I’ll always remember the time the switch flipped for me on Rex Ryan. I give the Buffalo Bills the benefit of the doubt most of the time - probably too much of the time - on decisions they make. Even in the face of howling fans, I chose to wait and see on Rex and his future but those howlers were right; it’s time for the Bills to make a coaching change.
On December 11th after getting blown out by the Pittsburgh Steelers, I sent out a tweet saying I wasn’t ready to fire Rex. I got some push-back from friends and followers and was called a “schill”. The Bills could still make the playoffs, I said. Even if they missed at 9-7, I couldn’t see blowing the whole thing up to start over yet again after two non-losing seasons with Rex.
Less than two weeks later my mind was made up that Rex had to go.
In the intervening time, the evidence has mounted that the deficiencies of this team lie largely with their head coach. He has always claimed to be hands-off on the offense and that side of the ball is clearly the most successful unit on the squad. They’ve topped 20 points in 12 of their 15 games, put up more points (7th) and touchdowns (3rd) than most teams in the league, and lead the league in rushing touchdowns, yards per carry, and yards per game. The offense is efficient, leading the league in turnovers lost and coming in 8th in points scored per drive. All of this while losing Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood to injury, starting a hot mess at right tackle all year, and losing multiple players in the wide receiver corps for multiple chunks of the season.
So how can a team with such an efficient offense be on the outside looking in all year? Their defense has been terrible and the architect of that defense is Ryan, who says he wants to stand on his reputation.
The Bills defense is 28th in rushing yards allowed and 26th in rushing yards allowed per attempt. They allowed three of the top four rushing performances of 2016. They are 22nd in points allowed per drive. They are 25th in first downs against. They allowed 37 points to the New York Jets, who rank 30th in points scored, in an early season-crushing loss. While the Bills offense did enough to beat the Seattle Seahawks, putting up 25 points against the league’s number two scoring defense, Rex’s defense allowed the 20th-ranked scoring offense to run up 31 points, their third-highest total of the season. Against the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo scored 21 straight points to take a 24-9 lead with 24 minutes left in the game, only to see Derek Carr lead his team to 29 straight points.
Even after all that, I wanted to give Rex his third year. After working out endless Bills playoff scenarios through the months of November and December, I knew every team in the AFC race outside New England had flaws. They could make the jump next year. They were close.
Then the Bills lost to the Miami Dolphins in Week 16. It wasn’t that they lost to Miami, a team that just ended a seven-year playoff drought with a backup quarterback. There was a mixture of bad luck, bad execution, and bad coaching that contributed to the end of the game theatrics. You know, a Bills loss. The decisions Rex made at the end of the game were enough to turn the worm for me and are unforgiveable.
With four minutes left in overtime, the Bills punted away their season on 4th and short near midfield. With the top rushing offense in the league, they didn’t trust themselves to gain a few measly yards with their season hanging in the balance. Rex chose to trust his punter and his defense, two units that were having a bad day and bad year, over the unit that was racking up more yards than any team in Bills history. He trusted the same defense that let the Dolphins tie the game in the final seconds with a field goal over the unit that drove down the field on their final two possessions to score 10 points. For being a players coach, he certainly didn’t trust his players though he would say it’s him trusting his defense. Compounding the inexcusable position, he said “every coach in America” would make the same decision.
Done. He made an indefensible move, backed it up with no reason and no rationale, and gift-wrapped another lost season for Bills fans.
When you combine the poor game management, from the blown challenge in the first half to the lack of urgency on two-minute drills, with the poor defensive play you can’t come to any conclusion other than Rex can’t do it anymore. (If he could do it at all.)
The Bills had to move on and I’m throwing my support behind Anthony Lynn to bring in a defensive coordinator to get the job done. Constantly churning head coaches doesn’t look good to the rest of the league, but if that head coach is in charge of the worst unit on your team, he is holding you back.