With All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White done for the year after suffering an Achilles tear against the Miami Dolphins in Week 4 and starter Christian Benford ruled out with a shoulder injury, Week 5 marked Elam’s time to shine after being a healthy scratch throughout the first four weeks.
However, the Bills former first-round pick from the 2022 NFL draft struggled so much that head coach Sean McDermott benched him midway through the fourth quarter. Ja’Marcus Ingram, a former undrafted free agent out of Buffalo, who was elevated from the practice squad on Sunday, took over his role for the remainder of the game.
Following Buffalo’s 25-20 loss at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, McDermott was asked if Elam’s struggles stemmed from being inactive through Week 4.
“No,” McDermott told reporters. “You’re playing, you’re expected to play and perform well, regardless of whether you’ve played or been active or inactive the week before, and guys have done that over the years.”
He also confirmed that Elam was not pulled due to an injury. “Just more situationally, wanted to get another player in there,” he said, which is not a ringing endorsement for the sophomore player.
It wasn’t a crazy move for McDermott to bench Elam. At the end of the third quarter, he allowed Jaguars wide receiver Ridley to gain 14 yards. In the fourth quarter, with Elam in coverage, quarterback Trevor Lawrence again connected with Ridley for 20 yards.
The Athletic‘s Matthew Fairburn wrote, “The play before Elam came out of the game, he was late supporting the play in run defense. Elam was the closest player in coverage on three completions of 16 or more yards… If the Bills can’t get Elam turned around, they have to consider looking outside the organization for a cornerback.”
Kaiir Elam Has ‘Faith’ He Can Turn Things Around in Buffalo
The 22-year-old cornerback looked downtrodden while speaking to reporters in the locker room after the game. “God has a plan, honestly,” he said. “I know how I prepare and I trust and have faith that I can help this team win, so my number not being called, all I can do is control and have a great practice to give coaches great confidence in me.”
Elam, who signed a four-year, $13.69 million contract with Buffalo last year, said he’s more upset over the team’s loss than his performance. “I mean, obviously I want to win,” Elam added, per The Buffalo News. “That’s pretty much it. I just want to win and do my part to help this team win.
“If we came away with a win and I didn’t make any plays, I mean I would still be happy, but at the end of the day, I want to make an impact, and that’s what I’m struggling to do.”
Kaiir Elam Wasn’t the Only Bills Player Struggling in London
Elam lagged against the Jaguars, but he wasn’t alone. Buffalo (3-2) worked with an in-house sports science department for months in order to figure out an optimal travel plan for London, but flying overnight on Thursday and forcing everyone to stay awake on Friday, didn’t appear to work well for the Bills.
McDermott didn’t deny flying in a day earlier might’ve changed things. “We need to evaluate everything because I didn’t feel like our energy was good enough early in the game,” he said. “(The Jaguars) had better energy than we did.”
The Jaguars (3-2) had been in London for nearly two weeks, as they defeated the Atlanta Falcons 23-7 at Wembley Stadium in October 1.
The Bills defense as a whole was also heavily depleted. Losing both Matt Milano (fractured leg) and DaQuan Jones (pectoral injury) in the first half was a tough blow, especially with Greg Rousseau (foot) and Shaq Lawson (toe) already ruled out.
Buffalo ultimately struggled on both sides of the ball. “Too many times shooting ourselves in the foot where we’re about to get off the field,” McDermott said. “Or starting to get into a rhythm offensively and then we have a penalty or negative play that sets us back. Just all in all, not good enough.”