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Sean McDermott Deserves the Blame for Bills' Putrid Loss to Chargers

Buffalo coach Sean McDermott clearly didn't know what to expect when he made the decision last week to bench Tyrod Taylor and start Nathan Peterman.

The Bills entered Week 11 sitting in playoff position, holding onto one of the wild card spots in the AFC at 5–4. They had been one of the hardest teams to peg from week to week, from the highs of a road win in Atlanta to the lows of an ugly Thursday night loss to the Jets, and a thrashing at the hands of the Saints last week. Still, they had full control of their playoff chances.

That’s only part of the reason it was so hard to understand why the team benched Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman this week. Taylor was playing well before his surprise benching, throwing for 1,684 yards, 6.63 yards per attempt, and 10 touchdowns against three interceptions, while adding 237 yards and two scores on the ground.

The results of Peterman’s first start were all too predictable. They also showed the folly of making the indefensible quarterback change.

Peterman’s first possession as a starter ended with a pick-six. His second one ended with an interception. By time the first quarter ended, he matched Taylor’s interception total for the entire season (three). Peterman threw two more picks in the second quarter, giving him five in the first half. He’s the second quarterback in NFL history to throw five interceptions in his first start, joining Keith Null, who did it with the Rams in 2009. He’s the fourth one to get picked five times on 15 or fewer attempts, a club that also includes Dan Pastorini (1977), Archie Manning (’73), Fred Enke (’53) and Tom O’Malley (’50). It’s been a long time since we’ve seen such putrid quarterback play.

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Taylor took over for Peterman in the second half, but by then it was far too late. The Chargers went into halftime with a 37–7 lead, putting the game on ice well before Peterman gave way to a quarterback he had no business supplanting in the first place. For what it’s worth, Taylor played well, throwing for 172 yards, 6.62 YPA and one touchdown, and running for 36 yards and another score. He was unable to lead the Bills back from a 30-point deficit, though, which, given the organization’s uncanny ability to not appreciate one of its best players, will probably be added to his list of faults. 

The Bills may have lost more than just a game as a result of Taylor’s unjustified benching. This is the way a coach loses a locker room, a risk that Sean McDermott invited when he embarked on this foolish path. Again, the Bills began Week 11 in one of the AFC’s two wild card spots, a point that cannot be overstated. Taylor was one of the primary reasons they were in that position, and, given the way their defense has fallen apart over the last month, would likely need to remain one for the team to earn its first playoff berth since 1999. By benching Taylor, a bizarre decision that likely will only last one ignominious half, McDermott threatened the Bills future this season. A head coach cannot do that.

The Bills are now tied for the last AFC wild-card spot with the Ravens at 5–5, though they technically hold it for the time being, by virtue of having a better conference record. Their schedule gets no easier over the next few weeks, with a trip to Kansas City followed by a home game against the Patriots—the first of their two meetings—on tap. It’s safe to say that Taylor will be at the helm to start both of those games. Whether too much damage has already been done remains to be seen. For once, this won’t be something for which the Bills can unfairly blame Taylor. If he’s playing for another team next season and they once again have to spin the quarterback roulette, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.