The good news is the New York Jets won't see Willis McGahee twice this season. The bad news is they will face their old nemesis Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
After four seasons in Buffalo, McGahee was shipped by the Bills to the Baltimore Ravens in March in exchange for three draft picks. The quickest player to reach 2,000 rushing yards in Buffalo history has played against the Jets six times in his career and he rushed for at least 100 yards in the last five meetings.
"We obviously aren't doing something right over here because he's had some pretty good games against us," ILB Jonathan Vilma, a former teammate of McGahee's at the University of Miami, said Wednesday. "It will be another test for us — as well as our offense and stopping the quarterbacks and the receivers — but obviously we have to stop Willis."
Last September, the Jets won at Buffalo but McGahee was more than a handful, rushing for a career-high 150 yards on 26 carries. Then at the Meadowlands, the 6'0", 232-pounder exploded for a career-long 57-yard score and his 125-yard day helped the Bills split the season series.
Outside linebacker Victor Hobson said the Jets know what to expect from McGahee, a strong runner who has the speed to get to the outside.
"We have to get a lot of people to the ball, get as many people to the ball as possible. It is very rare that one person takes him down," Hobson said. "Usually if that happens, it's a very good play. He is just a guy who has big-play potential and a guy we really have to make sure we get down to the ground."
Despite suffering a catastrophic knee injury in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and missing his first pro season while recovering, McGahee has averaged 1,121 yards per season on the pro level.
"I think he's bounced back from injury very well. You can see he is very explosive still, very strong, and can still cut," Vilma said. "I'm glad to see, from what I remember back at college and now playing against him, that hasn't changed."
In the off-season, the Ravens released Jamal Lewis and made a strong pitch for McGahee. He offers their club a younger player with less treadwear and more speed.
"He is a great running back and he adds tremendous value to that team," said OLB Eric Barton. "He can make every cut, he can catch — he's a great player."
It seems like every time the Jets line up against McGahee, he takes his game to the next level. He was credited with 143- and 113-yard efforts back in the '05 season. Before that, he ripped the Jets for 132 in November of '04.
"When you play a team twice in your division, you have two opportunities to look good, you have a larger body of work to draw from," said Ravens head coach Brian Billick on a Wednesday conference call with Jets reporters. "I don't know how to quantify the success Willis has had against the Jets. I haven't noticed it in that kind of detail. But obviously he is very familiar with them and that is a plus."
Billick said McGahee "ran very well" in his regular-season debut with Baltimore as he amassed 77 yards on 19 carries. He also caught three passes for 34 yards, but the Ravens played from behind for much of the way Monday evening in Cincinnati and hurt themselves with six turnovers.
"It wasn't enough," McGahee said of his performance. "No matter what, I didn't do enough to get us a win, and that's what's most important."
So Willis will have added incentive this week. He wasn't happy with the Week 1 outcome, he will make his debut at home, and he'll see those familiar faces in Green & White. McGahee and Vilma usually run ongoing conversations throughout their battles.
"Yeah, it goes back to the Miami days, the scrimmages and the practices," Vilma said. "I expect that. I expect that from him, I expect that from all of the guys I play against."
Besides McGahee, the Ravens also have the option of getting the ball to Musa Smith, the Georgia product (6'0", 232) who is another powerfully built back with good speed. Smith scored on a 17-yard TD run against Cincinnati.
"He ran well the other day. I think every time he's gotten the opportunity to play, he's done well," Barton said.
The Ravens threw the ball short the other night, and more checkdowns mean McGahee could be used more in the receiving game than in Buffalo.
"He has that big-play ability. He's a big guy. Not a lot of guys are going to tackle him, and he can run a great distance," Vilma said. "I know he broke out on us before, so if you get the ball in his hands a lot of things can happen."
He's no longer in Buffalo, but now the Jets want to stop the McGahee stampede this weekend in Baltimore.