By Tim Graham
Overlooked amid all the jubilation caused by C.J. Spiller and the Buffalo Bills' defensive line was Leodis McKelvin's 88-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs already seemed out of hand when McKelvin scored late in the third quarter to make the score 35-10. But his long dash was notable in that it helped the Bills counterbalance their opening-day debacle and showed McKelvin still can influence a game even though he lost his job on defense.
"You can never understate how big a punt return or kicking game play is in a ballgame," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. His team was victimized by Jeremy Kerley's 68-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave the New York Jets a 21-0 lead on opening day.
"I would venture to say that if you look at the first couple of games overall in the season, the kicking game has had as big an impact on wins and losses as maybe anything has. That's normally the way it is until they settle in."
McKelvin's punt return was the second-longest in Bills history. Keith Moody set the record at 91 yards in 1977.
McKelvin was removed from his role as the slot cornerback and replaced with Justin Rogers, who did well in limiting Chiefs receiver Dexter McCluster to four catches for 32 yards.
"The same thing happened last year," Gailey said. "We started playing Aaron [Williams] a lot more, and Leodis went and played special teams and did an outstanding job, and that's the way he is. He's a true professional.
"We felt like that with the matchup we had with this ballgame we were going to give Justin a chance to go out there and play, and he was playing so well we just left it the way it was."
McKelvin was considered a bubble player when training camp began at St. John Fisher. The 11th overall draft pick in 2008 had been a major disappointment. He had one of the strongest preseasons of anyone and earned the slot corner role.
Then Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez lit up the Bills' secondary, prompting changes in coverage and personnel.
McKelvin played 22 defensive snaps against the Jets, but only five against the Chiefs. Rogers didn't play any defensive snaps on opening day.
Gailey said Rogers will remain the slot corner for now.
"He didn't do it all [correctly], but he did a good job for his first time out there," Gailey said.