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Inside the Bills: Rex Ryan rooting for Buffalo on Sunday – with one exception

Jay Skurski

Time has softened Rex Ryan’s stance on the Buffalo Bills.

Back at the Super Bowl, fresh off being fired after less than two full seasons as the Bills’ coach, Ryan told the New York Daily News he “stripped that damn truck the day I got fired,” referring to his famous pickup, adding “(expletive) you” for good measure.

It was clear then that the pain of being fired for a second time as a head coach cut deep. Time heals all wounds, though, and Ryan admits he’d be happy to see Buffalo end its 17-year postseason drought … provided it doesn’t come at the expense of his son’s team.

“To say do I wish that the Bills would make the playoffs; I hope that the Chargers make the playoffs,” he said with a laugh this week. “Anthony Lynn is obviously the head coach there and my son's out there with him coaching. So to say I'd rather see the Bills in instead of the Chargers, no way! But if they're not in, then absolutely.”

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Ryan, who is spending this season working as an analyst for ESPN, spoke with The Buffalo News for about 20 minutes Friday about his former team’s season, which hangs in the balance Sunday. A win over Miami, coupled with some help around the league, will punch Buffalo’s postseason ticket.

“The guy that I would want it for the most is Kyle Williams,” Ryan said. “Eric Wood, guys like that that have been with that franchise for a long time, it would be great for them to finally get that opportunity, Kyle Williams has been a phenomenal player and a great teammate for years and years for that franchise. For him, I'd love to see it.

“I would love to see it for Tyrod – for all the people that doubt him. For him to lead his team to the playoffs, I would love to see that. Then obviously the community there. They were great to me. They're just a great fan base. Absolutely you'd love to see it for them.”

Ryan clearly still has a soft spot for Taylor, whom he campaigned for the Bills to sign as a free agent in 2015.

“This guy is No. 1 in the history of the NFL in lowest percentage of interceptions, “Ryan said. “That's pretty impressive, and people just disregard it. Well bull (expletive). That's not something you take lightly. How'd the other guy do when he went in there? Well, he had the most interceptions in the history of the NFL. This ain't easy in this league. … I do think Tyrod’s underrated, I think he's underappreciated. But you don't realize it until he's gone. Maybe that'll be the case in Buffalo, maybe it won't. Maybe he is in their future plans. I hope so. I think he's a damn good quarterback.”

Ryan hasn’t been shy about sharing his feelings about some of the moves his former team his made. He blasted coach Sean McDermott’s decision to bench Taylor in Week 11 in favor of rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman on air, saying “I don't know what the hell you're doing."

Ryan, though, says he’s been impressed by the job McDermott has done overall in his first season as a head coach.

“He's done a fantastic job,” Ryan said. “I don't think there's any doubt about that. Look, everybody's going to make mistakes. The fact that he started the other kid over Tyrod, ok, that's a mistake. It's pretty obvious that it was a mistake, but at the same time, he's done a lot of great things.”

Ryan has also been impressed with how the Bills have found ways to win. The team ranks 29th in total offense (302 yards per game) and 25th in total defense (355.1 yards per game against), so it hasn’t always been pretty.

“Just the way they're scratching. That's really what they're doing,” he said. “They're scratching and clawing and they're finding ways to win. That's a tribute to their coach. The numbers don't look good when you look at them, but what's been impressive to me is how they've played. They keep going at it. They find ways. That's the mark of a good team and the mark of some good things moving forward for this group.”

The team Ryan left is significantly different than the one the Bills have now. Cornerback Ronald Darby, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus were all traded away as part of a drastic roster overhaul.

“The unloading of Marcell Dareus I thought, was brilliant, Ryan said. “And they're facing criticism about it. But at the end of the day, people that are around it know that wasn't a good move, that was a phenomenal move. You unload that salary cap hit and that puts them in a better position to build in the future with guys that have the temperament that you're looking for. Sean McDermott, he wants guys in his image and what he sees as a player. The great thing is the organization's allowing him to do it, and to make a decision like that.”

It’s clear Ryan doesn’t think the Bills lost much by dealing Dareus to the Jaguars for a draft pick.

“Look, he's a decent player, but no more than that,” he said. “He's ok, but not at the money the Bills spent. Not even close. So it was a brilliant move to unload that.”

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The trade of Watkins also doesn’t look bad at the moment.

“He's been just a guy over there,” Ryan said of Watkins with the Rams. “He hasn't done a whole lot. I think we all recognize that this kid's got phenomenal ability, but he couldn't stay healthy. When I had him, he wasn't on the field. That's the thing there are obviously concerns over. So I wasn't surprised that they traded him, because at the end of the day if he doesn't fit in your long-term plans … it was another great move to get something instead of going through the year and getting nothing for him. All these moves that they've made have been pretty smart.”

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That McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane got owners Terry and Kim Pegula to sign off on dealing Dareus also impressed Ryan. It was the Pegulas, after all, who signed off on his massive contract extension.

“He can still go to Terry and Kim, and say, ‘hey look, the best thing for this team is to get rid of this guy and move on from him and use our money, spend it somewhere else.’ That speaks volumes that he was able to do it,” Ryan said. “They’re set for the future now. They see the exact same way, and it's the Sean McDermott way. It's not, you know, hey, this guy's way or the GM's way is different than the head coach. They're on the same page. That's the exciting thing for me about the Bills moving forward. This is a team that, they're committed to each other. It's easier said than done. There's no other agendas. It's this way, this is the Bills' way, and they're all in it together. The players see it. It's felt throughout that building, I'm sure. Certainly the fans see it, and they should be excited about it.”

The Bills’ defensive shortcomings under Ryan are perhaps the biggest reason he’s talking on TV and not on a sideline. Buffalo finished 19th in total yardage in both of his seasons as coach. Even though the Bills are 25th in yardage, they’ve improved in one key area. This year’s team has 24 takeaways in 15 games, while last year the Bills had 18. Ryan also has noticed the upgrades in the secondary.

“The defense has been a surprise in the fact that they've got this young corner, he's playing his (expletive) off,” he said. “He's been everything that they could wish for and more. Tre'Davious White is playing great.

“The addition of Micah Hyde was critical. You get a real NFL safety out there. I think he's playing well. The thing I'm disappointed in if they could just get a pass rush. Maybe in the future they get that addressed. If they do that, man, this team's really going to be doing something. So I'm excited how they're playing defensively, even though the numbers aren't impressive, I think they're playing well. ... This team is playing better than the defense we had last year, even though the numbers don't necessarily say that.”

Ryan admitted that being out of coaching has been difficult.

“You really miss it,” he said. “I've spent 30 years coaching this game. I've been around it all my life, and then all of a sudden, now you've got no team. I miss the teaching. I miss all of it, man. I mean, every bit of it, but doing what I'm doing, it took a while, but now I look forward to it. I look forward to going up to Bristol each weekend and preparing.

"It's not like you're preparing as a coach, but I'm staying in tune with the whole league, so that's been good. I've enjoyed that. I like the guys that I'm with. I don't want to say work with, because this ain't work. So that's been good. The tough part, there's no scoreboard man. When your whole life has been about competing, and you take away that competition, it's an adjustment.”

He's also keeping his options open for next season.

“We'll see if I get back in,” he said. “That would be great, but I'm not saying well, ‘I'm going to jump at the first coaching gig.’ I'll see where this thing takes me, and if I get opportunities, then I'll certainly consider them.”

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