ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Promises, promises, and still no foreseeable sign of the Buffalo Bills ending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought any time soon.
As consistency goes for a franchise stuck in an ever-deepening rut, missing the postseason for a 17th consecutive year and hitting the reset button are the few things that have remained the same.
The rinse-and-repeat cycle of change began last week when owner Terry Pegula fired Rex Ryan a week short of completing his second full season. Ryan became the fall guy after his big bluster and vows to build a bully fell well short of expectations, particularly on defense, which was supposed to be his specialty.
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Instead, the Bills wrapped up a 7-9 season by embarking on their seventh coaching search since Wade Phillips was fired following an 8-8 finish in 2000.
”Obviously, that wasn’t the plan,” Pegula told The Associated Press , noting he grew dismayed during a season in which Buffalo’s defense showed no signs of progress.
Pegula then found it important to defend his team from critics by saying there is no dysfunction within the organization.
He expressed full confidence in Whaley, who is leading the coaching search. And Pegula defended the fourth-year GM by refuting suggestions that Whaley had friction with Ryan or his predecessor, Doug Marrone, who opted out of his contract following the 2014 season.
”Doug got along very well with Rex,” Pegula said. ”I don’t know why Marrone left. You can ask him that question.”
Assurances aside, an overwhelming sense of skepticism prevails over a franchise with a spotty drafting history, continued uncertainty at quarterback, and a general manager who had difficulty explaining his exact role during a 40-minute end-of-season news conference on Monday.
In saying he spoke for ownership and Bills President Russ Brandon, Whaley provided no definitive answers on Ryan’s dismissal. He said he had no input in the decision, no knowledge of Ryan’s job being in jeopardy, and had no reaction when informed Ryan was out.
All he could offer was a hope the next coach will succeed.
”We’re searching for that continuity,” Whaley said. ”We’re searching for that coach that can be here for 10-15 years”
COACHING CANDIDATES: Interim head coach Anthony Lynn is considered the front-runner to take over. Elevated to offensive coordinator after Greg Roman was fired following an 0-2 start, Lynn has familiarity with an offense that led the NFL in rushing for second consecutive season. Should Lynn land the job, former Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley is in the discussion to serve as defensive coordinator.
The Bills are expected to interview between five and six candidates, including Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.
QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS: Tyrod Taylor’s future is in question after the second-year starter was inactive for Buffalo’s mean-nothing season-ending 30-10 loss at the New York Jets. Taylor has a 15-14 record and the Bills have two months to determine whether to pick up or opt out of a five-year contract extension signed in August.
Taylor acknowledged he viewed the Bills’ decision to bench him as a sign of the team losing confidence in him.
Backup EJ Manuel isn’t expected to be re-signed. Buffalo’s only other quarterback on the roster is rookie fourth-round pick Cardale Jones.
ROSTER TURNVOVER: The Bills have 24 players eligible to become free agents this offseason. It’s a group that includes starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and Zach Brown and receiver Robert Woods.
Even before Ryan’s dismissal, the team’s offseason needs were receiver and safety to replace Aaron Williams , whose future is uncertain because of a season-ending neck injury sustained in a 28-25 loss at Miami on Oct. 23.
ON THE RUN: The defense’s largest letdown was an inability to stop the run. Buffalo allowed opposing running backs to top 200 yards three times this season – including Miami’s Jay Ajayi twice (214 and 206).
They also gave up a franchise-worst 236 yards rushing to Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. The three outings rank among the six-best performances against Buffalo.
ON THE OFFENSIVE: The LeSean McCoy-led running attack finished with 2,630 yards rushing, the third-highest total in team history, and scored a franchise-best 29 TDs. … Buffalo’s 399 points scored rank seventh on the team list, and most since 400 in 1998. … Taylor finished with 3,023 yards passing in becoming Buffalo’s first player to top 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons since Ryan Fitzpatrick’s three-year run from 2010-12.
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