KANSAS CITY – That red object you see flying off the page? It’s a flag. I hereby challenge anyone to tell me that Rex Ryan and his staff didn’t get their pants coached off by Andy Reid here Sunday.
Unlike Ryan, I’d win the challenge. I don’t need to see a replay, or consult some lackey in the press box for confirmation. Anyone who watched that game could see the Bills’ coaches got schooled by their K.C. counterparts in a rainy, distressing, 30-22 loss to the Chiefs.
How do I count the ways? Offense, defense, game management, even the post-game interviews, Ryan came out on the short end. The offense, after a fabulous beginning, allowed the Chiefs to take Sammy Watkins out of the game. The defense got shredded by an average offense with a crippled offensive line.
Worst of all, Ryan lived up to his reputation as one of the worst game managers in the NFL. There were five potential challenges that had an impact in the outcome. He missed on all five. The big challenge for the rest of us was trying to decipher Rex’s explanation afterward.
All in all, it was a wild but discouraging day at wet and half-empty Arrowhead, where the Bills came with a playoff mindset and left at 5-6, their hopes for an AFC wild card severely compromised.
“Win Or Go Home,” the Bills declared on Twitter early in the week, echoing the theme in the locker room that this was essentially a playoff game.
So home they’ll go, on the wrong side of the playoff cut line and ready to hype next week’s game against the surging Texans as another “must-win.” They’ll be glad to stagger home to The Ralph (where they’ve lost three of four) after a tough three-game road swing.
“We knew coming in it was a huge game for us playoff-wise,” said guard Richie Incognito. “Coming up short hurts, but we’ve got five weeks left to win as many as possible. We’ve got to win out.”
The Bills are suddenly 10th in the conference, a game worse than a year ago at this stage under Doug Marrone. They look like they have for most of the playoff drought – like an average team with an average coach.
Ryan talks a good game and knows how to coach defense, but where’s the evidence that he was a major upgrade from Doug Marrone? Ryan is 51-56 as a head coach in the regular season. Reid is 156-110-1 in his 17 years. The gap was evident.
It looked for awhile as if the Bills might blow KC out of its own stadium. With two minutes left in the second quarter, they led, 16-7. They had 296 offensive yards in the first half. Tyrod Taylor, having his finest day, hit Sammy Watkins for six catches, 158 yards and two TDs in the first half alone.
So what happened? In the second half, Watkins didn’t have a catch. At least he was targeted once, unlike the first half in New England. For the second time in six days, the Bills’ star wideout was taken out of a game for a half – by the opposition and his offensive coordinator, Greg Roman.
“You got to be aggressive the whole game,” said Watkins. “I think that’s something we as players need to talk to the coaches about. We’ve got to put the nail in the coffin when we’re dealing with great teams like this.”
Watkins talked about a lack of “urgency” in the second half, which is a code word players use when their coaches are being too conservative. Taylor said the Chiefs changed the coverages in the second half. Ryan said they began shading their safety towards Watkins.
No kidding. If it were that simple, all the elite receivers would get neutralized for entire halves. The better coaches don’t let it happen. Watkins proved in the first half that he could make a play if Taylor simply threw the ball his way. They traded a first-rounder for the guy, for heaven’s sake.
Ryan is supposed to be a defensive guru, but it took him half a season to get his pass rush right. Then he played soft against Alex Smith, a game manager whose strength is throwing screen passes and scrambling. The Bills sacked him once and otherwise didn’t touch him.
They allowed a third-stringer, Spencer Ware, to rush for a career-high 114 yards, much of it on basic inside stuff behind an injury-riddled line. Add Ware’s name to the list of obscure tailbacks who have their coming-out party against the Bills.
But the most troubling thing was Ryan’s bungling of his challenges. He didn’t challenge a 37-yard bomb from Smith to Maclin with the Bills leading, 10-0, midway through the second quarter. Replays showed it was not a catch. Ryan let it go and the Chiefs scored a TD one play later, a huge jolt of momentum.
“On the 37-yarder, I wasn’t aware,” Ryan said. “I wasn’t seeing the video on it. From my vantage point, I thought he caught the ball. Obviously, I would have challenged if I would have known there was any question whatsoever on a 37-yard play that flipped the game.”
Ryan was asked if he has coaches upstairs who watch plays and advise him whether to challenge.
“Absolutely,” he said. “But it’s not like it’s this guy’s job to do that. You have other jobs in there. If they don’t show the replay, he can’t see it either. So it doesn’t matter. If you can’t see the replay, then how is anybody up there going to know to challenge or not?”
I challenge anyone to make sense of that. There’s no one on staff whose specific job is to help on challenges? When it’s that vital? And how could they not see replays when people watching at home and in the press box are watching replays that show it’s not a catch?
Ryan didn’t challenge the spot on a third-and-11 run by Smith that kept a Chiefs drive alive on the final play of the third quarter. He didn’t challenge an apparent completion to Chris Hogan late in the game. Ryan said he didn’t want to risk a challenge because he was down to his final timeout.
One reason he didn’t have more timeouts was a weak decision to challenge an incompletion to Robert Woods early in the second half. Woods had the ball bounce off his chest and grabbed it as he went to the ground. It was pretty clear that the ball had hit the turf and wasn’t a catch.
But Woods gestured emphatically for Ryan to challenge. It was the desperate plea of a man who was embarrassed by his own drop. Ryan, the player’s coach, went along. Loss of timeout.
In the heat of the moment, Rex let a player’s emotions dictate his reasoning. We’ve seen too much of that this season, how an emotionally combustible Bills team malfunctions at a critical time. It’s a reflection of their head coach, who seems to lack the equilibrium required for coaching greatness.
Last January, at his introductory news conference, I asked Ryan about his reputation for shabby game management. He seemed indignant, but admitted he could be better and would have more help on game days this year. But in a game he desperately needed, Ryan fumbled the red flag.
Now it’s truly must-win time, or Rex will be throwing up the white flag next.