Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Dolphins (12/24/16)

Posted at 8:20 PM, Dec 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-24 20:20:26-05

Offensively, the Buffalo Bills played one of their best games of the season. They managed to climb back from a 14-point deficit, and looked primed to win the game… and then, the game got swiped from right underneath them.

The Bills, and their playoff hopes for the 17th straight season, have been dashed with a 34-31 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Eve. There was plenty to talk about after that game, so let’s get right to it.

Seven observations from the loss to the Dolphins:

1) Rex’s head scratching decision in overtime — and his reasoning — is so completely Rex
- The Bills had everything working on the offensive side of the ball. They put away a slow first quarter, and had been rolling up yards on the Miami Dolphins defense all game long, to the point where the Bills just seemed two steps ahead of them as the game was winding down. That offense was even doing well in overtime, to the point where they got them down far enough to try a field goal attempt to give them a lead and a chance to win the game with a defensive stop. They, of course, missed the try and got the Dolphins to punt the ball, and once again gave the offense a chance to win the game. What happened next is likely one of the biggest reasons why the Bills are considering letting him go. The Bills, at their own 41-yard line with only 4:09 left to play in overtime made the decision to punt on a 4th-and-3 opportunity. Now, if this was any other game in the regular season, the decision to punt would receive criticism, but not in the way that this one does. You see, if the Bills were to have any chance to make the playoffs this year, they needed a win. Not a tie, not a loss…. a win. And rather than going with the most successful part of the game for the Bills by leaps and bounds to try and win the game, they had the ball taken away from them because of Rex Ryan’s delusional belief that his defense is better than it actually has been in 2016. That’s a big part of the problem. While yes, the Bills have some talented pieces on the defensive side of the ball, it is not even close to the caliber of defense that we saw during the 2014 season. All year long, we’ve heard Rex Ryan say that this defense was better than last year and that it’s obvious. Time and time again, we’ve seen the defense let the Bills down in clutch moments, but Rex didn’t let his faith in the unit that he controls waver one bit. A simple self-evaluation of the game would have provided all the evidence he needed to say, ‘you know what, the offense has been great all day, let’s go win this thing.’ Instead, Rex gave the keys to the importance of the season to an underperforming defense, and deservingly so, the game ended up in the Dolphins’ favor. All they had to do was ask themselves this question: do we have more faith in the offense gaining three yards on this one play against a terrible defense — a defense that has allowed nearly 600 yards on the day — or in the defense in stopping a rushing attack that had the same success against the Bills today as it did in October. The decision, given the playoff situation, should have been easy. Instead, rather than trying to win the game right there, they chose the opposite route in a decision I’ll just never begin to understand from a logical perspective. Flat out, Rex Ryan dropped the ball, and it may the decision that ultimately decides his fate with the Bills — whether it be this coming week, or after the season.

2) An explanation that incriminates the head coach even more
- Following the ridiculous decision to punt the ball in that situation, the Bills immediately let up a 57-yard gain to Jay Ajayi — which put him on the doorstep of a 200-yard rushing day against the Bills once again. It was a poor job all the way around by the defense, but they were also doing it shorthanded. On that play, the Bills had only 10 defenders on the field. Yes, you read that correctly: on one of the most important plays of the game, with the Bills needing a stop in the worst way possible, the defense trotted out only 10 players. Why, you might be asking? The reasoning might be even more dishearteningly hilarious than the act itself. It wasn’t on a player for not being on the field, it’s because the head coach didn’t know that his own player was still in concussion protocol, and he couldn’t participate on that play. The player was Stephon Gilmore, but it’s nowhere near his fault for having a concussion and being unavailable. How about the head coach knows that one of his starters is unavailable to play, or at the very least, spot that there are only 10 defenders on the field. How about one of many, many assistants that he employs that are on the sidelines? Or even, what about the coaches that are upstairs in the booth? How does no one within the entire operation not recognize this? It’s yet another miscommunication in a season full of them. A misfire at the worst time possible — and a big reason why we’re sitting here discussing another late-game implosion.

3) Bills have all the ammo to go to Lynn now if they want
- For the third week in a row, a new report came up about Rex Ryan and the Bills’ potential plans for life after their current head coach. This one came from Ian Rapoport of, who said that while the Bills hadn’t yet reached a decision on whether to fire Rex Ryan, they were looking at current offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn as a potential long-term replacement for him if they do decide to part ways. As the game wore on, the offense was putting up ridiculous numbers: 589 total yards, nearly two 100-yard running backs, the first 300-yard passing performance since this coaching staff took over in 2015, and a fresh 31 points. Meanwhile the defense, under the play calling and tutelage of Rex Ryan, floundered and cost the Bills the game. If the Bills were to move on and go to Anthony Lynn as their next head coach, all they’d have to do is point to the Miami game as evidence as ‘what this team could be,’ with Lynn as the man in charge. Do I buy the hype on Lynn? Well, I do like him, and I think he’s done some nice things on the offensive side of the ball. I also believe firmly in outside-the-box candidates for leadership positions, because sometimes they bring a fresh perspective. The biggest question as head coach, would be how the defense gets fixed, but that’s all a hypothetical for the time being. The point is, however these things have been leaking to national reporters on game day for three weeks in a row is pretty evident that someone wants something changed over there. And now with how this Miami game went, it would be a perfect storm to make the switch and move to Anthony Lynn without getting a ton of pushback from the fan base. It should be an incredibly interesting next couple of days and weeks, that’s for sure.

