Sean McDermott was judicious with his words earlier this week while attempting to convey the right message to the public. It was a tall order after the Bills suffered a demoralizing loss in Houston, a chore for a head coach that required the right balance and proper tone.
McDermott was in an unenviable position to be sure Monday. He needed to make sure he didn’t alienate his own players while also remaining respectful toward a fan base that had grown increasingly frustrated watching one of the worst offenses in franchise history.
If that wasn’t enough, the Bills head coach had two damaged quarterbacks on his hands. One was Josh Allen, who left the 20-13 loss with an injured elbow that could sideline him for several weeks. The other was Nathan Peterman, who must have suffered psychological trauma that came with throwing away the game in the final 90 seconds.
McDermott was in a no-win situation when he was asked about his confidence level in Peterman after the latest disaster, knowing the backup was under siege after tossing a game-deciding pick-six. The ill-fated pass compounded problems going back to last season and was trumped by another interception moments later.
“I’m confident in every football player on our football team,” McDermott told the media. “With respect to Nate, it’s no different. I know he had some good plays yesterday, and I there are some plays that he’d like to have back. I’m confident in every player on our team.”
What else could he say?
Peterman has completed 43 percent of his passes and thrown just three touchdown passes without playing a full game. He has been a colossal failure. If McDermott still has confidence in him, it’s time to question McDermott’s ability as a competent talent evaluator and head coach. E.J. Manual would be an upgrade over Peterman at this stage.
Peterman has thrown 10 picks in seven games, including a brief playoff appearance last season in which he completed one pass to each team on three attempts against the Jaguars. Manuel has completed 349 of 590 passes, 58 percent, and thrown for 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his career.
McDermott couldn’t acknowledge losing faith in Peterman when there remained a real possibility he might have to send him back on the field Sunday against the Colts. He likes Peterman, who is a good human being and solid teammate. It's easy to pull for him.
But this is the NFL. McDermott couldn’t proclaim confidence in Peterman without looking foolish because … well … have you watched Peterman play? Thing was, by not coming clean with a clear message, in his attempt to appease the masses, McDermott sent the wrong one to everyone involved.
McDermott had been selling the idea the Bills were developing their young players while trying to win at the same time, but really the emphasis was placed more on preparing Allen for greatness than it was getting back into playoff contention.
Now, the worst situation is unfolding for the Bills, who were at the bottom of the league in passing before Allen was injured. NFL teams were averaging 256 yards per game through the first six weeks. The Bills were averaging 123 yards passing, less than half.
Allen could be on the sidelines for several weeks. The Bills were awaiting results on tests of his ulnar collateral ligament after he was nailed on the elbow Sunday. They were praying it’s not torn, which could led to Tommy John surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation, before getting confirmation it was just a sprain. Regardless, the injury was a setback to Allen’s development.
“That’s the hardest part about this,” McDermott said. “Him not being able to be out there in those critical moments of the game to get the valuable experience with the game on the line in that situation.”
Peterman was on the field in that situation, and the result was predictable. You know about the five interceptions last season against the Chargers. He was 5 of 18 for 24 yards in the first half against Baltimore before getting pulled. He returned Sunday, gave the Bills a lead with a touchdown pass to Zay Jones and promptly imploded.
Every time Peterman checks into a game, it’s an adventure. He has reached a point in which playing a series and not throwing an interception passes for an accomplishment.
Why didn’t the Bills keep A.J. McCarron, knowing they were entering the season with two inexperienced and unproven quarterbacks? Why didn’t they sign a veteran QB immediately after trading away McCarron in the likely event their starter failed or was injured? Both are questions for McDermott and GM Brandon Beane. So far, no answers.
It was no surprise to hear reports of unrest percolating in the Bills’ locker room if McDermott returned to Peterman against the Colts. ESPN reporter Dianna Russini, in a Twitter post Tuesday, cited sources who said McDermott could lose his players if remained steadfast about Peterman and started him Sunday.
The Bills’ defense has been superb for the past four-plus weeks and played well again Sunday. How could McDermott justify putting Peterman back on the field?
“I understand where you’re coming from on that,” McDermott told the media. “It’s something that, like I said earlier here, we’re working through. No. 1, I’ve got to put the right guy out there that I feel like is best for our football team. I understand the fans and that sentiment, but at the same time, I’ve got to do what I feel is best for the football team.”
McDermott can answer however he pleases, but this is a no-brainer. He knows the truth. His players know the truth, too. The best thing for his football team is playing Derek Anderson, a 35-year-old backup who was signed off the street going into the Houston game.
Anderson warmed the bench behind Cam Newton for seven years in Carolina and has started fewer games than Allen since 2010. He and Allen have the same career completion percentage (54 percent). Anderson was signed to help mentor Allen, who has looked dazed and confused in the weeks leading into his elbow injury.
Less than a week after signing with the Bills, Anderson became their best option. McDermott couldn’t say as much, but it was clear: He has three quarterbacks on his roster. None should be starting in the NFL. And the Bills have only themselves to blame.