I get it.
I get why first-year head coach Sean McDermott dumped the much-maligned Tyrod Taylor for rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman following back-to-back duds by the offense.
Taylor is coming off the worst performance of his Bills’ career, mustering only 56 passing yards and three points (on the opening drive) of Sunday’s 47-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Following the scoring drive, Taylor directed seven drives that ended punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, and a punt before Peterman took over to a rousing ovation from the few remaining fans at New Era Field.
Peterman is the shiny, sparkling, and yet unknown commodity at One Bills Drive. The fifth-round draft pick out of Pittsburgh, the latest in a looooooong line of heir apparents to Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, has shown glimpses of his potential.
True, he engineered an impressive six-play, 75-yard drive, culminating with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Nick O’Leary late in the fourth quarter Sunday. But New Orleans clearly wasn’t playing tight defense, a far cry from what the Los Angeles Chargers will bring to Sunday’s important 4:05 p.m. ET meeting with huge AFC Wild Card implications.
Buffalo (5-4) now finds itself in sixth place in the suddenly-downtrodden AFC, where Buffalo is one of only six teams with a winning record. The playoffs are within reach, a feat that hasn’t happened since the infamous 22-16 Music City Miracle setback to the Tennessee Titans during the 1999 season.
For a team that was in the thick of the playoff race to change course so drastically is, well, shocking. Less than 48 hours after receiving the dreaded vote of confidence from McDermott, the team did an about-face, entrusting the final seven games of the once-promising season to Peterman.
Much like most of Bills Nation, I’m hungry for Buffalo to solve its quarterback quandary. But what bothers me most is both the timing of the benching, and the harsh and contradictory message it sends.
From day one, McDermott has preached transparency, honesty, and trusting the process. He’s also left no doubt that, when push comes to shove, McDermott will opt for his guy vs. Doug Whaley’s players. There’s no doubt this is McDermott’s team, it’s just disappointing that, within a span of a few days, McDermott went from standing by and supporting Taylor, to making him the scapegoat for this two-game slide. Besides bringing up questions of trust in the locker room, the sudden switch also goes against everything McDermott has preached about building a united team culture. Will the players at One Bills Drive take McDermott at his word the next time he gives one of them a vote of confidence, or will they be skeptical? New coaches come in and are given both time and the leverage to reshape their roster as they see fit. But when trust in the locker room erodes, new coaches can find that their leash grows shorter.
And the challenge is going to be quite daunting for Peterman, who must play at an underrated Chargers defense, travel to Arrowhead, then host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots over the course of his first three weeks at starter.
According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, “rookie fifth-round picks like Peterman have completed just 50.6 percent of their passes, averaged 5.5 yards per attempt, and thrown more interceptions (36) than touchdowns (28) while going a combined 12-19.” Definitely not numbers that scream playoffs.
Taylor has his flaws. He misses on open receivers. He can hesitate to take shots downfield. He sometimes holds onto the ball for too long. But he can also extend plays with his legs, throws a nice and accurate deep ball when the offense opens up, and directed (and didn’t kill many drives with back-breaking interceptions) a potent offense that ranked 10th in the league scoring 24.9 points per game in 2016.
This year, under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, the Bills rank 20th in scoring offense (20.4 points/game).
While there is something to be said for how Peterman got rid of the ball quickly, a knock on Taylor from day one in Buffalo, not all drives are created equally nor should all performances be viewed under the same microscope. To judge a quarterback solely on how he performs in a small sample size is unfair to both the incumbent starter and the backup, who, during trying times, is always the most popular player among a franchise’s fans.
During the preseason, Peterman didn’t fare well when facing the blitz, a fact that the Chargers and the rest of the Bills opponents will harp on until Peterman proves he can handle the pressure.
In a quarterback-driven league, Buffalo’s front office appears to have concluded that Taylor is not someone capable of leading the Bills to a Super Bowl title. I don’t know about the rest of #BillsMafia, but after missing out on the NFL’s annual postseason tournament a league-record 17 straight years, I’d be happy just getting back to the playoffs this year, then reassess what they have in Peterman and the 2018 NFL draft class during the offseason.
After the Bills caught lightning in a bottle and stormed out to a 5-2 start, the “P word” was on the tips of almost all of Western New York. Following the lopsided losses to the New York Jets and the Saints, McDermott opted for a quarterback change. It’s understandable, and who knows, Peterman, who does appear to be a better fit in Dennison’s scheme, could prove all of the doubters wrong.
To his credit, Taylor has been the consummate professional, even after it was announced he had lost the starting job.
"I don't agree with the decision, but ultimately Coach McDermott has a vision for this team, what he feels is best for the team, as well as the owners and GM," Taylor said. "So I have to move forward and continue to be the leader and teammate that I am from a different role."
Only time will tell if it was the correct move. I just wish the Bills, who two weeks ago acquired top-flight wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in an all-in move for this year, would have given Taylor a chance to rebound from his worst game of his career. To me, it seemed best to ride with Taylor until the team was eliminated from postseason contention, and not to ditch Taylor for Peterman in hopes of resurrecting the season.