The thinking was, Sean McDermott couldn’t go back to Nathan Peterman at quarterback on Sunday at the Colts. After Peterman’s pick-six cost them a game in Houston, wasting a great game by the defense, the head coach would lose his locker room if he didn’t make a change.
But in the end, it didn’t matter. From what I could gather, the head coach lost his team, anyway. They never showed up for this one. One week after McDermott’s obsession with Peterman blew up in his face again, the Bills turned in a thoroughly flat and uninspired effort and got blown out by the Colts, 37-5, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Bills looked like a team that hadn’t recovered emotionally from the Texans loss, like a team that had its heart ripped out by its own management. Really, why would the idea that Derek Anderson was taking over at quarterback make the players rise up on the road?
Maybe it wasn’t so much the fact that Peterman had cost them a game, but that the people at the top of the organization hadn’t thought enough of the players to provide them a reasonable answer at backup quarterback. Anderson hadn’t started a game in two years. He started Sunday only because the thought of Peterman playing again was so outrageous.
Regardless of who played quarterback, it looks as though the defensive players were demoralized and unready to play another strong game after being one of the best in the NFL for about a month. The defense had a defeated look. They seemed like a unit that grasped the futility of expending so much effort for a team that let them down by fielding such a sorry offense and butchering the backup quarterback position.
And while it won’t qualify as Breaking News on CNN, this offense is bad, historically bad. The Bills entered the game last in the league in scoring, total yards and passing. If you’re looking for a bright side, they actually finished with 300 yards of offense for the first time all season. That’s how low the bar is with this bunch. They also scored five points.
It didn’t help when LeSean McCoy went out with a head injury on the game’s second play, but the offense had been dreadful with him. So it’s hard to imagine that Shady would have made any real difference in the outcome if he had played the whole game.
Anderson wasn’t awful — not by the standards of Josh Allen and Peterman, anyway. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 175 yards. Kelvin Benjamin, his former teammate in Carolina, had his best game of the year with a season-high four catches for 71 yards — his most yards as a Bill. Again, it reminds you how pathetic things have been since Benjamin arrived.
But overall, Anderson looked like a man recently retrieved from semi-retirement, a career mediocrity who had started four games in seven years, and whose career completion percentage of 54.1 was the second-lowest of any QB to play since the year 2000.
Anderson got worse as the game wore on and he had to attempt more difficult throws. He threw three interceptions, including a horribly misguided throw to the sideline late in the game. At that point, you found yourself wishing they would pull him for Peterman and spread some of the misery around — or allow Peterman some garbage stats.
Supposedly, Anderson will serve as a mentor for putative franchise QB Josh Allen. I’m not sure how much Allen learned from watching Anderson’s performance. On one curious play, Anderson ran out of bounds for a 7-yard loss, rather than throw the ball away, like most savvy quarterback whisperers would do in such a situation.
If Allen was looking for guidance, he would have been better off observing Andrew Luck, who had a resourceful day for the Colts. Luck came in averaging 48 pass attempts a game, which was on pace for an NFL record. But he only needed 23 to strafe a slovenly Bills defense for four touchdown passes.
Luck was masterful, buying time with his feet at times, making subtle moves in the pocket at others and standing in to deliver timely throws. He spread the ball around to eight different receivers. He ran out of bounds at the 1-yard line on one play, rather than risk a dangerous hit. No matter. He threw a TD pass to T.Y. Hilton on the next play.
It was an utter humiliation. Early in the second quarter, the Bills drove from their own 25 to the Colts’ 22. At that point, it was a 53-yard drive, their longest since the Packers game three weeks earlier. Anderson threw a completion Charles Clay, who fumbled the ball away.
The Bills have not scored a touchdown on a drive that began on their side of the 50-yard line since early in the second quarter of the Minnesota game. That’s 18 quarters and change, more than one-quarter of an NFL regular season without a legitimate touchdown drive.
It’s no wonder the defense would look defeated. The offense is wearing them down, just like the fans. They looked deflated, too. A Colts team that came in 30th in the league in rushing, which didn’t have a back with 200 rushing yards on the season, ran through them for 220. Marlon Mack had a career-high 126. Yes, add him to the list.
By the second half, the defense had the discouraged demeanor we’ve seen countless time over the years in blowout losses. Matt Milano was terrible. Tre’Davious White had a so-so afternoon and looked crushed at the end. The middle of the defensive line, which had been so stout since early in the Green Bay game, got dominated by the Indy front.
Give Frank Reich credit. He had a team that was throwing 71 percent of the time, the most of any team in the league. But he knew the Bills’ defense could be had if you came right at them and punched them in the mouth. He didn’t want to have Luck throw 50 times against the Buffalo pass rush, which wound up without a sack.
When it was over, we were back to where we were after the second game, wondering how the defense could be so good for stretches and so awful at others. How does a defense give up 78 points in the first two weeks, play lights-out for a month, then collapse like this?
A year ago, they allowed 135 points over a three-week stretch in the middle of the season — a run that began in Week 8, by the way. McDermott can only hope that his defense isn’t heading into a similar prolonged funk. New England is next at New Era on Monday night.
McDermott kept his players motivated last season and got them into the playoffs. The veteran defensive players showed remarkable resilience after a horrible stretch. You can’t write them off after one bad week. Then again, it would be understandable if they threw up their hands and said, “What’s the point?