Nathan Peterman will be a national punchline after this one. The pundits will joke about the interceptions, replay the fateful pick six over and over again, talk about his hat trick of meltdowns as an NFL quarterback. Fine, go at it. He deserves it.
But Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Texans falls squarely on the shoulders of management: On Bills head coach Sean McDermott for his obstinate and misplaced belief in Peterman, and on general manager Brandon Beane for failing to correct a bad situation in time.
They got what they deserved late afternoon at NRG Stadium. On a day when his defense played an extraordinary game, chasing Deshaun Watson all over the field and putting the Bills up, 13-10, late in the game, McDermott took a crushing loss instead because he had no choice but to have Peterman in the game in the critical moments.
Peterman telegraphed a throw on second down from his own 25-yard line with 1:23 left. Bills fans could only watch in horror as Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph read the throw as easily as he would a blazing neon sign, picking the pass off in stride and taking it in for a 28-yard touchdown and a victory.
Sure, Peterman had put the Bills ahead early in the fourth quarter after Josh Allen left with an elbow injury, finding Zay Jones with a 16-yard TD throw to give Buffalo a 13-10 lead. That could have been the game-winner if the Texans hadn’t tied the game later.
It doesn’t matter. It didn’t change the fact that Peterman had no business being an NFL backup, and that Beane and McDermott waited one week too long before bringing in Derek Anderson to be Allen’s veteran mentor and the team’s No. 1 quarterback.
You could go all the way back to the start of the season, of course, when Beane traded AJ McCarron and McDermott made Peterman the starter for the opener. The Bills didn’t bring in an experienced third quarterback, and it finally came back to bite them Sunday.
McDermott is a terrific defensive coach, and he has been an able leader for this Bills team. This could have been the fourth rousing road victory of his short time in Buffalo. He got his team ready and put together inspired game plans for upset road wins at Atlanta and Kansas City a year ago, and at Minnesota in the third game this season.
But his ego got in the way when it came to Peterman. McDermott was in charge when the Bills drafted Peterman in the fifth round a few month after the Pegulas hired him to be the head coach. Doug Whaley was the GM at the time, but he was on his way out the door.
Peterman was McDermott’s pick, his pet project. After the experiment in LA last year blew up, he wanted to prove he was right. Then Peterman was a disaster in the opener this year in Baltimore. At that point, the wise move would have been to cut Peterman, or find a viable backup for Allen and make Peterman No. 3 if he insisted on keeping him.
Beane isn’t McDermott’s boss, which could be part of the problem. He should have stepped in sooner and insisted that the Bills bring in a dependable backup quarterback for Allen. Why it took so long to get Anderson, who was with them in Carolina, isn’t clear.
Pressed on the issue during the week, McDermott said it was a matter of timing. How does the timing look now? It looked almost scripted, having Peterman blow up in his face for a third time, just days after the Bills signed Anderson to be the backup.
It’s too bad, because the Bills played an inspired defensive game, one that reflects well on McDermott as a coach and motivator. They sacked Deshaun Watson seven times, intercepted him twice, forced two fumbles. Tre’Davious White had a couple of penalties, but he held Deandre Hopkins to his worst game of the season.
But a great defensive effort went to waste, which has happened far too often in the years since Jim Kelly retired. The most amazing thing about this Bills' offense is that it actually found a way to get worse. After seeing them get shut out at Green Bay and squeak out a win over Tennessee with a late drive to a field goal, an optimist might have figured they were due for a good game.
Wrong. In a season that had fans wondering if this might be the worst Buffalo offense in franchise history, they put up their biggest stinker yet. They went scoreless in the first half and had 53 total yards. They had 2.4 yards per play at halftime. In the second quarter, they ran 10 plays and amassed 7 total yards.
The wideouts had two catches for 6 yards in the first two quarters. At that point, the Bills had scored 13 points over 12 quarters, spanning halftime of the win in Minnesota through halftime of the Houston game. They hadn’t scored a TD on a possession that began in their own end since the Vikings game.
So things improved some after halftime. How could they not? Kelvin Benjamin caught a 39-yard pass. LeSean McCoy (16 carries, 73 yards) ran well at times. Jones caught three passes. Allen made some decent throws before leaving with an elbow injury.
But they did just enough to lose. They had 12 penalties for 104 yards, including two unforgivable illegal formation calls at critical times. They fumbled away a punt and had one of theirs blocked, so blame this on special teams if you’re in the mood.
In the end, it’s an indictment of McDermott’s stubbornness and Beane’s unwillingness to make a stand. Beane isn’t the boss, but he’s the GM, and he needed to get in his coach’s face at some point and tell him it was time to give up on his Peterman obsession.
They squandered a great opportunity to win their third game in four weeks and get to 3-3 a month after people had written them off for dead, as a team that could go winless. How would that Monday night home game against the Pats on Oct. 29 look now?
Instead, they’re 2-4 and forced to endure the embarrassment of yet another Nathan Peterman disaster. That’s on them. They wasted one of the best defensive efforts in team history. Of course, we’re used to that by now. Just last year, they lost 9-3 at Carolina and 10-3 at Jacksonville in a playoff game.
After both those crushing defeats, Lorenzo Alexander said the defense needed to be better. The sad truth was, he was right. There’s very little margin for error when you’re running a dysfunctional offense out there week after week.
They’re still a team that gives you the inspired defensive effort, but can’t figure out the quarterback. In their private moments, Alexander and the rest of the defense have to know it was management, not poor Nathan Peterman, who really let them down.