After one of the most dramatic finishes in International Series history, Rex Ryan was uncharacteristically lost for words. "I can't even begin to describe the feeling that we have in our locker room," Rex told the media at his post-game press conference. Ryan looked crestfallen, his frustration clear on his face; "an extremely painful loss," he described it, "to have the courage, to battle back the way we did, battle all the way back, then to give it up at the end, you know, a devastating loss to say the least."
There'll be time enough in the next two weeks to pinpoint all the mistakes the Bills made today, but the first question addressed to Rex was about one specific play - that defensive pass interference call on 3rd and 15 that extended the Jags' drive that would end in their game-winning touchdown. Ryan was generous to the officials - "they got a tough job; they obviously do the best they can" - but still stated that "I thought Robey had a better chance at it than their receiver, but apparently we fouled on that play."
Still, they say that refs can only cost you the game if you put yourself in position to let them influence the outcome. If that's the case, then that six-minute stretch in the second quarter has to be discussed. To his credit, EJ Manuel didn't shy away from talking about it, calling it "just bad football; not playing sound, trying to force balls in that I can't do. To have two back-to-back turnovers for scores is very tough offensively."
Ryan wasn't willing to throw the quarterback under the bus: "I don't know if it's fair to place that all on him... one guy gets a free run at the quarterback, linebacker made a couple of good plays, I don't think you can just place it on him. Obviously that's the first guy you're going to go to because it's his turnover, but it's on all of us." He went on to say that the compounding of problems in the second quarter "wasn't just EJ, we give up a 28-yard touchdown run, we had a couple guys get out of their gap... anything that could go wrong did go wrong. We were still able to overcome it to grab the lead, and lost it."
It's hard to deny, however, that Manuel rallied tremendously. After his second interception, for the remainder of the game he went 21-of-30 with two touchdowns. EJ explained how he got past that stretch of terrible football: "the biggest thing, it's not about me. Obviously I'm the quarterback, but you've got to take yourself out of it for a second... if you mess up personally, you can't dwell on it. You have ten other guys in the huddle counting on you." He said when things were tough, his coaches just "pat[ted] me on the butt, 'keep playing' - coach doesn't get frazzled on the sideline. When those things happened, we talked about it, fixed it, moved on to the next drive."
Ryan admitted that Manuel "was down. He wanted to play. He wanted to get back on that field. He knew we could do better. He never lost faith. He was down because of the mistakes, but, hell, he was ready to fight." He added that "we all stand right by [EJ]... it wasn't the best time for him, [but] we just kept encouraging him, believing in him, believing in the guys. We knew we could come back. We knew we could come back. We did. It's just - man, I really thought that game was going to be ours. I really did." Ryan said that he never thought of pulling Manuel for Josh Johnson, saying that EJ "had too good a week in preparation and on the practice field to end it like that."
So the team attempted to rally, a task made all the more difficult for the lack of perceived weapons on the outside. Still, Ryan said of those players, "we knew we would get every ounce they had, any ounce they had in them, the passion, the energy, all of that... you can count on those guys, there's no question." On a similar note, Manuel said that "obviously, to come back from a 24-point deficit like that says a lot. We want to win the game, that's the biggest thing; we felt it was a must-win for us, [but] we didn't get it done."
Of course, one of the biggest story lines of last week was some of the defensive players criticising Rex's scheme, and Ryan himself was critical of the defense today, despite a huge goal-line stand: "We couldn't get them off on third down. Then they drove it down. We stood on our head on the goal line. It was a great goal line stand. But it killed under the circumstances. A 10‑minute drive. We couldn't get off the field."
So, onto the future. When asked what is still possible for this team, he responded "to win the rest of them, that's what's possible... when we get this team back to full strength, with having Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, Tyrod Taylor, our right side of the line, that would be a heck of a start."
The Bills will fly that long flight back to Buffalo tonight, wondering what the rest of this season will hold. Will other players start venting their frustrations to the media? Will there be other people going AWOL while mulling contemplation? Will the Bills be able to stop this flood of injuries? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Yet, Rex at least won't be questioning the fans: "we expected better results right now. We haven't gotten them honestly. I know our fans deserve better than 3-4. But this team deserves our fan base to stay by them - which they will."