Sean McDermott has resisted the urge, so far, to buckle to the masses and name rookie Josh Allen the starter when the Buffalo Bills open the regular season against Baltimore. I happen to be among others who, so far, believe it would be wise to play Nathan Peterman early while Allen develops behind him.
McDermott will be criticized for one reason or another because NFL coaches are continuously second-guessed for one reason or another. If they punt on fourth-and-1, they’re stupid. If they fail to make a first down on fourth-and-1, they’re stupid.
For almost the entire game of the entire season, somebody somewhere believes the coach is stupid. McDermott made peace with that when he poured himself into coaching with the Eagles and listened to fans who believed head coach Andy Reid was stupid. Scrutiny comes with the territory. Sometimes, it's exactly what a football team needs.
McDermott has gone about the practice of evaluating Allen, Peterman and AJ McCarron in precisely the same manner. And because he did, he can make an informed decision when the time comes.
Does that mean it will be the right decision or the one that produces the best results? Not necessarily. McDermott learned as much last season, when he was blistered after replacing Tyrod Taylor with Peterman when the Bills were in playoff contention.
There are no guarantees in sports, other than LeBron in the finals, but at least McDermott can sleep at night knowing he conducted a true quarterback competition. You hear coaches all the time suggest that every spot on the team is up for grabs, but rarely do they actually approach their rosters with such objectivity.
McDermott followed through on his plans for a fair an honest evaluation and handled his quarterbacks with care. He rotated all three throughout training camp. He started Peterman in the first preseason game and McCarron in the second. Allen earned the start this week against Cincinnati, which could have been in the plans all along.
"I'm not going out there trying to prove that I'm the starter or whatever the case may be," Allen told reporters. "I'm going out there to play football, moves the chains, put points on the board and help whatever way I can."
As you may have read or heard roughly 5.2 billion times in Buffalo this week, Allen played well against the Browns. He completed nine of 13 passes for 60 yards and a short touchdown pass while running mostly the first-team offense against the Browns’ second-team defense. That’s not taking away from Allen. It’s simply stating a fact.
McDermott wanted to see more. Allen could make a convincing argument to start right away if he dominates Sunday. Ideally, he would play so well that his coaches, teammates, fans, media and barstool head coaches would agree he's The Guy.
Early this week, he announced Allen would start against the Bengals. It was a shift in past practices for the head coach. McDermott had refused to name his starter in the first two contests, as if he could gain an advantage over Carolina and Cleveland even though the outcomes meant nothing in the grand scheme.
McDermott named Allen the starter for Sunday for one reason above all others: He was attempting to simulate a typical week in the NFL leading into a game on Sunday. It was yet another example of McDermott paying attention to every detail.
“We really wanted for him to go through a routine of what it would be like for a normal, regular-season week, dealing with the potential distractions and all that goes with the quarterback position and learning how to balance that,” McDermott told reporters Wednesday. “AJ's been through that before, naturally. Nate has been through it as well, so this was an opportunity as well for Josh for his first time.”
McDermott applied pressure because he wanted to see how Allen responded throughout the week. How did he carry himself in practice while leading the offense? How did he handle teammates and media who no longer viewed him as some wide-eyed rookie? Did he have a boost in confidence? Did he appear nervous?
Allen’s performance against the Bengals’ first-team defense will provide insight and could ultimately make the decision easier, one way or the other. The Bills will scrutinize his decisions and command over the offense. They will be looking for consistency from his passing arm, which would validate his play in Cleveland.
"I was happy with the performance, but I'm not content," Allen said. "I'm just trying to learn from every mistake on the field and every success. I'm not really looking at (Sunday's game) any differently. It's an opportunity to go out there and play."
GM Brandon Beane will offer his two cents when the time comes to make a decision. McDermott will tap into his coaching staff for their opinions, starting with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. They are likely to have the same arguments behind closed doors that fans have had all week.
Just know that McDermott handled the three quarterbacks about as well as could be expected. Each will have started a preseason game and had the same basic opportunity to prove himself. Allen gets his turn Sunday to show McDermott that he's ready to become a full-time starter.
McDermott will make the final call, but really the players will make it for him. No matter the decision, it's bound to get criticized.