Sean McDermott said it seven times during his session with the Buffalo media late Wednesday morning. He had decided to go with Josh Allen as his starting quarterback because it was “the right move” for his team. That was the extent of his explanation.
“I don't feel a need, honestly, to elaborate," McDermott said after giving up on Nathan Peterman as his starter after one just abominably bad half for the second year in a row.
Honestly? One of my pet peeves is people who have to tell you they’re being honest. It makes you even more convinced they’re not giving you the full, unvarnished truth. And when someone feels compelled to attest to their own honesty, does that mean they’re not being totally upfront the rest of the time? I’m just asking.
But if the head coach won’t elaborate, I’ll be happy to do it for him. Starting Peterman in the opener was an arrogant, short-sighted act, the misguided gesture of an overempowered coach who wanted to show his critics he had been right to put in Peterman a year earlier.
Naturally, McDermott said after the Ravens debacle that he needed to see the tape before evaluating Peterman’s performance. I’m guessing he saw on tape what any reasonable observer could have concluded by watching it in real time on Sunday afternoon:
He saw Tyrod Taylor. Oh, it was a far less athletic version, to be sure. But McDermott had to recognize many of the same shortcomings he’d seen in Taylor in his rookie year as a head coach: Holding on to the football too long, being unwilling to chuck it down the field, failing to see open receivers, too quick to check down, bailing out and getting sacked.
That’s why the Bills moved on from Taylor after three seasons — and why I felt they should have cut him loose before 2017. We’d seen his upside; it wasn’t good enough in a passing league. They needed a bigger, younger QB who had greatness in him, and who had the guts, the gunslinger’s arm, and the capacity for reading defenses under duress in the NFL.
That’s why they traded up to get Allen with the seventh overall pick of the last draft, because they felt he was the franchise guy who could man the position for the next 10 years or more. Eventually, Allen was going to be the starter. You knew Allen was raw and would struggle. That’s what the Bills signed AJ McCarron, to serve as a modest bridge.
But McCarron struggled in preseason, while Peterman completed 80 percent of his passes in preseason and won the starting job. McDermott saw redemption in Peterman, and the “best chance to win.” Others saw a marginal NFL player who would fight to be a backup on most teams and weren’t swayed by his stats against backups in preseason games.
Playing Peterman was an unprecedented gamble on McDermott’s part, same as his decision to put him in for Taylor with the Bills at 5-4 a year ago. It had been 47 years since a player with as little game experience as Peterman started over a rookie who had been drafted in the top 10. But McDermott is a little smarter than the rest of us. He bowled over the Pegulas in his interview for the head job, remember?
By now, the Pegulas have to be wondering if McDermott is so smart, after all. He said Wednesday that it was his decision, while conceding that he had talked about it with GM Brandon Beane and ran it pass Terry and Kim Pegula.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Terry offered an opinion while his coach was running the idea past him. Don’t forget, he huddled with a few of his top offensive players and asked their opinion before firing Greg Roman two years ago. So there’s precedent for the owner sticking his nose into the affairs of his football team. It’s his right.
The Bills don’t have a lot to sell these days. Who’s the face of the franchise? LeSean McCoy? Kyle Williams? You want someone under 30, Tre’Davious White? They were bound to be selling Allen before long. Do you think Pegula was thrilled by the notion of selling a franchise quarterback who couldn’t even beat out Nathan Peterman?
Well, the home opener is Sunday against the Chargers — the same team that undressed Peterman in LA last November in what was by some statistical measure the worst passing performance in NFL history. This past Sunday, Peterman had an even worse stinker as far as QB rating. He rated 0.0, the second time in 10 years a QB had rated zero while throwing 15 passes. The other was Peyton Manning in his final season with the Broncos.
Peterman is no Peyton Manning. He’s not even AJ McCarron, who got a pile of money for doing nothing. But McDermott felt Peterman was good enough to hold the fort and maybe win a game or two before Allen was schooled to play quarterback in the NFL, a league peopled by coaches who hype the complexity of their jobs to inflate their own importance.
This isn’t that complicated. Allen is raw, but he’s the guy. In actuality, he’s the one who gives the Bills the best chance to win, not Peterman. It seemed to me the Bills were a deflated team last Sunday, perhaps because they were discouraged by an organization that seemed uninterested in putting a competitive offense on the field for the opener.
Allen will struggle, but the fans will be patient. He’ll make some big plays with his arm and his legs. He’ll also do some of the things Taylor was famous for. He’ll give up on plays too soon and miss open receivers. But he’ll have enough belief in his own talents to attempt the big throws, as if reaching for the future and a time when he’ll have it all figured out.
That’s the problem with football coaches. Like McDermott, they hide behind safe, conservative ideas rather than the daring and creative thing. There was a certain boldness in playing Peterman, but it was based on the notion that he could make the safe throw, that he wouldn’t hurt the Bills with an audacious self-confidence.
Allen is the future. He’s the choice of the masses. One theory for playing Peterman was that McDermott was afraid Allen would get hurt behind a bad offensive line. That was no reason to give Peterman the job. A great head coach is ruled by his vision, not his fears.