Nathan Peterman may not acknowledge them, or agree with them, or even waste any energy thinking about them, but he knows the sharks will circling Sunday for his first blunder with the Buffalo Bills, waiting for blood to signal their opportunity to attack.
The backup quarterback is often among the more popular guys in NFL cities because he hasn’t thrown any interceptions. Once upon a time, when the Bills were in their Super Bowl heyday, a segment of the fan base pleaded for Frank Reich to replace Jim Kelly.
You know who really thought it was absurd?
Peterman appeared in four games with the Bills last season. Each of them counted but only one mattered to masses: His first NFL start against the Chargers, a game in which he threw five interceptions in the first half in a 54-24 beatdown and Buffalo’s third straight loss.
It was a train wreck.
Sean McDermott was criticized by some before that game, but he was skewered across the country afterward. How could he make a switch when the Bills were 5-4 and carrying the heavy load of a 17-year playoff drought? What was he thinking?
Peterman left such an bad impression that it was the only thing fans and critics remembered less than 10 months later. His other start came in blizzard-like conditions against Indianapolis. He left the contest after he was knocked silly after taking a big hit in a Buffalo victory.
OK, so he was the Bills' best quarterback of the preseason - completing 80.5 percent of his passes for 432 yards, three touchdowns and one interception - but that was the preseason.
The five picks will define his career until he provides a larger sample size and proves he’s an efficient quarterback in games that matter. The only way to change the overriding narrative – Nathan Peterman is a bum – is to change the evidence on which it was based.
And that can only happen if he plays well enough, and remains healthy enough behind a weak offensive line, to stay in the lineup. It begins when he starts for Buffalo in the season opener Sunday against Baltimore in M&T Stadium.
“I’ve learned a lot (since last season), but really, my focus is completely ahead on Sunday,” Peterman told reporters Wednesday. “Obviously, this is year two, so you learn things from year one to year two, but it’s a whole new year and a whole new team.”
For now, Peterman has four games on an NFL resume that shows he completed 49 percent of his passes and 252 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. In his two starts, he threw for 133 yards against the Chargers and Colts.
You would think it can't get any worse, but the criticism could intensify if he falls on his face with rookie Josh Allen standing on the sidelines. If nothing else, he’ll get a chance Sunday to redeem himself and temporarily quiet critics.
“It’s a new opportunity that you’re not tied to your past failures,” Peterman said. “I know some people might think that because that’s all they’ve seen. Every time I step on the field, there’s a new opportunity no matter the good things or bad things that happen in the past.”
Ah, yes, the past.
It helps to revisit the past with some perspective.
McDermott changed quarterbacks because he was looking for an upgrade from mediocrity Tyrod Taylor. The record shows Taylor had thrown for 285 yards against the Jets two games earlier, but the reality was that a bulk of his production came during garbage time in a 34-21 loss.
Taylor's passing totals, which included 161 yards after the Jets had a 24-7 lead in the third quarter, and the final score were grossly misleading. He came back a week later and completed nine of 18 passes for 56 yards in a 47-10 loss to the Saints, marking the fifth time in 10 games he threw for fewer than 190 yards.
McDermott had every reason to replace him because, really, what was to lose – another game on the road that McDermott had little confidence in winning, anyway, with Taylor?
The Bills were desperate for improvement, so they took a gamble.
McDermott inserted Peterman with the hope he had a higher ceiling than Taylor. The master plan fell apart before he was mercifully pulled at halftime with the Bills training, 37-7. He completed six passes to the Bills and five to the Chargers.
It’s all true, and so is this: Peterman was the clear winner in the three-way quarterback competition that included seventh pick overall Josh Allen and since-traded veteran AJ McCarron.
Allen became a fan favorite after the Bills selected him seventh overall and view him as the franchise QB, but evidently he wasn't good enough to beat out Peterman. He'll remain one of the most popular guys in town, especially if the Bills lose, because he's the backup.
The one person who never stopped believing in Peterman was the one who mattered most: McDermott. He loved the kid’s even temperament and quiet confidence. He was impressed by how Peterman handled himself in one of the most embarrassing defeats imaginable for a young QB.
McDermott believes Peterman’s smarts, quick release and accurate arm can help them more Sunday than Allen’s raw ability. He best be careful. He's swimming in dangerous waters.