Column as I see ‘em, Wild Card week:
• Boy, it must be great working for the Pegulas. A few weeks ago, Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan were told that the Bills’ performance this season was unacceptable and that their jobs would be in jeopardy if things didn’t improve next season.
Late Sunday, the team announced that Whaley, whose contract had one year to run, had been given a three-year contract extension. Ownership added to the happy occasion by hiring Rex’s twin brother, Rob, as assistant head coach for defense.
Imagine the rewards that would have been flowing at tne Bills Drive if the coach and general manager had actually won something this season.
Maybe they should have cued up “Send In The Clowns” when they announced Rob Ryan’s hiring. Now that the Pegulas have doubled down on Ryan brothers, it promises to be quite a show around here next season. Whether it improves the D is open to debate. By hiring his brother, Rex brought in a rare defensive coach who had a worse experience than him this season.
The Saints fired Rob as defensive coordinator in November while his defense was on its way to breaking NFL records for passing TDs allowed (45) and opposing passer rating (116). Rex, of course, ran a Buffalo defense that dropped from 54 sacks to 21, quite possibly the worst one-season drop in league history.
It’s amazing to think that, despite having his defensive methods exposed in such a fashion, Ryan would be allowed to double down on his system by bringing his brother into the fold. But did the Bills really need to invest more heavily into the Ryan family myth, which is losing traction in an ever-evolving NFL?
Rex should be a weakened figure after underachieving this season, not an empowered leader who makes hires out of nepotism. But that’s how Pegulas operate. They’ll swear their allegiance at a failing employee (insert Sabres figure here) and shower the room with money, even if they have to cut them loose a year later.
Rob Ryan probably came cheap, not that it matters to the Pegulas. Go ahead, throw in an assistant head coach title into the basket of cheer. I can’t imagine that went over well with some of the other assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. However you slice it, this is a demotion for Thurman.
Instead of hiring his twin, Rex should have been required to hire a defensive coach with a different philosophy, someone to challenge him. But no, as Rex said Monday on ESPN, this makes them better. He said his big mistake this season was trying to meld together different philosophies, rather than stick with his own.
I’m sure many of the players on the Bills defense found that comment amusing. The idea that Ryan went too far to blend the previous defensive system with his own is laughable – and something the fawning ESPN guys were too willing to swallow.
Well, at least they have precious continuity. Adding three years to Whaley’s deal puts him in line with Ryan’s contract, which has four years to go. Apparently, it’s some federal crime to have your coach and GM not be on the same salary track.
Whaley has his hands full. He has to reshuffle an overpriced roster and now he has two Ryan brothers to deal with. And if the whole thing falls apart, the Pegulas can always blow it up and start over. They can certainly afford it.
That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to buy it.
• Do you think quarterback play is important in the NFL? Check out this stat: All of the eight remaining teams have a quarterback who was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft or has won a Super Bowl – or in the case of Denver’s Peyton Manning, both.
Carolina’s Cam Newton (2011), Arizona’s Carson Palmer (2003), KC’s Alex Smith (2005) and Manning (1998) were first overall picks. Tom Brady (four times), Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Manning won Super Bowls.
There were some odd circumstances (a missed chip shot field goal by Minnesota, an unraveling by Cincinnati), but the four losing teams all had quarterbacks who had never appeared in a NFL playoff game. It matters.
Aaron Rodgers had a rough start for Green Bay, but he found his rhythm and showed why he’s the all-time leader in passer rating, leading the Packers on four long touchdown drives in a 35-18 win over Washington. Once the big game arrived, Rodgers’ slump and Kirk Cousins’ brilliant second half didn’t matter.
Russell Wilson, who is second in career passer rating, made the play of the weekend, chasing down a bad snap and turning it into a 34-yard pass for the Seahawks in the fourth quarter. Sure, the Seahawks needed a Blair Walsh missed field goal to advance, but Wilson has a way of making those plays in the clutch.
KC’s Alex Smith might be the most underrated quarterback of his time. He’s not spectacular and gets no respect, but he sure wins a lot. Going back to the start of the 2011 season, Smith is 51-23-1 as a starter, counting playoffs, with 101 TD passes and 30 interceptions.
Roethlisberger was carted off with a shoulder injury in Cincinnati, but came back at the end to lead the Steelers’ winning drive. The Bengals gifted him with two brutal penalties at the end, but he made the throws when it counted.
Here’s how it looks for the divisional playoffs, my favorite weekend of the NFL season: The Chiefs and Smith play Brady and the Pats in New England; Rodgers and the Pack at Palmer and Arizona; Wilson and the Seahawks take on Newton in Carolina; and if his shoulder’s OK, Roethlisberger is at Denver against Manning.
Wow. Bring it on.
• UB grad James Starks had one of his best games of the season when it mattered most for the Packers on Sunday, reinforcing his reputation as a big-game performer.
Starks, who had a career-high 601 yards rushing this season, scored on a 4-yard run to give Green Bay the lead, 24-18, in the third quarter. On the Packers’ next drive, he rushed for 43 yards on four plays to set up the TD that gave the Pack a 32-18 lead.
The Niagara Falls product had 12 carries (his most since Week Nine) for 53 yards. Starks, the featured back during Green Bay’s run to a Super Bowl title five years ago, has exactly 500 yards in nine career playoff games for a 4.4 average. He has averaged more rushing yards in the playoffs than during the regular season.
• Yards per pass attempt is one of the most vital stats in the NFL. Seven of the top eight teams in that category made the playoffs The top eight were Arizona, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, New Orleans, New England, Washington and Carolina. The Bills were ninth.
• Akron grad J.C. Tretter did a solid job as the Packers’ fourth starting left tackle in the last four games. Tretter, normally a center, was thrust into the job because of injuries and settled in nicely after allowing an early safety. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy admitted he should have given Tretter blocking help on that play.
• Going into the playoffs, NFL kickers were 189 of 191 on field goals of 27 yards or less this season. Sorry, but I don’t want to hear about the laces being out. Blair Walsh’s 27-yard miss at the end of the Vikings-Seahawks game was a pure choke.
• The Chiefs have won 11 games in a row by an average of 16.4 points, allowing just 11.6 points a game during that span. KC is looking to reach the AFC championship game for the first time since January, 1994 — when they lost, 30-13, in Buffalo.
• The 106-yard kickoff return by KC’s Knile Davis on the opening kickoff in Houston was the longest non-Super Bowl touchdown in NFL playoff history.
• I’ve got a feeling the longer extra point is bound to result in some unconventional winning numbers in this year’s Super Bowl pools.