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Rex Ryan has Mario on his mind

Column as I see ’em, Week 15:

• Rex Ryan hasn’t done a lot right this season, but he has managed to achieve something I thought was impossible: He has turned Mario Williams into a sympathetic figure.

Williams held court at his locker after Sunday’s loss to Washington, defending himself against rumors from organizational “insurgents” that he faked an illness during the week and to reassert his objections to Rex Ryan’s defensive system.

“It’s crazy,” Williams said. “You saw the game and you’re trying to switch personnel as they’re coming out of the huddle. I don’t know, man. My mindset is if you’re an attack defense, if you’re a bully on the field, you don’t let anything else dictate what you do.”

I could hear Bills fans out there rooting Mario on from afar. Ryan’s defense has been an abject failure this season, and most objective observers would agree that Rex took a very good defense and made it worse, that he essentially tried to fix what wasn’t broken.

Williams said a lot more, some of it barely comprehensible. He said he was willing to come back to the Bills next season, though he sneered at the suggestion he would need to take a pay cut from his scheduled $19.9 million salary for 2016.

Of course, it’s not his choice. He’s under contract to the Bills, who would save $12.9 million of salary cap space by cutting him. Ryan said Monday he wanted Williams on his team, but if Mario is unwilling to rework his deal for the good of the team, he’s as good as gone.

It’s hard to see him staying after his rip job on Ryan. And while it’s true that Rex hasn’t used him properly this season, it’s hard for me to feel much sympathy for the guy.

Coaching is a convenient excuse, one Mario is only too willing to use. But he’s been an underachiever for much of his time in Buffalo and the Bills would be better off without him.

The Bills need to free up salary to deal with other players, and Williams is an obvious choice.

Ryan messed up the defense, but that was no excuse for Mario to check out on the season. He basically went through the motions. He has four sacks and 17 tackles. He went two months without a tackle assist. Coaching can’t be solely responsible for that.

And it’s not as if this was the first time Williams underachieved. He was bad in his first year as the Bills had one of the worst defensive seasons in history. His failed relationship with his then-fiancée and nagging wrist injuries were the excuses that year.

He had 13 sacks in 2013, but was also part of a defense that was bad against the run and allowed 24.25 points a game, which is actually more than this year’s D has allowed (24.0) under Ryan. Last year, Williams had 14.5 sacks for the league’s fourth-ranked defense.

So the Bills have had one year of very good defense to show for the first four years of Mario’s deal, which was the highest ever for a NFL defensive player when he signed it. Excuse me for suggesting that the standard for that sort of investment should be a lot higher.

Williams has been no leader, unless it served his own interests. He routinely ducked the media on Wednesdays, the one day he was required to speak. Reporters stopped caring because the guy had virtually nothing interesting to say.

Now Mario is under fire and decides it’s time to point his finger at the coaching staff. It was an understandable gesture, the strategy of a man who wants out of town. The Bills should waste no time accommodating him.

• Odell Beckham Jr.’s violent, outlandish behavior in Sunday’s 38-35 loss to Carolina can’t have come as any surprise to the members of the Bills’ secondary. Beckham was fined after the Giants’ win here in September after throwing numerous punches after the whistle.

Beckham punched linebacker Preston Brown in that game, causing Brown to retaliate and get a penalty. The talented wideout also threw a punch at Duke Williams.

The Bills players said they had seen him take cheap shots after the whistle on game film from the previous week.

Brown called Beckham Jr. the “golden boy of the league” and said you can get away with that sort of stuff when you’re on the cover of Madden.

Beckham was at it again on Sunday, hitting several Panthers after plays. At one point, he took a seven-yard start to make a helmet-to-helmet hit on defensive back Josh Norman at the end of a running play. He was whistled for three personal fouls and could have had more.

The NFL on Monday correctly suspended Beckham for this Sunday night’s game at the Minnesota Vikings. He plans to appeal.

• Cam Newton is threatening to run away with the MVP race. Newton became the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards and throw for five TDs in the game against the Giants. He also led Carolina to a late field goal that kept them unbeaten at 14-0.

Newton has thrown five TD passes in three of his last five games. He has 18 TD throws and one interception during that stretch, in which the Panthers have averaged 38.8 points.

He’s done it with an unheralded wide receiver corps led by Ted Ginn Jr., who had 11 total touchdown catches in his first eight NFL seasons and has 10 this year. Devin Funchess, who has four TD grabs, is a rookie. Corey Brown, who has four TDs, was undrafted a year ago.

The question is whether the Panthers will sit Newton in the final game if they’re unbeaten and have clinched home field throughout the NFC playoffs. They can’t clinch next week because Arizona is 12-2. Coach Ron Rivera said after Sunday’s win, in which Newton took a hard hit in the pocket, that he would have to be realistic about his guys’ health.

• Seattle’s Doug Baldwin caught two more touchdown passes from Russell Wilson in a 30-13 win over the Browns, giving the fifth-year wideout 10 in his last four games. The only other NFL player ever to do that was Jerry Rice, who accomplished the feat in 1987.

“Look, I’m going to kick you guys in the shins,” Baldwin said. “This stuff means absolutely nothing, OK?”

Baldwin, who was undrafted, has 13 touchdown receptions on the season, tying Daryl Turner’s team record set in 1985.

• Washington has scored 82 points in two games against teams with a defense coached by the Ryan brothers. They beat New Orleans, 47-14, on Nov. 15. Rob Ryan was fired as the Saints’ defensive coordinator the next day.

• The Chiefs are the first team in history to follow a five-game losing streak with an eight-game winning streak in the same season. During that eight-game run, the Bills are the only team to gain 400 yards or lead by 10 points at any time against KC.

• DeSean Jackson’s 77-yard touchdown catch against the Bills was his 20th career TD of 60 yards or more, tying Bobby Mitchell for the third-most in NFL history.

• Teams in the NFC East are 3-0 against the Bills this season, and 4-8 against the rest of the AFC East. The Bills try to avoid a sweep this week when the Cowboys visit.


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