Following Saturday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Buffalo Bills secured their 17th straight season without the playoffs, and the biggest question around town has all to do with the current head coach Rex Ryan.
For the past three weeks, new reports have surfaced about Ryan’s future with the team being shaky, and even speculating as to who his replacement could be. Now, all that separates the head coach from the ominous offseason is a weekend in New Jersey against his former team — the Jets.
On Monday, Ryan met with reporters. Five takeaways from what the head coach had to say:
1) The decision to punt
- There are two plays from the Dolphins game that are still fresh in the minds of many, and they just so happened to be on back-to-back plays. The first directly led to the second, so we’ll start there. The first play? The punt on 4th-and-2 from their own 41-yard line with only 4:09 remaining in overtime. In that situation, due to both time left in the game and the enormity of the contest to the rest of their season, the overwhelming sentiment was for the Bills to go for it. Instead, Rex Ryan trotted out his punter, putting the defense on the field, and the rest is history. Even on Monday, the Bills head coach is convinced what he decided to do was the right thing.
“I know in my heart at the time that I did it, I thought I was making the right decision.”
And that’s all part of the problem. Rather than giving his offense — which had nearly 600 yards to their names — a chance to extend the drive, he believed that his defense would get a stop. The same defense that had been getting beaten all game long, and the same defense that surrendered 31 points to that point in time. This has been the large issue with Rex Ryan throughout the year — a distinct belief in a defense that has continued to be blatantly average over the course of the year. While I commend him for having belief in his team, he also needs to understand in those clutch moments what his team is, rather than what he believes they could be. Even if the Bills had punted the ball, got the stop, and brought in the game-winning field goal, I would have felt the same way about the decision to punt the ball when it was well known that only a win could keep them alive in the playoffs.
2) Rex shoulders blame -- kind of -- for 10 men on field vs. key run
- That fateful punt decision was, of course, blown up once the Bills allowed a 57-yard run to Jay Ajayi — which was also the beginning of the end for the Bills in overtime. On that play, the Bills only had 10 players on the field and the Dolphins clearly took advantage in a big way. After the game, Rex Ryan let it slip that they believed Stephon Gilmore was going to be in the game, but the cornerback was actually in concussion protocol — and still is as of Monday, mind you. He took the blame, but not fully:
“ I’m responsible for everything, but everybody’s a professional. You have a job to do. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen and it should never happen and it did happen. And it cost us the game. That’s how I look at it. That play right there contributed mightily in costing us the football game.”
When asked to clarify, all the head coach said was that it was his responsibility and didn’t want to get into it, however did offer up this little nugget:
“The information should have been there, we should have had 11 guys on the field. That’s true. That’s a true statement, 100 percent true statement. One-hundred percent accurate.”
Whether the culprit is the athletic training staff or one of his assistant coaches, it’s clear Rex wasn’t happy with not being in the know at a major point in the game. So, he took the responsibility for the major gaffe, while passing the buck but without saying who was ultimately at fault. However, the lack of communication does, in fact, fall at the feet of the head coach. He needs to be the overseer of the team and not overlook the details of the game — which his team has been guilty of at times in 2016. This time around, the detail just happened to be a big one, and like Rex said, might have cost them the game.
3) Rex’s future is very much on his mind
- I’ve often wondered whether Rex Ryan has actually been given a fair enough shot in Buffalo, and if two years is really enough time to get a gauge on what a head coach has done for an organization. So, from a theoretical perspective, I asked Rex if two years *is* enough in today’s version of the National Football League. It was in reference to his situation, but it wasn’t demanding an answer of his current status… but that’s where he took it:
“I think, the only person that it needs to affect, the only people, are Terry and Kim Pegula. That’s who’s going to make the decision on whether I’m here, whether this person’s here. That’s who makes that decision. So, whatever they think is fair, that’s the only thing that matters. As a coach, that’s why I said I’m going to try to win this game, trust me, I’m going to try and win this game. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t mean anything. To me, it means a lot. I want to win the game and that’s just who I am. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be fair, or isn’t fair, or is fair. It doesn’t matter.”
The one clear thing: his job status with the team after the season is very much on his mind — and for good reason.
4) Tyrod will start
- Coming off the best game of his career, Tyrod Taylor’s status as the starter was in jeopardy only because of the Bills falling out of playoff contention. Some have wondered if the Bills would turn to either EJ Manuel or rookie Cardale Jones if/when the Bills were eliminated, but following the game he played against Miami, Taylor will make his 16th and final start of the 2016 season — barring anything unforeseen. Taylor has some work to do to convince the Bills he’s worthy of a further look for the 2017 season, but Saturday went about as well as possible for the team’s starting quarterback. If he strings together another great performance against a beatable Jets defense, Taylor could be making a case to somehow getting back on a Bills roster in 2017 — with or without his contract extension.
5) The one that got away
- For all the losses over the past two seasons, the one against Miami won’t be one that Rex Ryan soon forgets. Rex called it the “toughest defeat” he’s taken to this point as a coach of the Bills — and even beyond that. The head coach said that of all the games he’s been a part of, only one other is comparable to the type of pain that was felt by him afterward. If Rex goes on to get fired at the end of the season, he’ll likely reflect on Saturday’s loss as the one that truly cost them — even though there were three of those games earlier in the season (Baltimore, Miami in Week Seven, Oakland) that were just as heartbreaking for the fans of the team. With only four victories in 16 tries over teams with a winning record, and only one out of eight in 2016 alone, there are plenty of losses to dwell on.
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