Sunday, January 1, 2017

Rex's Reign Ends In Ruin, Scarring Teen

For whatever other lousy traits I may have passed on to my sons, Bills fandom has not been one. At least until Christmas Eve.

My 13-year-old has always been more into baseball, with his 10-year-old brother mainly considering Buffalo football games as three-plus hours that the Xbox and/or Playstation are unavailable.

As far as their football loyalties go, Jackson (the 13-year-old) has always been something of a Patriots kid -- due to his maternal ancestry, which lends itself to Boston-centric thinking -- and an instinctively contrarian nature, which I guess is one of those aforementioned lousy traits passed down from his old man. His younger brother, Oscar, also a bit on the contrary side, loves animals, including the marine variety. So, he considers himself a Dolphins fan, as far as that goes.

None of which usually leads to much football talk on game days, with the exception of the occasional, "Is it almost over?"

Last Saturday, though, the three of us wound up watching the Bills-Dolphins fiasco, or at least the second half and overtime, when things got interesting. It was the first time I think that has ever happened -- at least since both were fully ambulatory and able to focus on anything more than a few feet away for more than a couple of minutes.

During the fourth quarter, as Tyrod Taylor was having the game of his career while bringing Buffalo back from what had been a two-touchdown deficit as recently as midway through the third, I noticed something different about Jackson.

He was getting into it,  reacting viscerally to each big play and arguing with his brother about whether Oscar was allowed, as a kid who grew up within half an hour of the stadium in which the game was being played, to cheer for Miami (for the record, he is).

There were even high-fives after Taylor connected with Charles Clay for the touchdown that put Buffalo ahead with 1:20 remaining.

Having been a Bills fan since I was way too young to know better, and despite having my own loyalties tempered by years of writing about the team (first due to the semblance of objectivity required of a beat reporter during my stint in that gig in the 1990s, then the soul-sucking grind of finding new things to write about during the past 17 playoff-free seasons), my emotions while seeing this transformation were mixed, at best.

It was good to see him getting passionate about something relatively new to him but long important to me, the way I felt earlier in the fall when Oscar asked for his own copy of Quadrophenia after hearing The Who's vintage rock opera for the first time.

But it also felt like seeing the first tell-tale signs that your offspring is coming down with something, like the runny nose that turns into a nasty cold, or the simultaneously pale-and-flushed sweats that turn into the flu.

Hoping to nip the illness early, I explained that one minutes and 20 seconds was way too much time remaining to celebrate too much, particularly when the Bills are involved. Especially these Bills.

Sure enough, one long kickoff return and a couple completions by the immortal Matt Moore later, the Dolphins lined up to try the tying field goal.

Which Miami kicker Andrew Franks, of course, managed to push between the uprights.

He would have been forced to do it twice in a row had Rex Ryan been able to manage what pretty much ever other professional and college head coach has done routinely in similar situations for the last decade or two -- get a timeout called before the snap.

The recently deposed Buffalo coach can complain all he wants that he was ignored by the official (and Corey White was frantically making the universally accepted hand signal well before the snap), but the sideline replay sure looked like Rex was waiting for the last possible second, then somehow allowed the snap to take him by surprise.

After Dan Carpenter missed yet another field goal to end Buffalo's first possession in overtime, Jackson got up from the couch and announced, with sad fatalism, "I'm going in the other room. I can't watch this."

Which is when I made perhaps my biggest mistake as a father.

"And if they win, you'll miss it," I said. "And if they lose, they'll lose whether you're watching it or not."

He sat back down.

I am sorry, Jackson.

I could have spared you perhaps the single dumbest decision I have ever seen a Bills coach make. And I have lived through the wisdom of Lou Saban, Jim Ringo, Chuck Knox, Kay Stephenson, Hank Bullough, Marv Levy, Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell, Chan Gailey, Doug Marrone and Rex.

But this. This was pretty spectacular, even by Buffalo standards.

On fourth-and-2 with four minutes left in overtime, needing a win to keep his team's slim playoff hopes from vanishing altogether, on a day when Taylor's offense had already set a franchise single-game record for yardage and his own wildly over-hyped defense couldn't solve Matt Fucking Moore, Rex decided to punt.

Maybe he thought the defense that had spent much of the previous three-and-a-half hours getting shredded had a better chance of forcing a quick three-and-out than his single-game-record-setting-offense had of advancing the football six feet.

Or, maybe Rex simply didn't know that a tie would officially snuff his team's season. Given that he apparently did not remember that he was allowed, but not forced, to field 11 defensive players at the same time on THE VERY NEXT PLAY, the latter seems a lot more feasible.

I've never been much for calling for a coach's firing in print, mainly because I don't much like the idea of someone demanding that I lose my job. But as the ball left Colton Schmidt's foot, I said, "That's it. Rex has to go."

Forget the blown icing attempt, and the 10-man thing, and the failure to instill anything resembling a two-minute offense until the final game of his tenure, and all the botched replay challenges, and keeping Carpenter around no matter how many kicks he missed, and everything else that added up to equal the two most disappointing consecutive Bills seasons I can remember.

Punting in that situation showed that, at the end, Ryan was completely oblivious to what was required to get his team into the playoffs, that he though there was some advantage to finishing 8-7-1 as opposed to 8-8 or 7-9. After all, then he could brag about being the first Bills coach since Marv Levy with a career mark above .500, thanks to the scintillating 8-8 season he produced in 2015.

"This is so ... Billsy," Jackson said, correctly.

"You don't have to watch the rest of this," I told him, knowing we'd just seen Rex keep the playoff drought alive.

He got up off the couch and headed for the kitchen. So at least he missed Jay Ajayi running free through Buffalo's undermanned defense and down the sideline for 57 yards, setting up Franks' game-winner.

At least if I have, in fact, infected my son with this chronic regional malady, he's going into the battle without any illusions. I've already explained to him how the front office's mishandling of Taylor's benching has all but ensured the team's search for a quarterback will continue unabated.

And later today, he and his brother will experience another Buffalo tradition -- watching the Bills run for the proverbial bus.