<
>

Bills' defense's latest embarrassment puts Rex Ryan on hot seat

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Rex Ryan had no need for hand warmers or earmuffs in 27-degree weather Sunday, because the coldest game of the Buffalo Bills’ season -- a 27-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers -- warmed up the coach's seat to levels not yet seen this season.

Ryan's defense was embarrassed on its own snow-covered turf at New Era Field, allowing 460 total yards to the Steelers' offense despite two first-half interceptions of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that gave Buffalo a chance to keep the game close.

When Ryan took the Bills' job in January 2015, he declared that his defense would be the best in the NFL. That unit finished a disappointing 19th in yards allowed last season but, according to Ryan, had made strides this season. Buffalo entered Sunday's game ranked 12th in yards allowed but 17th in points allowed per game.

"I think we’re a much better defense this year than it was last year," Ryan said Thursday. "I don’t think there’s any question about that."

After Le’Veon Bell gained 298 yards from scrimmage against Ryan's defense Sunday, it is fair to question whether the group has improved from last season. It also is reasonable to ask how much longer Ryan should coach a team that has not played 60 minutes of quality football since its 45-16 drudging of the lowly San Francisco 49ers in Week 6.

Now having lost five of his past seven games -- squeaking out wins over the Bengals and Jaguars in the other two contests -- Ryan is suddenly in danger of being kicked to the curb at the end of this season, if not sooner.

Ryan is 14-15 in 29 games as Buffalo's coach. Although the Bills are not yet eliminated from playoff contention, they will almost certainly miss the postseason for the 17th consecutive season. It would be Ryan's sixth consecutive season out of the playoffs, meaning he will join Chuck Knox (1989-1994), Jack Patera (1976-81) and Bart Starr (1975-81) as the only four coaches since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to miss the postseason in six consecutive years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

There would be little benefit to firing Ryan this week and replacing him with offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, considered among Ryan's assistants to be the most ready to become an NFL head coach. With the Bills expected to be out of the playoffs, any boost the Bills would get from switching to Lynn wouldn't mean anything for their fate this season.

However, owner Terry Pegula surely wasn't amused during Sunday's game, when hundreds of terrible towels were waved by black-and-yellow-clad Steelers fans sitting in seats normally occupied by Bills season-ticket holders.

Weeks ago, the odds were against the Bills' firing Ryan, whose warm seat seemed to cool after the Bills won four consecutive games in October. But after Sunday's embarrassment at the hands of the Steelers, anything appears possible.