It’s hard to overstate the low point at which the Bills and their fans find themselves today. The organization and fan base is the definition of “long-suffering” – if you’re reading this on BillsDaily you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Over the past 17 playoff-free years the Bills have tortured fans in almost every way imaginable, starting with a forward lateral in Nashville and leading right up to the last three monstrosities the team has had against New York, New Orleans and now Los Angeles. Perhaps the cruelest torture has come from giving fans hope and excitement, only to pull it away and return to the same old mediocrity that has been ever present.
As I’ve mentioned multiple times, I came into the season with low expectations, thinking 4 or 5 wins might be a ceiling for the year. The Bills played unexpectedly good football and suddenly at 5-2 I had to switch gears and start thinking that this could actually be the year the team took the next step and returned to the playoffs. Management seemed to reinforce this belief because instead of continually trading away talent, they made a move to bring in talent by signing Kelvin Benjamin. If Benjamin had several seasons left on his contract you might argue that the move to bring him to Buffalo was simply another step in rebuilding, but when you realize that he is only under contract for the short term (through next season), you have to know that the team wanted to get something out of him NOW and you wouldn’t trade away more draft picks if his talents weren’t going to help in the short term.
All of this makes the decision to bench Tyrod Taylor incredibly puzzling. If you thought you could go to the playoffs this year, why would you suddenly make a quarterback switch? We all know Taylor is not the answer for the Bills at quarterback for the long term – there is very little debate out that – but why move to a 5th round rookie with a playoff spot on the line? At 5-4 the Bills were arguably in the thick of the AFC playoff race, so why make a quarterback change? Did you already decide the playoffs were unrealistic? Did you see something in Nathan Peterman the rest of us haven’t seen to justify making such a strong move? Maybe you thought teams had figured out how to play Tyrod and you couldn’t adjust the offense to make him a viable quarterback? Whatever McDermott’s reason, it was very odd.
Last week’s odd decision quickly turned to a complete fiasco when Peterman did his best impression of EJ Manuel in London and started turning the ball over. A hard-fought season turnover ratio was quickly destroyed when Peterman threw five first half interceptions – one of the worst quarterback performances I’ve ever seen (and I saw a game where Tom Savage started for Houston). Sunday’s game was over as soon as it began and it was hard to watch, especially after being absolutely destroyed in each of the previous two weeks.
McDermott had done an excellent job of winning over his players, although that was helped by shipping off anyone that didn’t fully buy into the system. Support also came from fans and the media – the Bills were on a new course and winning – stand back, let McDermott do his thing and just go with it. “Trust the system” became the new mantra in Bills Nation. For some weeks it all seemed to be going right – an underdog team beating the odds being led by a new regime that was finally moving the organization in the right direction. Draft be damned – it was time to win.
It all came crashing down spectacularly on Sunday with Peterman’s epic fail. No longer was McDermott a smart football guy you fell in line behind, maybe he was a bigger clown than Rex Ryan just without the clown makeup. The move has seemingly shattered the confidence of fans and one can only ponder its impact on the players. McDermott has refused to say the quarterback switch was a mistake or name a starter for the Chiefs game – could he really be stubborn enough to start Peterman again? Over a five week period the coach has gone from a man seemingly trusted by all to a man making strange decisions and expecting everyone to follow, even though his head coaching resume is only 10 games long.
The no matter how you slice it, there is no going back on the quarterback switch, at least not easily. Removing a healthy veteran as a starter in favor of a rookie is a statement that the starter isn’t good enough to keep his job. If the season is already beyond salvation you can make the change and argue that you need to evaluate the abilities of a rookie, but you can’t make that argument when the playoffs are still on the line – McDermott’s decision was a huge vote of no confidence in Taylor.
The Bills have a huge mess on their hands. It’s obvious that Peterman is not ready to play in the NFL and some question whether he ever will be – I can’t see how you can put him back under center this season barring injury to Taylor. Tyrod, for his part, is now damaged goods – his own coach has shown an incredible lack of faith in him and he knows his days as the starter in Buffalo are numbered. Unfortunately, that leaves Buffalo with no other options – unless Joe Webb is ready to step in lead the team to the playoffs, the Bills are in trouble at the quarterback position [note to McDermott – PLEASE don’t make the switch to Webb). Worse yet, it’s become incredibly obvious that the Bills are going to have to draft a quarterback high in the draft next year – nothing like going into the draft with all your cards showing.
All of the problems with the quarterback speak nothing about the other problems the team has to deal with. Taylor isn’t a franchise quarterback and Peterman may not even be an NFL signal caller at all, but neither can shoulder the blame for a defense that has given up 121 points, 1242 yards of offense and were -7 in the turnover ratio in the past 3 games. The Buffalo’s defense has absolutely left the building, allowing opponents to average 201 yards per game rushing and only getting 2 sacks over the same period. For a unit that was looking pretty solid in the first part of the season. The defense is absolutely awful and I don’t know why.
As I wrote last week, if the Bills want to avoid finishing at their usual 7-9 and drafting in the teens in May they need to follow the advice given by Morgan Freeman in The Shawhank Redemption and get busy living or get busy dying. Sunday’s debacle clearly shows the Bills writing their name above the rafter and stepping off the chair into the long goodnight. Bills fans can hear Jim Mora ranting in their heads deflecting thoughts about playoff possibilities to thoughts about winning another game before the season comes to a merciful end. These are dark times in Bills Nation, and should serve as a reminder that regardless of how optimistic you are, never, ever get excited about the Bills until they’ve won six games – doing so any earlier is a setup for heartbreak. So, what will the Bills do at quarterback and will the defense ever show up again? Your guesses are as good as mine – it’s going to be a wild finish to the season.
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