody at One Bills Drive is all about the "next man up" mentality. Even today, several players were preaching it after the game. For McKenzie, his absence was by choice, as opposed to an injury or a case of COVID-19. It even seemed like McDermott's trust in McKenzie's ball security had been implicitly lost, or at least shaken. But quarterback Josh Allen never lost it.
"I've got all the faith in the world in him. For him to come out and play this way the day after Christmas, it means a lot to him, but I think it means a lot to everybody on this team. Just seeing a guy like that who has his ups and downs throughout the year, loses the returning position, is sacked for a couple games, comes out, and he was unbelievable today," Allen said. "I'm so, so happy for him. I can't express that enough."
As McKenzie more tripled his year-long receiving yardage total and surpassed his year-long reception total, he never heard that from Allen during the game, though. According to Buffalo's leading receiver on Sunday, it was 11 catches, 125 yards, one touchdown, and zero words.
"He said nothing to me at all, he just threw me the ball," McKenzie said. "But in those moments he believed in me and threw me the ball, and I made the plays when I could. I thank him for that and thank the coaches for calling those plays and giving me the opportunity."
McKenzie's next chance to build on his career day will be back in Orchard Park. The Bills host the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday at 1:00 p.m.