LANDOVER, Md. – I have to admit, it was one of those days when you were thankful for Twitter. It seemed everyone chimed in to chronicle their dismay. Luke Russert, Nick Bakay, obscure trolls … the suffering of Bills Nation was palpable and it was profound.
Things reached an embarrassing low when Matthew Pegula, son of the owner, tweeted this sarcastic gem while the defense was getting steamrolled in the first half: “Good job D. Really just playing great today.”
The tweet was quickly deleted, of course. We can’t have the scions of our royal sporting family taking pot shots at the home team, no matter how pathetic their performance.
And the Bills’ 35-25 loss to Washington at FedEx Field, which officially eliminated them from playoff contention, was a truly sorry display. The final score doesn’t adequately reflect how inept and uninspired Rex Ryan’s squad was during the first half of this fiasco.
Ryan had assured us his team wouldn’t quit, that it had a pulse. But you wouldn’t have known it from the way they played in the first 30 minutes, when the defense acted like a bunch of wandering cadavers and the offense mustered a grand total of minus-9 passing yards.
It’s high time we heard from another, more prominent Pegula – Terry. Bills fans don’t need tweets from the children, they demand and deserve answers. After Sunday’s humiliation, Pegula has a pile of pressing questions to address after his team missed the playoffs for a 16th straight time.
The most urgent one involves his general manager, Doug Whaley, who has not been given assurances that his contract, which has one year remaining, will be extended.
It’s no secret that Whaley has not seen eye to eye with the coaches this season, especially on the backup quarterback situation. A Sunday report by Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports suggested that a “showdown” between Whaley and Ryan’s assistants is “likely looming in the offseason.”
A league source told Vic Carucci that Pegula is already getting advice from NFL consultants on how to deal with the swirling issues within his organization, including the need to move on from Whaley’s pet project, quarterback EJ Manuel. That does not bode well for Whaley.
Ryan conceded that changes will be inevitable after the Bills’ disappointing season. But he claimed to be unaware of any friction between the general manager and his assistants.
“That’s one thing they’re dead wrong on,” Ryan said. “There’s no truth to that, I can promise you that.”
Of course, this is the same man who promised the Bills would make the playoffs and that his defense would be ranked No. 1 in the league.
Sunday, they might have been the worst unit in the entire NFL, giving up 431 yards and allowing quarterback Kirk Cousins to go 22 of 28 passing for 331 yards and four TDs – good for a near-perfect 153.7 passer rating.
Ryan’s defense hit a new low, which didn’t seem possible. Afterward, Mario Williams was again questioning Ryan’s schemes and defending himself against accusations that he faked illness last week because he was checking out on the season.
Williams talked about “insurgents” in the organization and questioned the maturity of people talking behind his back. Mario said he didn’t see the point in taking a pay cut from next year’s $19.9 million salary and sounded like a man whose time in Buffalo was growing short.
Meanwhile, Sammy Watkins, emboldened by his two-touchdown day, talked about the need for players to be more accountable to each other and said the Bills could use more “nasty” coaches. Was that a call for Doug Marrone?
Wow, this team really needs an intervention. Pegula is smart to seek outside advice. We’re back to where we were a year ago. The new owner needs to bring in a veteran outside football guy, a fresh set of eyes, to evaluate his operation and tell him where he went wrong.
Pegula realized that when he bought the team in the fall of 2014. He had a number of outside men on his radar and was close to hiring Bill Polian before the unexpected departures of Marrone and quarterback Kyle Orton – and Polian’s Hall of Fame prospects – scotched that plan.
Rather than search elsewhere for his “czar,” Pegula found his way to Ryan, who gave him a big name, along with the swagger and sizzle that helped him sell more season tickets than any other year in franchise history.
So in a sense, Ryan became Pegula’s football czar, the man who would show him how NFL championships are won, even though he had compiled a losing record in six years with the Jets and didn’t have much of a clue about quarterback play or game management.
Now Ryan has been exposed. But he remains the most powerful figure in the football department, a man with four years left on his contract. Pegula has to figure out a way to resolve whatever division exists between his personnel department and his coaching staff.
It’s astonishing to think it came to this, but Pegula needs an overseer more than ever, someone who has the respect and football knowledge to serve as a bridge between ownership and the football department – and to forge a better working relationship between the GM and the coaching staff.
One way or another, Pegula has to repair the rift in his operation. There are big decisions to be made – among them, whether to cut Mario Williams, which free agents should get top priority, whether to give Tyrod Taylor a contract extension, whether to take a quarterback high in the draft, how to upgrade an underperforming linebacker corps … on and on.
How does all this get done with dysfunction at the top of the organization?
Whaley has done some good things, but he has made some big mistakes. Doubling down on the myth of Manuel as a franchise quarterback by trading a first-round pick for Watkins is grounds for firing on its own.
Granted, Ryan has done a brutal job.
He has been guilty of the cardinal coaching sin, forcing his defensive system down the throats of his players.
He claims responsibility, but blames “execution” for his team’s failures, which is code for blaming the players.
Still, Pegula might have to pick a side at some point. He has a larger emotional and financial investment in Ryan. An outside football man would probably get rid of Whaley first. That’s almost certainly what would have happened if he hired Polian last year.
If things don’t get any better next year, Pegula might clean house altogether, the way he did with the Sabres when he finally saw the light. Come to think of it, anyone for tanking these last two home games to get a higher draft pick?