ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Like the snow that relentlessly poured down on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Sunday, so did rumors of Bills head coach Rex Ryan’s pending dismissal, literally minutes before the two teams kicked off. That certainly wasn’t all that was at stake in Week 14 for Buffalo. They’re also nearing decision time for Tyrod Taylor, when they must decide whether or not to pick up the option on his option off-season, guaranteeing him more than $30 million dollars over the next two season. Those two subjects seemed to overshadow the fact that the playoffs – ya that thing Western New Yorker’s haven’t seen for more than 16 years now – were still a real possibility if the Bills could win each of their final four games and get some help.
With so much to play for you’d assume the Bills would come out inspired against the Pittsburgh Steelers, fighting for their coach, their quarterback and to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. But everyone knows what happens when you assume.
Instead Buffalo’s offense looked feeble until the fourth quarter when the Steelers defense was basically in cruise control in what wound up a 27-20 win for Pittsburgh. And the Bills defense, which Ryan vowed would be better this season, was ravaged by running back Le’Veon Bell to the beat of 298 total yards – more than the Bills had as an entire team (275) – and three touchdowns. Of that, 236 came on the ground, the most ever by a back in a single-game against the Bills. It was also the most in Steelers franchise history. On a snowy day where Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions and struggled to get into any kind of rhythm, the Bills knew what was coming and they couldn’t do anything to stop it.
“That is disgusting when you say that out loud,” Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes said of Bells numbers. “We understand that is not what you can do to get to the playoffs. We got to be be better.”
“I get it, we had a bad day today,” Ryan remarked frustratingly after the game. “The kid [Roethlisberger] had a 37 quarterback rating. I think we would have signed up for that at the start of the game. However we wouldn’t have signed up for 230 yards rushing by a back so that was it.”
“A bad day” is putting it lightly for a defense that has now been trampled for over 200 yards by a single back twice this season – Jay Ajayi ring a bell – and has now allowed over 130 or more yards rushing in three straight games.
While Bell couldn’t be stopped, the normally dominant Bills rushing attack was non-existent. As many teams have done this season the Steelers defense committed eight, sometimes even nine defenders to stopping the run, daring Taylor to throw the football. Usually it hasn’t mattered, the Bills led the league in rushing yards per game entering Sunday and LeSean McCoy was averaging more than 86 per game on his own. On this day they could muster all of 67 yards as a team – their second lowest single-game total of the season – of which Shady picked up 27. Mike Gillislee led the team in rushing with 34 yards on just two carries, while Taylor, who’s usually able to dazzle with his escapability, accumulated only two yards rushing; his lowest total of the season.
He didn’t do much to help his case throwing the ball either. His 228 yard, two touchdown and one INT stat line is somewhat deceiving when you consider that he entered the fourth quarter with only 71 yards through the air.
For the first time all season, Ryan didn’t come to Taylor’s defense when asked if he’ll be the starter for these final three weeks of the season. “We’ll see,” he remarked, adding that he’ll do whatever he thinks is best for the team.
The second-year starter himself, remained noticeably mum on the subject of whether or not he should start the Bills final three games.
“That’s the coach’s decision,” he said dejectedly. Also, expressing a belief that he has the full support of his coaches and the front office.
That won’t be enough to silence the outside noise, filled with rumors that Buffalo will be moving on from their quarterback and head coach, potentially as early as this week if not the end of the season.
“Those decisions don’t come from me,” Taylor said upon hearing Ryan may be canned for the first time. “Definitely don’t want to hear news like that, like I said it’s my first time hearing it.”
“We’re fighting for everybody’s job,” veteran safety Corey Graham said. “When you lose, everybody’s evaluated. It’s not just about Rex. I mean, we’re hoping we’ve got a job when we come in [tomorrow].”
“I wasn’t aware of any of it, I try to kinda stay out of that,” wide receiver Sammy Watkins said afterward. “I’m pretty sure the GM and the owners make the call of fix whatever needs to be fix. I can’t fix it, I’m nobody. So I’ll let those guys do their jobs.”
CBSsports.com’s Jason La Confora reported the decision to fire Ryan could come down as early as tomorrow. Meanwhile, The Buffalo News’ Tim Graham confirmed the idea that Buffalo is looking to part ways with the head coach before the end of the season, but that it wouldn’t necessarily come down Monday. Either way, those “fixes” Watkins eluded to, could be looming.
“What do you think I’m gonna say?,” Ryan snapped when asked if he believes he deserves to coach this team moving forward. “You’re dang right I do. I mean I’m giving everything I have, that’s just the way it is, it hasn’t gone exactly the way I wanted it to go, I mean that’s obvious. But we’ve got three games left and we’ll try to win every one of them.”
The fact that the Steelers flat our embarrassed Rex Ryan’s Bills by soundly beating them the way Ryan promised he’d be beating teams, with dominant defense and pounding the rock, only adds fuel to the fire. As does the fact that Buffalo’s playoff drought is all but guaranteed to reach a 17th year.
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