It’s been a whirlwind last week for Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott, and one that will be a valuable lesson for him as he goes forward as the man in charge of the team. This is the first real time that McDermott has drawn the ire of the fanbase, in which his decision to go with rookie Nathan Peterman was heavily scrutinized for both the message the decision sent, and the result of the game.
This time last week, Sean McDermott said that they were starting Peterman because he felt like it was the right thing for the team both now and moving forward, and he believed firmly that he felt the rookie was ready for the opportunity. And what occurred Sunday in Los Angeles was the head coach being spectacularly wrong, with Peterman having one of worst statistical quarterback performances in NFL history.
Starting Tyrod Taylor against Kansas City, after Peterman’s nightmarish performance, was the obvious choice and the one he had to make if he wanted his team to be taken seriously by the fan base, and most importantly, the locker room.
The Bills have to hope their head coach learns from this fiasco over the last week.
When saying that he isn’t one to make snap decisions, it sure felt like the decision to start Peterman was exactly what he preached against — especially since it came on the heels of a terrible offensive performance against the New Orleans Saints just two days before. After all, he said the first time he thought about making the switch was after the Saints game.
And, quite frankly, I respected the guts it took to make the decision to go to Peterman — but a lot of that was due to thinking they had a good feel for what the rookie quarterback was at that point in time. Only they see him in practice, only they see him in meetings, and only they knew whether or not he was truly ready.
As it turns out, he wasn’t ready. Not even close.
And McDermott — by saying that he believed Peterman was ready for the chance and in thinking that it was the right thing for a 5-4 team to be more than just a 5-4 team — burned a lot of the credibility cache within the fan base.
The further frustration with the head coach, and the current form of the organization is really the mixed messages they’re sending to the fan base by the words and actions as to what 2017 actually is. We’ve heard all about building for both the short and long-term, which to a point is trying to have the best of both worlds.
Just recall everything they’ve done.
They traded away Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, Reggie Ragland, and Marcell Dareus (among others), essentially for draft picks and cap relief, which signals a long-term approach. They then, however, start 5-2 on the season and use one of those high draft picks draft picks to go for it in 2017 by acquiring wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin — which is as short-term an outlook as you’ll find.
After that, the Bills go on a spell of losing and even after declined the opportunity to release the players they needed to before the Week 10 deadline to attain a third-round compensatory selection for the lost free agent Stephon Gilmore. But, just days later, they announce Peterman — a fifth-round draft pick and rookie — as their starting quarterback when the team is still 5-4 and in a playoff spot.
Now, it’s back to Tyrod?
If you’re confused, you’re certainly not alone.
What is more important to the Bills? Is it trying to go for it this season to sneak into the playoffs? Is it to be “in the hunt” — a phrase that McDermott boldly used following his decision to start Taylor? Or do they want to play their young players in an effort to find out what they have and build for beyond 2017? That’s what a majority their actions showed they were doing for the longest time.
So now, they’re back to wanting to win this season with Tyrod Taylor as the quarterback because it’s what’s best for the team… but for how long?
It took some guts to start an average preseason performing rookie quarterback over Taylor at that spot in Los Angeles, but they had to be prepared to admit they were wrong, or that they were building for the future if it blew up in their face the way that it did on Sunday.
Neither of that happened on Wednesday… there was just more waffling from the Bills’ key decision maker.
So, what are they actually after in 2017? This week, it’s going for a playoff position and they like that they’re “in the hunt.” If they lose to Kansas City, does it go back to Peterman and building for the future?
The one thing that is clear with the Bills is that they have a long-term vision and one that they’re going to need to execute well in the upcoming offseason. I don’t have any doubts that they view the five months after this season as a big key to the sustained success they so desire.
But along the way, they’re also hurting themselves by not committing to one thing or the other in 2017. They temporarily ticked off their current starting quarterback and signaled to him that there likely isn’t a future here in Buffalo, they for a moment in time looked like they were going all in on building for the future by starting Peterman, but then switched their courses once again after it didn’t work out for a week.
They’re hurting their reputation with the fanbase, and they also might be hurting themselves in terms of the draft and where they end up selecting.
By starting Taylor once again, since their current desire is to go for the playoffs, is a step back in draft order — with each lost spot in the order adding another variable and hurdle to overcome in trying to find that franchise quarterback.
The other clear thing with all of this is that the Bills have to go for it in finding that potential franchise quarterback in the upcoming draft. It's paramount that they do so.
Really, they just need to pick a lane and stay in it for the 2017 season. They can’t go back and forth on the quarterback decision the rest of the way.
They really have only one quarterback change left that can be tolerated — and that’s only if they put up the white flag and start Peterman through the rest of the year to get him some reps, see what they have, and likely improve their draft position.
The public indecisiveness of what they are is what’s hurting them most with their fans, and Sean McDermott needs to learn from it — just as wide receiver Zay Jones had to learn in his rookie season how to mentally battle through his string of dropped passes, and how Peterman must learn to not launch the ball in the air when getting crushed by a defender.
I don’t think fans should lose all faith in Sean McDermott just yet because he’s still learning about how to be a head coach — just as any first-year head coach does.
However, when he looks back on the season, he must learn that the spoken vision for the team and their actions must align — or else the fans will eat both he and his organization alive.