Rex Ryan never saw a microphone that he didn’t like, so it wasn’t a surprise that he was cordial after the loss Saturday. He defiantly answered every question and remained friendly, even after suffering his most disheartening defeat in Buffalo and knowing it all but sealed his fate.
Who would have guessed that defense, which won him a Super Bowl in Baltimore and turned him into a genius, which his father turned into the standard for all others with the ’85 Bears, which gave his brother a career in football and made Rex a wealthy man, would ultimately lead to his undoing?
“That would be a first,” Ryan said.
If Ryan gets whacked after the season or sooner, and all indications suggest he will, he will look back and see his underachieving defense led to his downfall in Buffalo. His run defense in particular failed him again Saturday against a Miami team that shredded the Bills for the second time this season.
The Bills’ performance Saturday spelled out everything about Ryan’s shortcomings as a coach, from the missed tackles to the poor decisions, blown timeouts and not having enough players on the field, and failing to make the playoffs. It was all there, neatly wrapped in a box with a Christmas bow.
Someday, when his head clears and he has time to reflect, he’ll realize the 34-31 overtime loss to the Dolphins was a microcosm that outlined overall incompetence during his run as a head coach. It reaffirmed what anyone could see but was hardly the lone reason he’s headed for a long, lonely walk into the cold.
The decision to fire him, as it was explained to me, was made before the Bills stormed back against the Dolphins, before their defense crumbled yet again. One theory suggested Terry and Kim Pegula didn’t fire him after the Pittsburgh debacle because his birthday was two days later and Christmas was around the corner.
Ryan is one game under .500 over two seasons with Buffalo, but his flaws become more evident when taking a holistic view.
Last year, they were among the least disciplined and most penalized teams in the league. Ryan was behind the decision to sign Tyrod Taylor, who regressed in his second season as a starter. Rex talked about building a bully, only to see his team bullied numerous times on both sides of the ball.
After the Pittsburgh game, he admitted drawing up defensive schemes that weren’t practiced during the week. He has a reputation for not working as diligently, and not paying the same attention to detail, as other coaches. He talked management into hiring his brother, one of 28 assistants who started the season.
Buffalo beat up on patsies but failed to take down teams that finished the season with winning records. The Bills’ only victory over a team with a winning record came against the Patriots, who played a third-string rookie quarterback. Their tackling has been atrocious and was again Saturday against Miami.
Quick, name Rex Ryan’s biggest win. Name one big win. It’s difficult, which is one of many reasons he should be fired. There comes a time in which it becomes painfully obvious that there is no other choice.
And that’s where we stand now. That’s where the Pegulas have stood for several weeks, although I’m guessing they’ll wait until after the season before making their decision official. They would have been better off handing the job to Anthony Lynn two weeks ago. It has been the plan all along.
Lynn has been on the short list of coaching candidates across the NFL for several years now. The last time I checked, there wasn’t a line of prospective coaches dying to work under Doug Whaley. Whaley has alienated the only two coaches he hired since becoming GM and assembling, according to him, a roster with playoff talent.
The wise move would be firing Rex and Whaley and finding an up-and-comer from another organization to oversee football operations.
For people slow to embrace status quo or want Whaley fired, Lynn is a tough sell. The offensive performance you witnessed Saturday, when the Bills had a franchise-record 589 yards, makes for a strong case in his favor. He has done an admirable job since he replaced Greg Roman two games into the season.
Can that work? Will it work? I have no idea, but I’m certain that Ryan does not work. If that wasn’t entirely clear earlier this season, or last season, or before he schmoozed his way into a five-year contract worth $27.5 million with the Bills, it was summed up over 3½ hours Saturday.
Buffalo had a top five defense when he arrived before slipping to 18th in his first season. They will slip from 16th after the game Saturday. The Bills had five straight games this season in which they played shorthanded amid confusion about personnel. It happened three times Saturday, twice on plays that altered the course of the game.
The Bills only had 10 players on the field when Andrew Franks made a 55-yard field goal with six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter after the Bills took the lead. They were a man short when Jay Ajayi ripped off a 57-yard run in overtime, which led to Franks’ making a 27-yarder for the win.
Ryan’s defense had problems stopping the Dolphins, who were playing with backup quarterback Matt Moore, for much of the afternoon. Miami couldn’t stop Buffalo’s offense, especially in the second half. Rather than embrace the obvious, Ryan made a boneheaded decision with the season, and his job, on the line.
Buffalo needed a win, not a tie, to stay alive when they faced a fourth-and-2 situation from their own 41-yard line. Tyrod Taylor, in the best game of his career, had given Buffalo the lead with a fourth-down touchdown pass to Charles Clay with 1:20 left in regulation. LeSean McCoy had 128 yards rushing on 24 carries.
The only dilemma for the Bills was figuring out which play the offense should run to extend the drive. Ryan punted. He had so much confidence in a defense that missed tackles all afternoon that he convinced himself they would stop Miami. The next play, Ajayi took off on his longest run of the day.
“Every coach in America would have done the same thing, backed up in your end, one first down away,” Ryan said. “It’s easy to sit back up there when your livelihood’s not riding on it and say, ‘I’d go ahead and do this and this.’ I’m sure you would.”
Here’s the good news for Rex, who said after arriving that the Buffalo job would be his last stop as an NFL coach: He’s set financially for life. He can convince himself that nobody could take the Bills to the playoffs because nobody has for 17 consecutive seasons. Rather than deal with the media, he can join the media.
Ryan has the personality to become an analyst and the spine to second-guess coaches on the air. In fact, he was prepared to accept an offer from ESPN before the Bills hired him. He always had a natural affinity for talking and, for once, he wouldn’t need to worry about losing.