Well this was not how we all expected the week to go. After reaffirming Tyrod Taylor as the Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback on Monday, head coach Sean McDermott did a full about-face two days later and declared rookie Nathan Peterman the team’s starting quarterback.
After digesting and thinking some, and without really discussing the on-field merits of the decision (as they remain to be seen this week and beyond), I pose a question; is Sean McDermott just full of crap and talking out of both sides of his mouth?
The Bills were destroyed at home by the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. Right or wrong, Bills fans who lived through the drought immediately began writing the team off. Tyrod Taylor played his worst game as quarterback of the Bills. Nathan Peterman played well in mop-up duty when the score was 40-3. Regardless, no one really saw this decision coming. In making the decision to bench an incumbent starter on a team currently sitting in a playoff position, there are two possible outcomes:
(1) The Bills again miss the playoffs due to the defense and general lack of talent (e.g., 2015 and 2016 with Tyrod Taylor), but Peterman plays well enough to encourage confidence in his ability to be a future franchise QB. McDermott probably made the right choice. Even better, Nathan Peterman turns out to be the second coming of whatever late-round draft pick, underrated quarterback you prefer and is the Bills’ long lost savior at quarterback. McDermott is a genius and I eat the remaining paragraphs.
(2) Peterman plays like a 5th-round rookie who physically looks like, and was drafted in the area of, a career back-up. AFC teams continue their pathetic season and 9-7 would have made the playoffs but Buffalo falls apart and misses. McDermott will be heavily criticized and bear the brunt of the dramatic shake-ups made to a team that started the season 5-2.
Maybe. After last Sunday, if this team continues to lose games and slides out of the playoffs for an 18th straight year, people will remember the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints games as the beginning of the end. Taylor’s benching will be secondary to the reality that the Bills were just a flawed team in the midst of a rebuild. Taylor’s play in the game immediately prior to the benching (and his past struggles) will be cited as evidence that he could not have righted the ship. Fans will assume that the 5-2 start was fraudulent (like it has been every year before), and the end result was just the Bills being the Bills.
The story will move past the decisions McDermott made that very well may have caused or exacerbated (unlike in past years when injuries were generally the culprit) yet another collapse following a fast start. The salary cap money saved by inevitably moving on from Taylor and trading Marcell Dareus will be posited as evidence that brighter days are ahead. McDermott will continue to say the right things and the draft picks, the team has so many draft picks! McDermott’s decision to bench a quarterback that had the team currently sitting in the playoffs will be forgotten or excused as a necessary risk taken to fix a failing offense. The failures of Rick Dennison as an offensive coordinator may even be blamed on Taylor, when in fact he was handpicked by McDermott.
It is clear that Sean McDermott does not lack in self-confidence. I wrote when the team was 4-2 that his ego might allow for additional dramatic moves (and that was before the Marcell Dareus trade). Despite this being the first quarterback decision he has ever made (he has never been a head coach at any level), he displays an assurance in his abilities that might make Bill Belichick blush. His quotes from the announcement press conference read like those of a coach with a proven track record of winning and turning around organizations. A coach that knows how to implement and execute a practiced and proven plan.
McDermott - this is a decision I made, and it's a decision about becoming a better team. Every position is evaluated, and that's the direction I decided to go #Bills— WGR 550 (@WGR550) November 15, 2017
McDermott - as we continue to grow and move in the direction that I want us to move, there will be difficult decisions. It's a decision to try and make us better and getting us to where we want to go - to win a championship #Bills— WGR 550 (@WGR550) November 15, 2017
McDermott - I took my time on this decision, and I make every decision for the best interest of this football team. #Bills— WGR 550 (@WGR550) November 15, 2017
However, Sean McDermott is not the coach described above; his plan is not the plan described above. Rather, McDermott is a first-year head coach who was the defensive coordinator of a great defense that made a Super Bowl. Following that Super Bowl, still as defensive coordinator, he proceeded to stand by (or maybe even support) the decision to let one of the best players (Josh Norman) on that great defense leave. A defense ranked 6th in points per game in 2015 with Norman, plummeted to 26th in points per game in 2016 without Norman.
I hope Peterman is great and even as one of Taylor’s most ardent defenders, I admit he was approaching thin ice. But the McDermott era has been too wild a ride for where this team was at the end of 2016. McDermott was brought in for stability. He was supposed to be the anti-Rex Ryan; lacking in ego and flair for the dramatic. In reality, McDermott is Rex without Rex’s past success (albeit aged and relatively limited). Through nine games, McDermott’s defense ranks 15th in the league in points allowed and 25th in yards against. By comparison, Rex’s much maligned 2016 unit ranked 16th in points allowed and 19th in yards last season.
It has been speculated since his hiring that McDermott and the organization were not primarily focused on winning in 2017. McDermott has repeatedly denied this, despite his personnel moves showing otherwise. Maybe Peterman will be great, or maybe when McDermott says this, he really means it for next year, not this year.
"We were made to be more than 5-4, and I've come here to be more than 5-4." -- Sean McDermott— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) November 15, 2017
Taylor has been the epitome of 5-4. Build a good team around him and he can win you games. With a bad offensive line, bad defense, and an ever-changing group of wide receivers, he will struggle to be successful. If McDermott genuinely thinks his handpicked 5th round rookie is better than 5-4, yet it took him this long to come to pull the trigger, even I am at a loss for words.
McDermott walks and talks like he’s a seasoned, successful NFL head coach, he just lacks the resume of a seasoned, successful NFL head coach. He is quickly building one stand-out resume though, as a bullshitter.