One by one, the question was met with a sideways glance and emphatic disagreement.
No, members of the Buffalo Bills’ secondary said Tuesday, they did not lack confidence in Sunday’s loss to the Washington Redskins.
That notion was floated by coach Rex Ryan during the opening statement of his Monday news conference.
“The thing I think was probably the biggest disappointment to me was ... it looked like we lacked confidence, in particular, in the back end,” Ryan said.
If there’s one thing NFL players rarely lack, it’s confidence. At every level of football, they’ve always been the best players on the field. So it was not a surprise that they bristled at their coach’s suggestion.
“Lacked confidence? Uh, no,” rookie cornerback Ronald Darby said. “I don’t know who would lack confidence going into a game. I just feel like we ain’t played well. We’re human. People mess up.”
Veteran safety Corey Graham hadn’t heard of Ryan’s comments until being asked about them by the media, but also wholly disagreed.
“No,” he said flatly about whether he agreed with his coach’s assessment. “I would hope not. I don’t think guys lacked confidence. It’s the NFL. You’re going to have good days. You’re going to have bad days. Those guys made more plays than we did out there, and they won the game.”
Asked if there was anything he could point to as to why Ryan would say that, Graham came up empty.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m pretty sure he watched the film two or three times. That’s his assessment of things. I don’t know, maybe somebody said something to him on the sideline or he heard somebody talking on the sideline, I mean, it could have been one person that said something, all of a sudden it might not sound right to him. That could be why he said some guys lacked confidence. I know for sure I didn’t.”
When asked to follow up on what exactly that meant, Ryan offered up the following explanation:
“It’s just when the play was called, we’re playing so far off, that’s what it seemed like to me. That wasn’t how we had practiced a lot of things and it could be regardless of a coverage. We’re in two-man coverage, we’re playing too far off. There are things that we did from a technique standpoint that – I have been around this game a long time – there are certain techniques you use and if you’re lacking confidence, you’re going to play a certain way and that’s exactly how we were playing.
“We were playing to not get beat on top instead of – and that’s fine not to get beat on top – but you have to compete. I think at times ... it never looked to me that we were 100 percent sure on our assignment or 100 percent sure on our technique.”
Graham did agree that something changed from practice to the game field.
“I mean, when you’re not making plays, obviously that’s not the way you draw it up,” he said. “Everything is drew up in practice for you to go out there and make plays and stop what they’re doing. When they’re out there completing everything and doing whatever they want, obviously things don’t go the way you want. So I mean, things didn’t go the way we planned. We had a game plan to go out there and execute, and we didn’t execute it well.”
Like Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. When the Bills got hit Sunday, that plan fell apart.
“I don’t feel like guys lacked confidence,” safety Duke Williams said. “I feel like guys get discouraged when something bad happens or if a play doesn’t go their way. You know, it’s easy to get those things mixed up. ... When you have a guy throw for 300-plus yards and five touchdowns, you kind of get a little bit discouraged.”
As for how the Bills made Kirk Cousins look like the second coming of Joe Montana, Graham pointed to a seasonlong problem for the defense: Communication.
“You know, when we first got out there ... things was going real fast,” he said. “They were getting to the line real fast, so it was times where we just had to hurry up and get aligned.
“To be honest, we’ve just all got to get on the same page. I mean, we’re in what, Week 15? Week 16? And still we’re talking about the same thing. I mean, we’re just all not on the same page. One guy may be playing this, one guy may be playing that, we might not know what’s going on. They’re rushing, speeding things, and we’re trying to get calls in at the last second and things like that. If we’re not all on the same page, we’re not going to make plays.”
So it’s been like that all season for the Bills, who a season after finishing fourth in the NFL in total defense have sunk to 21st in 2015.
“Everybody is still thinking about last year. We have to get over that,” said linebacker Preston Brown. “It’s not last year. Guys are still thinking, ‘Oh we did this last year.’ Well, we’re not doing it this year. We understand that we’re doing a different scheme with a different system and it works if everybody does it the same way.”
One of Brown’s responsibilities the past two seasons has been to get the defensive play communicated to his teammates. He said he’s been receiving them from the coaching staff this year “extremely late.” Several times this season, that has resulted in obvious confusion as players are looking at the sideline or each other to figure out their responsibility on the play.
“We have to understand that everybody has to be working as one and we haven’t done that this year,” Brown said. “Everybody has been kind of doing their own agenda on our side of the ball, so it’s something that we need to get covered and handle these last couple games.”