They avoided the national embarrassment and coach firing that would have ensued had they lost to the winless Cleveland Browns. They even kept alive their threadbare playoff hopes.
Rex Ryan won’t have to clean out his office at One Bills Drive just yet, thanks to Buffalo’s 33-13 thrashing of the NFL’s worst team at New Era Field on a day when 66,529 tickets were distributed and about 45,000 of them were used.
The only guy more relieved than Ryan might be Marcell Dareus, who guaranteed a victory beforehand. I’m being facetious, of course. Dareus wasn’t exactly going out on a limb like Joe Namath had before Super Bowl III. Still, the Bills defensive tackle would have looked like fool had he been wrong.
The beleaguered Ryan began Sunday amid more reports that his days as Bills head coach were numbered. To his credit, he blocked out the distraction for three hours, and so did his players. Perhaps none more so than running back LeSean McCoy, who scored two touchdowns and had 153 of Buffalo’s 280 rushing yards. It was the sixth time this season Shady has surpassed the century mark. He also eclipsed 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his career. The Real McCoy, the healthy one, has been a sight to behold this season, the Bills clear-cut MVP.
McCoy is playing like a guy who doesn’t want to see his coach get fired. He said the piling-on reports that Rex is a goner have served as motivation for him and many of his teammates. In his post-game presser, Shady came to the defense of his coach again, putting some of the onus for the Bills underachieving season on himself and his teammates. “There are so many things (Ryan) gets blamed for that’s out of his control,’’ McCoy said. “I think, as players we need to step up as men and be accountable, be mature.”
McCoy said Ryan reminds him of his former Philadelphia Eagles coach, Andy Reid. “I think Rex takes a lot of the blame,’’ he said. “I was around a coach like that, with Coach Reid. His thing was no matter what happens on the field, he takes it. Especially the blame. I think it shows the type of character that Rex has.”
McCoy said two seasons isn’t enough time to rebuild a team, particularly one that’s been hamstrung by a losing culture for as long as the Bills have. He even said he would talk to the owners on behalf of Rex if asked. “If there’s ever a conversation where they want to talk to the leaders of the team – the main guys – I sure would give my honest opinion,” he said.
It probably wouldn’t matter because if reports from credible reporters, such as ESPN’s Adam Schefter, are true, the decision about Ryan already has been made.
As was the case following last week’s decisive loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which running back Le’Veon Bell eviscerated the Bills defense for 298 yards, Ryan was again peppered with post-game questions about his job security following Sunday’s victory. At one point, he grew philosophical, telling reporters: “Nobody knows what my future is. A lot you don’t know what your future is either.”
True that. But he looks like a dead man walking. His time in Buffalo likely will end after the regular-season finale against the New York Jets on New Year’s Day unless Buffalo somehow pulls off a miracle finish and makes the playoffs.
If his job weren’t in jeopardy, wouldn’t Terry and Kim Pegula or someone in the front office already have released a statement to quell the fires? They haven’t, and that speaks volumes. When asked if he would have appreciated a vote of confidence, so he wouldn’t be left hanging, Rex seemed flustered. “You know, what am I going to say? Of course you would appreciate that, but it’s not necessary. That’s how I look it. I just want to go, man. I want to go beat Miami. We owe them that and they’re going to get the very best we have.”
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s future with the team also remains in doubt. He played a solid game Sunday, completing 17-of-24 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for an additional 49 yards on seven carries. He even completed two passes to receivers over the middle, and finally utilized tight end Charles Clay, targeting the tight end seven times, resulting in seven receptions for 72 yards and a score.
But it will take a lot more than a good showing against an awful team to convince the Bills braintrust to go through with the $27-million guaranteed contract extension.
This was a feel-good victory for the Bills. They racked up 454 yards of offense. The defense sacked Robert Griffin III five times. They took care of business. But the win, and even wins against the Miami Dolphins at home next Saturday and on the road vs. the Jets in two weeks, probably will be too little, too late.
Instead, they will be left to lament the games they should have won that would have snapped their 16-season playoff famine and saved their coach’s job.
WROC-TV correspondent Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills for 32 years and has written five books about the team’s history. The Professional Football Writers of America has recognized his work 12 times, including the past three years when he has finished first in column writing.