With the Patriots off, I had the once-a-year chance to sample the full buffet of NFL games.
And the Bills game fascinated me because it’s clear Rex Ryan is -- early in his tenure -- actually willing to decrease the odds of his team winning in order to install his team as the NFL’s bad boys.
That the Bills took 17 penalties in their loss to the Giants and have 13 unsportsmanlike, taunting and unnecessary roughness penalties in four games, according to ESPN Buffalo’s Mike Rodak, means Buffalo is actually on schedule with Ryan’s plan.
Ryan said in February he would build a bully, went out and signed the Grand Poobah of bullies, Richie Incognito, and spent the offseason goading his players into believing that playing at and sometimes over the line of acceptability was going to be just fine.
The thinking behind it is simple. Ryan wants a team that’s nasty and pushes the envelope of aggression so that opponents will be cowed and intimidated when the Bills are on the schedule. He wants his team to be feared. Kinda like the Ravens were last decade, or the Steelers or Raiders have been at different junctures in the past, or the Eagles and Bears were when his father, Buddy, was coaching them.
And that’s why Ryan dismissed reasonable postgame questions about how ridiculously undisciplined his team appears with a wave of his hand. Because the penalties showed his team had heart. And fight.
“I guess you guys write the stories so you’ll write it the way you want to write it,” Ryan chided the Buffalo media. “I know, the one thing I know for a fact is we got heart. The discipline things, you know I get it. You get 17 penalties, that’s obviously a sign of lack of discipline. I think though that’s not the real deal. But, you know hey it is a free country. Write what you believe.”
Ryan obviously believes that this course of action by the Bills is the right one. That in 2015, with hair-trigger officials knowing every game is visually dissected by fans and their bosses in New York, the Bills are going to channel the 70s Raiders and get away with it. They won’t.
In this NFL, you can’t bite and you can’t bark. You can’t pull guys off a fumble scrum, ride a football like a pony after a touchdown, stand and gloat over fallen opponents or hit players except in specified areas. Yet Ryan thinks now’s the time to slam through the swinging doors of the NFL barroom and say he’s going to knock out every last man in the house.
It’s moronic. What you end up with is Richie Incognito chop-blocking to wipe out a would-be fourth-quarter touchdown on Sunday or Aaron Williams flipping out on command against the Patriots to try and scare them, and instead taking a fleet of 15-yarders that help the Patriots salt away a game in the first quarter.
The Bills lost convincingly to the Giants on Sunday. The Giants are not a very good team. But the Bills were so consumed with trying to prove their toughness, the Giants only had to wait around for Buffalo to self-destruct.
“I’m not changing anything,” Ryan said after the game. “But I’m going to change the results and that’s what I’m looking to do. Well, I’m going to tell you something. I’m proud of the way this team played. Now can we play a lot smarter? Absolutely. But I’ll take a team that will fight over a team that won’t, that’ll sit back and take it. Any day of the week and bring on the next team. So that’s how I look at it. Give me a team that’s got some fight and will compete till the very end. Right, wrong, or indifferent no matter how good the officiating is or whatever. Makes no difference to me. I’ll take a team with some competitive fight and some spirit. Seveneen penalties, ridiculous? Absolutely, 100 percent ridiculous. And so you say what you want, but I’ll take a team that’ll fight. I’m proud of this team and we’ll keep fighting, and eventually we’ll find a way to win. Eventually to eliminate penalties.
“We’ve got to play within the rules,” Ryan said. “We all know that. Did it happen today? Apparently not, we had 17 penalties, two touchdowns called back, a fumble, all that kind of stuff. I get it, no question about it. But I mean…you know we can focus on the negatives and all that, and I get it. That’s your guys job, but you might not understand the game the way I understand because I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been a part of 20-some penalty performance by the Ravens, okay. And went on and we fixed it. We’ll fix it here. But one thing is we got heart, and at least I know we got that and that’ll line it up regardless of the stuff that we take, negative wise. We’ll be standing there, right there and ready to toe the line again next week. I promise you that.”
The Bills have some really talented players. But by giving his team the green light to play with unchecked aggression and a lack of discipline Ryan is ensuring that –- most every week -– the Bills are going to be dealing with damaging penalties that they aren’t nearly good enough to overcome.
Ryan explains away that stupidity as a show of “heart” and “fight.” It’s a transparent effort on his part to show his players that he has their backs and will stick up for them. It creates a nice, strong bond, causing players to collectively gush, “Rex lets me be me!” And it’s worked in the past.
That kind of belief in the players is what leads to Super Bowl-worthy locker room celebrations when the owner decides not to fire you after an 8-8 season.