I'll admit, this move came as a shock. While I've never been a fan of Tyrod Taylor, I didn't think Sean McDermott would change quarterbacks with his team sitting in a playoff spot, despite its recent offensive woes.
McDermott has engendered a powerful bond within his team as a first-year head coach. It didn't seem likely that he would pull Taylor, a popular if flawed leader, and hand the starting job to Nathan Peterman, a fifth-round rookie who hasn't started a regular-season game.
You figured they would eventually make a change if Taylor struggled and they fell hopelessly out of the race. But doing it now, with the team at 5-4, was a bold and unexpected play by the rookie coach.
Suffering Bills fans dream of simply reaching the postseason after a 17-year drought, but the head coach has loftier ambitions. McDermott made it clear that merely sneaking into the playoffs isn't his main objective.
"That's not why I'm here," he said. "I'm here to win games and win a championship. Once in a while, you have to take a calculated risk in order to get your program, this organization, this building, to where we want to go and where the fans deserve for us to be."
McDermott used that term twice: Calculated risk. Let's not kid ourselves. It is a risk, one that might cost the Bills a playoff spot. Whatever your feelings about Taylor — I've never felt he was a franchise QB — it's a leap to assume Peterman gives them a better chance to win right now.
Taylor, who led the Bills to their most points since 1998 a year ago, certainly doesn't think so. Asked if he felt he had been scapegoated for the Bills' recent run of bad play, he said we should ask McDermott.
"I don't agree with the decision," Taylor said, "but ultimately, Coach McDermott has a vision for this team and what he says is best for the team, as well as the owners and the GM."
Interesting that Taylor should reference the Pegulas and General Manager Brandon Beane. Last year, as you might recall, Taylor was among a group of players whose conversations with Terry Pegula precipitated the Bills firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman after two games.
These decisions don't occur in a vacuum, and they can be political. While McDermott said it was his call, Beane must have had a say. Part of the calculation is looking to the draft. There's an assumption that they'll draft a quarterback high in April, but the need might not be so urgent if they feel Peterman can be the guy. So they needed to give him a real audition.
When McDermott took over, he should have cut Taylor, rather that continue the charade that Tyrod was capable of being a franchise QB worthy of a huge extension. As a defensive coach, McDermott had to see Taylor's limitations as a passer, and how easy he was for coordinators to defend.
But presumably, Taylor was his best option at quarterback, the best chance for the new regime to win now while preparing for the future. He and Beane middled it on Tyrod, but I don't think they believed he was the answer, or that the Bills had a real chance at the playoffs.
There's been a lot of talk about Taylor not being suited for Rick Dennison's system, which is more suited to a pocket quarterback. Was this some surprise to the coaches? They had two years of film on Taylor to show them he wasn't a conventional pocket passer.
McDermott made Taylor his starter, but I imagine he intended to switch to Peterman all along. He and Beane must have been as surprised as anyone when the Bills started 5-2. But when they lost two in a row and the offense sputtered, they had an excuse to pull the trigger.
Three days after the Bills' worst defensive performance in a decade, McDermott changed quarterbacks. Facing his first major crisis, he made it about the offense. It was reminiscent of Rex Ryan a year earlier, when Ryan fired Roman one day after his defense got embarrassed by Ryan Fitzpatrick in a nationally televised Thursday night game in Buffalo.
The timing was awkward, but you have to admire McDermott's guts. It would have been easier to make the change if the Bills had lost 13-10 to the Saints. Then it would have been more convenient to point to Taylor and the offense for costing them a game, as it had in the 9-3 loss at Carolina.
So while the move was overdue, awkward and risky, it was also understandable. If you agree with McDermott that sneaking into the playoffs in a down year for the AFC isn't the real goal, that the standard should be higher, then you're on board with this decision.
"Really it's about becoming a better team," McDermott said. "Like every position, the quarterback position is no different."
I'm not sure he's talking about this weekend, or the future. I can see how frustrated Bills fans would feel that the new coach might be sabotaging a playoff berth for long-term gain. But it's clear that McDermott has lost confidence in Taylor and his 30th-rated pass offense.
It's also evident that the new regime is building for the future, for a time when the roster is totally reshaped with their own guys. So what if they offend any veterans who feel Taylor deserved to remain the starter? This move sends a message that no job is safe at One Bills Drive.
"I'm not sure that hadn't been received already," said Kyle Williams, "with a lot of different things we've seen and moves that we've seen."
They've seen a lot this season. The Bills have said goodbye to nine first- or second-round draft picks since McDermott took over. That includes Sammy Watkins and Marcell Dareus. Every time, we were told it that it made the team better.
After a while, players have to wonder. LeSean McCoy gave the predictable responses about the deal, but it was unconvincing. McCoy has been one of Taylor's biggest supporters from the start. This move has to leave him wondering if management believes this team can make a run.
It's almost as if the Bills were afraid Taylor would lead them to the playoffs, making the ultimate decision on his future more politically complicated. McDermott said this makes them better, but what's the basis for his belief? Peterman's preseason against backups, when he didn't throw the ball down the field to any extent? A couple of series on Sunday?
Whatever the case, on Sunday Peterman becomes the Bills' 16th starting quarterback since Jim Kelly retired. The search for the next franchise QB continues. But this move confirms what we've known for some time: Taylor isn't the guy.
Maybe Peterman will lead them to the playoffs, making McDermott look like a genius. If not, no one expected them to win this year, anyway. They got a chance to look at Peterman. They're playing it down the middle, which is pretty much the story of this season.