CARSON, Calif. – For the 2017 Buffalo Bills, as with so many previous editions during the 17-year playoff drought, humiliation knows no limits.
It was bad when they were subjected to that prime-time beating by the New York Jets. It became much worse when the New Orleans Saints strutted into New Era Field last week and stomped all over them.
And then came what happened Sunday.
Ugly doesn't begin to describe the Bills' 54-24 loss against the Los Angeles Chargers.
This latest stinker ranks among the worst games ever played by the Bills, who have allowed 135 points in their last three games. It has left everyone on the team bewildered and forced players to answer questions about whether their confidence has been shaken to the point of no return.
"Obviously, that's something that we're going to have to look at and we're going to have to talk about," veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "But at the same time, we have to work our way out of it. We can't just hope and wish and feel sorry for ourselves and something magical's going to happen."
"We've got to stay together, we've got to fight, we've got to get it rolling and get out of this funk we're in right now," center Eric Wood said. "My will, my optimism for the season isn't crushed. It's tough, after these three losses in a row. I would love obviously to rewrite the script and not tank like we have in the past."
Sunday's embarrassment began with Sean McDermott's quarterback switch from Tyrod Taylor to Nathan Peterman blowing up in his face, with the rookie becoming the first quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger to throw five first-half interceptions, and ended with Charger backups scoring a touchdown against the Bills' starting defense.
Perhaps the AFC's mediocrity will keep the 5-5 Bills at least on the fringes of the playoff picture well into December, but things have gone well beyond the critical stage for this team and its first-year head coach – especially after taking the "calculated risk" he did with starting Peterman and insisting it was about giving the team a better chance to win now.
Peterman's historically horrible day put him in a tie for the most interceptions by any player in his first career start since 1991, when Keith Null did so with the Rams in 2009.
"It wasn't what he had hoped for or we had hoped for," McDermott said in a historic understatement. The coach said he was "going to evaluate" whether to start the rookie next Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, but also said he wasn't second-guessing himself for making Peterman a starter.
"When you start a rookie on the road like that, we've got to be better around him and we weren't," center Eric Wood said. "He's going to take a lot of blame, but internally we put it on ourselves around him."
Asked if he thought it was a mistake to have Peterman's first start come on the road, Wood said, "I'm not sure." Then, he pointed out that the 27,000-seat StubHub Center "was an easier place than maybe Arrowhead next week."
The Chargers, now 4-6, didn't appreciate the Bills choosing them as the opponent for Peterman's debut.
"I'm pretty sure we might've felt a little disrespected," said cornerback Casey Hayward, who had two interceptions. "They started a rookie against a really good defense. We have some good edge rushers and we have some good guys in the secondary. So we had to take advantage of that."
Remember when the Bills were 5-2 and there was all kinds of discussion about them finally reaching the playoffs? That seems like eons ago, doesn't it?
"Yeah," Wood said. "But 5-5 doesn't kill us, either. There was a different feeling after getting to 5-2 in the locker room, that's for sure. But there's ups and downs in every season, and hopefully this is as far down as we go."
The first of many Bills disasters Sunday struck when, on their first possession, a Peterman pass for fullback Patrick DiMarco bounced off his hands and into the grasp of linebacker Korey Toomer, who returned it 59 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-0.
On his second series, Peterman put up a third-down pass for grabs that Hayard intercepted and returned to the Bills' 31. Buffalo's defense held and the Chargers missed a field goal, giving the Bills possession from their 31.
Things looked as if they might settle down after that. LeSean McCoy proceeded to rip off a gain of 37 yards. One play later, he exploded for a 27-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7 with 9:02 remaining in the first quarter.
But that was where any optimism came to a screaming halt for Peterman and the Bills.
With 1:09 left in the first quarter, defensive end Joey Bosa blew past right tackle Jordan Mills and hit Peterman as he was delivering a pass. The ball floated in the air and safety Tre Boston came up with the third interception, which he returned to the Buffalo 46. That turnover set up the first of two Philip Rivers touchdown passes to Keenan Allen.
Peterman's fourth pickoff, the second by Hayward, came with 12:53 left in the second quarter at the Buffalo 17. Four plays later, Rivers found Allen for another touchdown to give the Chargers a 24-7 advantage.
The avalanche was only beginning, as the Chargers, this time without the aid of a takeaway, drove for another TD to make it 34-7. Then came Peterman's fifth interception, which they turned into a field goal to make it 37-7 as time expired in the first half.
After the Chargers took the second-half kickoff and drove for a field goal to put them up, 40-7, McDermott mercifully yanked Peterman and inserted Taylor.
Taylor did manage to throw for a touchdown and run for a second in the second quarter. But the scores came after Bosa forced him to fumble on a strip sack. Melvin Ingram picked up the ball and ran 39 yards for a touchdown.
And that wasn't even the lowest point of the day for the Bills. No, that came when their starting defense allowed the Chargers' offensive backups, led by quarterback Kellen Clemens, to drive 58 yards for the TD that pushed the home team's point total to 54.
"It's hard, it's frustrating because I feel like we prepare well," Williams said. "I feel like guys work hard and things are cleaner in practice. But, obviously, it has to translate over. Obviously, the execution's not there and we have to be better."