The cheers went up the instant Willis McGahee took the field. How's that for pressure?
"I was like, `Man, I better do something,' " the Buffalo Bills running back said.
And McGahee delivered, scoring the go-ahead touchdown in his NFL preseason debut and helping the Bills to a 16-6 victory over the Denver Broncos last night in Orchard Park, N.Y.
McGahee scored on a 1-yard plunge and finished with 13 carries for 58 yards and two catches for 25 yards. After 19 months of recuperation and countless questions about his health, McGahee finally began providing some answers after missing all of his rookie season while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.
"Another step up the ladder," McGahee said. "I'm taking nice strides. I'm not rushing it. I'm just moving along, forward progress."
It was an encouraging start for McGahee and the Bills (1-0) under rookie coach Mike Mularkey, Pittsburgh's former offensive coordinator who took over following Gregg Williams's dismissal last December.
Besides McGahee, the Bills showed confidence in what had been an underutilized running attack last year. And Buffalo's defense was strong, registering two turnovers and three sacks in limiting the Broncos to a pair of field goals by Jason Elam.
It was a different story for Denver (0-2), which continued to struggle on offense after a sloppy outing in last week's 20-17 loss to Washington. Starting quarterback Jake Plummer went 3 of 11 for 40 yards passing and two interceptions, giving him three in two preseason games.
Ankle ousts Beasley Fred Beasley, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl fullback, could be sidelined until the Sept. 12 season opener because of a high left ankle sprain sustained in Saturday night's exhibition game against Oakland.
Beasley left San Francisco's 33-30 loss in the first quarter after he was hurt when ex-Patriot behemoth Ted Washington fell on him while Beasley was blocking upfield on a Kevan Barlow carry. He was helped off the field, and X-rays on the ankle were negative.
"They feel he has a chance to be ready to go against Atlanta, and that's what we're shooting for," coach Dennis Erickson said yesterday, referring to the opener against the Falcons.
Erickson said the Niners likely will add a fullback to the roster.
Mickens hurts knee New York Jets cornerback Ray Mickens hurt his knee during practice and underwent an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. Coach Herman Edwards said the results will be available today. Mickens, usually the team's top nickle back, started 14 games last season after Donnie Abraham injured his shoulder, grabbing two interceptions and making 75 tackles. In another injury setback, backup quarterback Brooks Bollinger won't practice this week and is out for Saturday's game at Indianapolis with a sprained right knee. Ricky Ray, signed from the CFL in the offseason, becomes the backup. Also, the Jets signed running back/kick returner Keith Burnell and released punter Brian Simnjanovski . . . Atlanta Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney sprained his right knee in practice when a lineman rolled on his leg. Coach Jim Mora said it wasn't a serious injury. Kerney, who has started 66 consecutive games, had the knee packed in ice and missed the last half of the practice . . . Philadelphia Eagles running back Bruce Perry will miss his rookie season after dislocating a shoulder in Friday's exhibition game against the Patriots. Coach Andy Reid said Perry, a seventh-round draft choice, will most likely have surgery. Perry, who was in the running to be a backup behind Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter, caught three passes in Friday's loss in Foxborough. Reid also said safety Quintin Mikell's sprained ankle will not require surgery.