Ryan's 1st season in Buffalo ends with unfulfilled promises
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) The honeymoon's over for Rex Ryan in Buffalo.
An offseason highlighted by bold vows of building a bully and raised expectations instead turned into unfulfilled promises made by the first-year coach once the Bills closed their 16th consecutive year without making the playoffs. In finishing 8-8, Buffalo extended the NFL's longest active playoff drought and tied the 1936-51 Detroit Lions for the league's eighth-longest streak.
Not the result many expected from a team ushering in an era under new owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, and following the hiring of a high-profile coach in Ryan, who suggested in training camp that ''the honeymoon period's coming.''
''Obviously, we never had near the results that I anticipated,'' Ryan said Monday. ''I expected this team to be in the playoffs, but we didn't. For whatever reason, we came up short.''
The biggest and most stunning cause for frustration is how Ryan, with an established track record as a defensive specialist, failed to prod much production from a high-priced and talented unit that returned mostly intact. The defense finished fourth in the NFL in 2014 and had a league-leading 54 sacks.
Buffalo instead finished 19th in yards allowed, gave up a franchise-worst 466 yards passing against New England in a 40-32 loss in Week 2, and managed 21 sacks, a team low for a 16-game season.
The defense struggled in making the transition to Ryan's system. Injuries were a factor, with defensive tackle Kyle Williams (left knee) and safety Aaron Williams (neck) missing a majority of the season. And several players, led by defensive end Mario Williams, openly questioned whether they were being used properly.
By comparison, the offense's production behind first-time starter Tyrod Taylor was the season's most promising development.
After spending the previous four years as Joe Flacco's backup in Baltimore, Taylor went 8-6 in Buffalo. His 568 yards rushing were the most by a Bills quarterback. And in completing 20 touchdowns versus six interceptions, his 99.4 passer rating was the second best in Buffalo behind Hall of Famer Jim Kelly's 101.2 mark set in 1990.
Ryan has already made Taylor his starter next season. The only thing Taylor has yet to earn is a contract extension entering the final year of his deal.
''He's warranted enough for us to continue down the road to see if he can be the franchise guy of the future,'' general manager Doug Whaley said. ''The thing that we like the most about him is the locker room believes in him, we believe in him, and hopefully our fans believe in him.''
A number of things that stood out:
ON THE RUN: Though injuries forced newly acquired running back LeSean McCoy to miss four games, the Bills still led the NFL with 2,432 yards rushing - the team's most since 1992. Fifth-round pick Karlos Williams had 517 yards rushing and tied for the team lead with nine touchdowns (seven rushing, two receiving).
Overall, the Bills finished with 5,775 net yards offense, third most in team history.
RICHIE RICH: The Bills were rewarded for taking a risk in signing guard Richie Incognito after he missed 16 months for playing a central role in the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal. Incognito was the Bills' most consistent lineman, and is expected to attract a lucrative offer with his one-year contract set to expire.
Whaley called re-signing Incognito and left tackle Cordy Glenn, who's contract is also up, as being ''a major point of emphasis.''
MARIO'S DECLINE: With two years left on the six-year, $100 million contract, Mario Williams is suddenly expendable because of his declining production and the Bills' need to free up space under their salary cap. Williams had five sacks a year after finishing with a career-best 14-1/2.
WATKINS CATCHES ON: Over the final six weeks, receiver Sammy Watkins established himself as a top threat and vocal leader in his second season since being drafted fourth overall. Injuries and a lack of chemistry led to Watkins getting off to a slow start, in which he combined for 25 catches for 368 yards and three touchdowns through 10 games. He then combined for 35 catches for 679 yards and six scores over his final six games.
Watkins pointed to himself first in saying Bills players need to be accountable. He particularly regretted a decision to post a message on his Instagram account in which he called his critics ''losers'' during the team's bye week.
INJURIES: Not including McCoy, who missed the final two games with a knee injury, Bills finished the season with seven starters on IR. It's a group that included tight end Charles Clay (back), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (left shoulder), and receivers Robert Woods (groin) and Percy Harvin (hip).
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