4) The poor officiating in two distinct parts of the game
- Not to go completely unnoticed here, was just a pair of awful displays of officiating throughout the contest. The first, and second really, came on two plays that looked an awful lot like there could have been a pass interference called on Miami in the end zone. The next one is all the more egregious, because it could have changed the outcome of the game. Down to the final seconds of the game, the Dolphins hurried out on fourth down to get their field goal team on the field. The Bills, in a helter skelter fashion, had only 10 players on the field for the attempt. Nickell Robey-Coleman even tried to run on the field, and was then called back. Luckily for them, Corey White spotted it and was trying to call a timeout for seconds — but for some ridiculous reason, wasn’t granted that time out. As we all know, Andrew Franks went on to kick the game-tying field goal that forced the overtime. And even if the Bills were granted the timeout as they should have been to get their ducks in a row, Franks could have nailed it again from that far out and it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s not the point, though, because the referees blatantly neglected a player trying to call a time out. That should never fly. While the Bills deserved a lot of blame for how the game ended, they shouldn’t have been robbed of an opportunity to get themselves organized.

5) Tyrod Taylor had himself a day
- On Saturday against the Miami Dolphins, Tyrod Taylor had his best game as the Bills quarterback and kept the opposition guessing all afternoon. Simply put, he was superb once they got into the second quarter and beyond. He shook off a few misfires early on to have the biggest game of his career: throwing for 329 yards, rushing for another 60, connecting for three touchdowns, and without turning the ball over. Even better, he led what probably should have been a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against a team with a winning record — something that has been missing on his résumé with the Bills. To me, the most encouraging sign was that he depended on his top two playmakers to do exactly that down the stretch of the game. Sammy Watkins finally had the day the Bills had been waiting for since last season — seven catches for 154 yards and a touchdown — and tight end Charles Clay took over for the second straight week. Clay ended the game with eight catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. This was the kind of progress the Bills had been waiting to see all season long from Taylor, and it just never came around until Week 16 of the season. He worked incredibly well with offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, and if the latter is destined for a bigger role in 2017 and beyond, does that buy Taylor more time with the Bills — at least until they try to figure out a potential long-term solution with a younger player? I wouldn’t totally rule out this game, and Taylor’s performance, giving Taylor a bit of a longer look than they had been previously. That’s just another compelling decision in an offseason that will be rife with them.

6) LeSean McCoy, too
- Every week t’s a broken record but it doesn’t make it any less true: LeSean McCoy has been everything to the Buffalo Bills in 2016. He put up yet another 100-yard rushing day and showed the Dolphins what the Bills were missing when the two teams squared off in October. He was a big reason for all the offensive success not even as a runner, but also as a decoy to open things up in the passing game. McCoy, who often wears his emotions on his sleeve, was noticeably frustrated whenever the punting decision in overtime came up. He was also fairly short with his answers, saying, ‘it’s not my call.’ But if it was his call, I’m willing to bet he and that offense would be going for it on 4th-and-3. It’s a shame, another great game by McCoy — much like the season he’s had — has been wasted because of inconsistent defensive efforts for much of the season. With how well he’s played, he deserved a much better fate than an at best final record of 8-8.

7) Carpenter’s nightmare season continues
- Dan Carpenter has been in a funk for much of the season as the team’s field goal kicker, and it became a large issue once again in key moments of the Bills game. Carpenter missed once early on in the game, but again in overtime which could have helped seal the victory for the Bills. His two missed field goals makes him 18-of-24 on the season — with a  75-percent conversion percentage. This is the second-worst season of his career, in that respect, and he’s only one missed extra point away from matching his shockingly high total of six from a week ago. His chances in Buffalo might just be running out. I’d expect them to bring in some legitimate competition for him at the very least — if not cutting him entirely before the start of the new league year.

Bills MVP: QB Tyrod Taylor
- With little doubt in my mind, I believe this was his best game as a Bills player.

Bills LVP: HC Rex Ryan
- His decision to punt, the play of his defense, and overall mismanagement in key moments ultimately led to the demise of the Bills on Saturday.

Playoff Standings Update: It’s official: they’re out.

Draft Order Update: Before the remaining four games on Saturday night, Sunday, and Monday, the Bills currently hold the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Up Next: The Bills (7-8) will take on the New York Jets (4-11) at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, January 1 at 1:00 pm

Final Thoughts:
- Well, here we are again, Bills fans. For the 17th straight season, the Bills will be watching the playoffs from afar — and are only left with questions of ‘where did it all go wrong’ hanging over them in the offseason. This organization needs to take a hard look at everything happening in the football department at One Bills Drive. Rex Ryan deserves his fair share of blame, but he shouldn’t be left out to dry here, either. If the Bills are going to that one big change, all other changes need to be discussed and analyzed to see what is working and what is not. The front office cannot go unscathed for how the season has played out. There needs to be a deep internal review to see if Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley, and Rex Ryan deserve to be in the positions that they’re in before moving on to preparations to the 2017 offseason. They owe it to both the fans and themselves to figure out what isn’t working, because it’s clear: something is a bit off — and it has been for quite some time. If they deem Rex Ryan to be the sole problem, they better hope it gets turned around quickly. If they aren’t right, perhaps the sweeping organizational changes would be the next step. Either way, 2016 is basically in the books and the way it was mismanaged in several different spots, it’s a fate that was well-deserved.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia