Rex Ryan might not have coached his last game with the Buffalo Bills Sunday, but he could very well be heading into his final three games at the helm of the team he took over nearly two years ago.
The mood surrounding the entire organization after Sunday's 27-20 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers was one of impending doom as players and other club employees sense that a shakeup is inevitable.
"We're fighting for everybody's job," veteran safety Corey Graham said. "When you lose, everybody's evaluated. It's not just about Rex. I mean, we're hoping we've got a job when we come in (Monday). That's just how it is."
Pregame media reports said Ryan could be fired as early as Monday and replaced by offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, but that does not appear to be the case, The News learned Sunday night. NFL sources said Bills owner Terry Pegula was opposed to the idea of making an in-season coaching change.
However, they added, they wouldn't be surprised if Ryan was out after the Jan. 1 regular-season finale against the New York Jets.
League sources say Pegula is not happy with the incompetence he has seen from Ryan and members of his coaching staff this season, and is particularly frustrated by what has transpired in losses the past two weeks.
The Bills suffered yet another sloppy, mistake-filled defeat Sunday to fall to 6-7 and virtual elimination from the playoffs for a 17th consecutive season. It never felt as if they were in this game. When the Steelers took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, they might as well have been up by three touchdowns, given how non-competitive the Bills were for the rest of the game.
Defense is the reason the Bills agreed to give Ryan a five-year contract worth $5.5 million per season, and for the second game in a row it let the team down badly. The Bills intercepted Ben Roethlisberger three times, but that was not indicative of how their defense performed.
One week after allowing 29 unanswered points against the Oakland Raiders, the Bills gave up 236 rushing yards (the most any back has ever had against the team), and three touchdowns, to Le'Veon Bell. Roethlisberger's turnovers reflected his willingness to take chances with his throws, knowing he could get away with pretty much anything because the Bills had zero ability to stop the run.
It also wasn't as if the Bills managed to get any pressure on Roethlisberger, who wasn't sacked and only hit once in the pocket.
"It's the whole team," linebacker Preston Brown said. "I mean, we're all in it together – players, coaches, whoever's out there. We've got to go do a better job, which we didn't do today."
On Bell's third touchdown, the defense literally allowed him to walk into the end zone from five yards. At least three times, defensive substitutions came in late. That was a constant problem last year, and has been an issue for at least half of this season.
At other times, especially early in the game, the Bills seemed lethargic, with several players just going through the motions. It was the sort of performance that indicates a coach does not have the support of his players, even if a few of them, such as running back LeSean McCoy, said, "I love my coach. I am happy he brought me here. So I am totally behind him."
The News also learned before the game that Ryan and General Manager Doug Whaley, whose future with the team appears to be secure, had a disagreement over the future of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Ryan apparently wanted to stick with Taylor as the starter for the rest of the season and have him be the team's long-term answer at the position. But Whaley would prefer that Taylor sit through the final three games, avoiding the possibility of injury that could potentially force the Bills to pay him $27.5 million of an injury guarantee even if he doesn't play next season.
Originally, it was thought that Whaley wanted to see rookie Cardale Jones play the final three games, but the GM instead could be pushing for veteran backup EJ Manuel because he think Jones is far too raw to play at this point.
Ryan was non-committal about Taylor starting next week's game against the Cleveland Browns. And with good reason, despite the fact he threw a pair of touchdown passes. For the second week in a row, Taylor looked panicky and unsure of himself in the pocket. Once again, he seemed to feel more perceived than actual pressure. He was off-target on throws and made poor decisions, especially on the one interception he threw.
Still, Taylor's steady regression is only one of many problems the Bills have.
The biggest is Ryan's defense, which was the main reason for last season's disappointing 8-8 finish.
"That is disgusting when you say that stat out loud," outside linebacker Jerry Hughes said of Bell's rushing total.
Although the Bills aren't mathematically out of the playoffs, they are the longest of long shots to get in. Even victories in all of their final games – against the Browns, Miami, and the Jets – would not allow them to overcome tie-breaking advantages that other clubs have for the sixth and final seed in the AFC.
"It kind of hurts," linebacker Zach Brown said. "You want to go to the playoffs and keep fighting to be in the race, but you never know what might happen. Somebody may end up losing their last two or three. You've just got to keep winning.
"You've got to compete. At the end of the day, if you're not trying to win, then don't come on the field."