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Shiny win doesn’t mask Ryan’s blemishes

For the first time all season, Rex Ryan stood in defiance and pushed back against his detractors, if only for a brief moment. Ryan is a personable, fun-loving guy who craves attention and genuinely wants people to like him. That much has never been in question with the Bills’ head coach.

Ryan was fielding questions after the Bills’ 16-6 victory over the Cowboys when he was asked about playing his former team, the New York Jets, in the regular-season finale next week in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Jets remain in playoff contention. Ryan made a point to say he didn’t want to play the spoiler “next year.”

Next year?

Most signs point toward Ryan and GM Doug Whaley coming back next season despite the Bills’ failure to make the playoffs for a 16th consecutive season. Still, it was worth double-checking whether Rex was given any assurances that his job was secure and he would, in fact, return next season.

“If it was up to you, I wouldn’t,” Ryan said.

Rex was right.

If it were up to me, he wouldn’t be back coaching the Bills. I don’t see him turning them into a championship team. Buffalo was better with an inferior roster under Doug Marrone. The Jets are better without him. He came aboard as a defensive genius and watched the unit become a liability amid numerous player complaints.

“You’re probably in the minority here,” Ryan said. “Everybody knows what kind of coach I am. I’ll get this thing right. I’ll get this defense rolling. That’s what we need. The other thing is that the fans know that I want to be here. I chose to be here because I think there’s some great times ahead for this football team.”

Ryan was half-right on that one. Based on what was said last week, I’m definitely not in the minority. However, people do know what kind of coach he is. He’s an average coach with a losing record. He was 46-50 over his six seasons with the Jets and has a 7-8 record with the Bills after signing a five-year contract worth $27.5 million.

To be clear, I’m not hoping Ryan fails. I want him to succeed for selfish reasons, if nothing else. The more he wins, the longer he stays. The longer he stays, the more likely he’s willing to entertain the masses. He’s an affable guy who makes my job easier. Still, there’s no ignoring the obvious.

Ryan can sell tickets, but he hasn’t provided enough evidence to show he’ll lead the Bills to the playoffs, let alone win a Super Bowl. The Bills will be brushing against the salary cap next season and could take another step back next year. He could be coaching for his job under worse conditions next season.

“Did I expect to go” to the playoffs “this year? Absolutely. I absolutely did,” Ryan said. “It didn’t happen, but I know one thing about this team: We’ll finish. We’ll fight like crazy to the end. We’ve got one game left. Regardless of who’s out there, who’s not out there, we’ll fight to do our very best.”

Sorry, but the win Sunday over a weak Dallas team didn’t alter my opinion about him moving forward. Can you imagine the tenor across Western New York if the Bills lost to the Cowboys? Dallas was 4-10 going into the game and without its superstar passing combination of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.

Never mind him coming back next season. People would have been questioning whether he should return next week. He grossly underestimated the outrage directed toward him across Bills Nation. If he lost the final two games this season, it would have been difficult to fathom him coming back.

And the Bills could have lost Sunday.

As has been the case often this season, the final score wasn’t indicative of the game.

It was hardly a convincing win for Buffalo. Dallas was one play from winning the game before Mike Gillislee, a bright spot over the past month, ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run with 2:25 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Before the touchdown, the Bills were clinging to a 9-6 lead in a hideous game between two teams playing out the string.

If the game somehow turned in the Cowboys’ favor, if they had managed a single touchdown, if they kicked a field goal and won in overtime, Rex would be in serious trouble.

You know how it works in Buffalo. The Bills won a game and rolled up 236 yards rushing, so everything is right again.

Western New Yorkers tend to be in a better, more forgiving mood after a win. They might even rationalize that Rex has a valid argument when pointing toward injuries as the reason for their demise when every team is hurting at this time of year.

Ryan, sure to slip the injury excuse into his postgame comments, found tiny victories to help his cause Sunday. He emphasized the play of Gillislee, who scored a TD for a third straight game and had 93 yards on nine carries, and the offensive line. He praised Tyrod Taylor for his mobility and AJ Tarpley for his intelligence.

They should not be ignored, but it wasn’t as if the Bills showed they were playing for their coach’s job Sunday. Production against the Cowboys, which also included rookie Karlos Williams, came mostly from players who made the most of their opportunities in an effort to show they belonged in the NFL.

The Bills won, but what really changed?

For me, very little.

Most impressive Sunday wasn’t the Bills coming through in the end but the number of fans who stayed for the end. On a rainy day that would have been ideal for sitting on the couch, with a dark cloud hanging over the stadium and the season, 70,172 fans dragged themselves to The Ralph for another meaningless game in December.

“You’re right,” Ryan said. “Look how miserable it is. It’s raining, it’s all that kind of stuff. … That’s the kind of fan base this us. It’s as loyal a fan base as I’ve ever seen. That’s what I said, how disappointed I am for not being able to deliver what we talked about initially when I got here.”

Once again, Rex only knew the half of it.