With game-breaking running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson questionable for Sunday's contest against the New England Patriots, punt returner Leodis McKelvin will look to give the Bills an advantage in field position, if not, some points on the board.
The fifth-year man out of Troy currently leads the NFL in punt return average, yards and the longest return of the year with his 88-yard return for a touchdown against Kansas City. McKelvin's staggering 29.7 yards per return average is 10.1 yards better than the next best returner at 19.6 average.
McKelvin said he takes the return game one step at a time.
"First thing I have to do is catch the ball," McKelvin said. "I have to give the ball back to the offense. I'm just trying to do my job to get either a first down or two first downs, or maybe even score. Just get field position for the offense."
Last week against Cleveland, McKelvin gave the Bills an added boost right away as he returned his first punt 20 yards to the Buffalo 42. Buffalo would end up scoring eight plays later. After another three-and-out from Cleveland, the Browns saw déjà vu as McKelvin returned the next punt 33 yards to the Cleveland 49. Buffalo scored again to take a commanding lead four plays later.
Head coach Chan Gailey said McKelvin has been overlooked on special teams.
"He is probably another guy that's underrated in his area," Gailey said. "I think he is an extremely talented returner. He's got a chance to take every ball, whether it's a kickoff or a punt, he's got a chance to take it all the way as we saw two weeks ago. Our guys will keep working because when they know he's back there, they are working extremely hard to block and to do their assignments. It takes everybody. One guy can't do it. You can't just have one guy back there and have him do it all. But everybody's working extremely hard to get that done."
Chris White, a second-year linebacker out of Mississippi State, said McKelvin gives the special teams unit a reason to finish their blocking assignments.
"He's an explosive player and we know that if we make our blocks he'll make a big play for us," said White. "It's definitely exciting when we see him out there. We just need to keep it going and see how far we can get with it."
McKelvin's 178 yards on six returns this year is a career high and is two yards shy of matching the combined total yards in the 2010 and 2011 season.
"I just take what the special teams gives me," McKelvin said. "If they give me a return and they take care of the punt coverage I'm going to take my chances going out there. If they don't I'll make a fair catch and give it back to our offense. I'm not trying to do anything crazy or out of the ordinary to try and jeopardize our field position."
McKelvin has only returned one punt against the Patriots, going only five yards in last year's season finale. New England ranks 12th in the league in punt coverage, the best McKelvin has seen this year.
"This is just like facing any other team," McKelvin said. "You have to go out there and do your best not to give away yardage. There's a lot of hidden yardage that we've been putting out there. They're going to be ready and up for it. We just have to answer to the call and continue doing what we're doing."