If the Buffalo Bills do have to turn to Nathan Peterman as the starter for their Sept. 10 season-opener against the New York Jets -- or at any point thereafter -- the rookie quarterback did his best Thursday night to make the case their offense would be in capable hands.
In his first and only start of the preseason, Peterman was mostly impressive in helping the Bills to a 27-17 victory against the Detroit Lions at New Era Field.
"I think it's bigger than that," coach Sean McDermott said of Peterman making his case as a potential opening-day starter if needed. "It's developing a young player, regardless of what position. We wanted to get him out there and give him a good look in a couple of series, and I thought he did a good job."
"It went well," Peterman said. "There were a couple of passes I probably could have (thrown) better, especially in red zone, but good, positive outing for me. It was a good start and I've just got to keep building off of it."
The win gave the Bills a 1-3 exhibition record, although the real reward for a fourth-preseason-game victory is the same as for a fourth-preseason-game loss: make-believe is over, let the real thing begin!
If there was anything even remotely close to a prize for Bills fans, it was seeing Peterman give a poised and effective showing on the way to completing nine of 11 passes for 81 yards and a passer rating of 97.3.
"I think any time you get to play, you want to show that you're ready and that they can turn to you at any time," Peterman said. "So definitely trying to put that on film and just trying to give them confidence in me."
Peterman's effort had to be especially comforting for the Bills' coaches and the fan base with the knowledge that starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor is, one, still in concussion protocol (along with veteran reserve T.J. Yates) and, two, widely seen as a placeholder for when the actual "quarterback of the future" comes along.
Some think Peterman, whose steady improvement through each preseason outing has already made him a fan favorite, could very well be that guy. If nothing else, he has firmly established his place as the Bills' No. 2 quarterback.
"I definitely think I have made progress, hopefully," Peterman said. "I mean, I don't want to be wasting time out there. But I feel like I've come a long way with timing issues and reads and getting a feel for NFL defenses, but still think I've got more steps to do. So I'm going to be going back to work whenever our next practice is and getting after it."
Peterman looked sharp in leading the Bills to a 30-yard field goal by Stephen Hauschka on the game's opening drive. He completed his first six passes for 47 yards before his only incompletion, which came on a drop by tight end Nick O'Leary.
"I thought he was sharp," McDermott said of Peterman. "He moved the offense. I liked what he did, (the offense) got into a rhythm. ... He was in command, he moved the offense."
Meanwhile, even with several starters missing on both sides of the ball, the Bills' defense extended to four games its streak of solid performances this preseason.
The Lions went three-and-out on their first possession. Of course, it wasn't Matthew Stafford -- who last Monday received an NFL-record contract extension worth $135 million -- at quarterback for them. It was Jake Rudock, followed by Brad Kaaya.
Peterman and the rest of the offense continued to perform well on their second series. He connected with fellow rookie Brandon Reilly on a nice throw on third-and-9 to give the Bills a first down at the 40. Two plays later, he hooked up with Joe Banyard on an 11-yard swing pass.
If Jonathan Williams wasn't already a lock for the backup running back job behind LeSean McCoy, he seemed to put himself over the top with a 21-yard touchdown run to make it 10-0 with 2:52 left in the first quarter. He started up the middle, then cut to his right, avoiding would-be tacklers Charles Washington and Teez Tabor on the way to the corner of the end zone.
Safety Trae Elston forced a fumble by Jared Abbrederis after the receiver turned a short pass into a 16-yard gain. Safety Joe Powell recovered at the Buffalo 37 on the first play of the second quarter.
After the turnover, Keith Wenning, signed last Monday because of the Taylor and Yates concussions, replaced Peterman and his first throw was a 13-yard completion to tight end Logan Thomas to the 50.
Wenning proceeded to lead the Bills to their third score on a 45-yard Hauschka field goal to make it 13-0 with 10:22 left in the second quarter. Although his next four passes were incomplete, his quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 gave the Bills a first down at the Detroit 25.
The Lions finally scored with 1:55 remaining in the half on a 53-yard field goal by Matt Prater to cut the Bills' lead to 13-3 at halftime.
The Bills maintained their control of the game in the second half, even though Wenning completed only five of 15 passes for 41 yards and had a passer rating of 42.4.
He did lead an 11-play, 74-yard scoring drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Joe Banyard to push the lead to 20-3. Then, after Greg Mabin intercepted Kaaya in the end zone near the end of the third quarter, the Bills drove 80 yards to another 2-yard scoring run, by rookie and former Sweet Home and University at Buffalo standout Jordan Johnson, to make it 27-3. A 39-yard carry by Taiwan Jones -- one of 10 runs on a march that didn't see a single throw -- highlighted the drive.
The Lions made it 27-10 after Kaaya threw a short pass to running back Tion Green, who sped his way through Buffalo's bottom-of-the-roster defenders for a 74 yard touchdown with 7:41 left in the game.
A 6-yard Kaaya touchdown pass to Dontez Ford cut the margin to 27-17 with 3:32 on the clock.
Other than Peterman's outing, the only other part of the game that might have been encouraging for Bills followers was seeing the penalty count at a preseason low of five for minus-60 yards.
"I was proud of the way the guys played," McDermott said. "They've worked extremely hard all the way. You go back to the spring and the leadership and the young guys that you saw, they were sharp. They did a good job."