Veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron played the whole game in the preseason finale Thursday night against the Bears, a clear indication the Bills’ most experienced passer finished behind Nathan Peterman and rookie Josh Allen in the quarterback competition.
Bills coach Sean McDermott still hasn’t named his starting quarterback for the season opener, and he could wait until just before kickoff against Baltimore to announce his decision. But based on performance, he would be hard-pressed to keep Peterman off the field come Sept 9.
The quarterback situation has been unsettled since the Bills signed McCarron and drafted Allen with the seventh pick overall. However, if you listened to McDermott over the past several months, there was a sense he felt most comfortable with Peterman.
Not much has changed.
Really, what once had the makings of a difficult decision actually became an easy one. McDermott has to start Peterman in the opener against the Ravens.
Let’s be realistic. The Bills, who play five of their first seven games on the road, would be fortunate to finish .500 this season. Las Vegas oddsmakers see them winning four or five contests. Some are calling Buffalo the worst team in the NFL no matter who plays quarterback.
Many fans and media have argued McDermott needed to determine whether he wanted to win right away and give the Bills a chance to remain in contention or start planning for their long-term future. It doesn’t need to be one or the other. McDermott could do both. He could start Peterman and simultaneously develop Allen.
It may have been the plan all along.
McDermott entered training camp with McCarron, who signed a two-year deal worth $10 million, as the most tenured quarterback on the roster. Many in the national media automatically assumed he would be inserted into the starting lineup. But that wasn’t the case before he injured his collarbone two weeks ago in Cleveland.
Peterman has been most effective of the three since the start of training camp. That much is indisputable. He played extremely well when selected to start the first game. He was consistent with the third team in the second game and was solid Sunday in the third after relieving Allen.
Peterman: 33 of 41 (80.5 percent) for 432 yards, three touchdowns, one interception.
Allen: 24 of 44 (54.5 percent) for 210 yards, two touchdowns, no INTs.
McCarron: 23 of 50 (46 percent) for 284 yards, three TDs, two INTs.
McCarron rallied the Bills to a 28-27 victory Thursday with three touchdown passes and a rushing TD in the second half. He didn’t help his cause when he was 5 of 13 and with two interceptions in the first half, including one that was returned for a touchdown. He completed 13 of 34 passes for 156 yards, three TDs and two INTs in the game.
The Bills still could consider cutting McCarron and look for a cheaper option to run the scout team and clean up in an emergency. Then again, they might need to keep him given the sorry state of their starting offensive line.
McDermott wasn’t about to risk the health of a potential starter Thursday, but he needed somebody to call the plays against the Bears. He handed the offense to McCarron for a scrimmage between scrubs and prayed he didn't get injured.
The Bills likely will stick with Plan A, which was trying to win while developing their young players. McDermott can multi-task, you know. Last year, the goal was winning while rebuilding the roster. The Bills slipped into the playoffs while making major changes in personnel.
McDermott doesn’t need to rush Allen into the starting lineup. Allen is making a big jump from mid-major football at Wyoming to big-time football in the NFL. What’s the harm in watching a few games for a team with a top-heavy schedule and likely going nowhere?
Allen's time will come. He'll be more prepared when it does if he continues to make progress without the pressure to perform.
Sure, there’s a chance the Bills would accelerate his development by playing him right away, but that’s assuming Allen proved he was capable of running the offense.
Allen had one solid game against the Browns’ second-team defense. It wasn’t as if he was lighting up the league. Against the Bengals, in his only performance against a first-team defense, Allen struggled while running for his life.
Peterman is far more equipped at this stage to read defenses, make better decisions and quickly get the ball out of his hand. In case you didn’t notice, such qualities would be handy while the Bills’ offensive line works to come together.
Let’s not forget the credibility issue.
McDermott was ripped royally last season because he had the audacity to start Peterman and bench Tyrod Taylor. Critics argued McDermott would undermine his players because they believed Taylor gave them the better chance to win.
The same applies in this case. The players are the first to know who belongs in the lineup. They want to win, too. The players on offense were paying attention during training camp. They were in the huddle with Peterman and Allen. They knew who was winning the quarterback competition long before McCarron started Thursday.
Clearly, it was Peterman.
If the winner of the competition isn’t rewarded with the starting job, what’s the sense in conducting one?