Nathan Peterman's first college start for Tennessee, after he replaced healthy starter Justin Worley, was a complete disaster. The redshirt freshman completed four passes for 5 yards and two interceptions and tore a ligament in his thumb on his passing hand in a 31-17 loss to the University of Florida.
Peterman was inconsolable afterward before putting his performance into perspective the following day. He came to view that game as a pivotal moment in his career, a time in which he emerged mentally tougher and better for the experience before two terrific seasons at the University of Pittsburgh.
So what can the rookie take away from the nightmare he experienced Sunday in his first NFL start? The only thing anyone learned after the Bills' 54-24 loss to the Chargers was that he wasn't ready to start in the NFL. In fact, the kid might need therapy after breaking down the horror flick known as Sunday's game.
Peterman threw six passes for 66 yards to the Bills and five passes to the Chargers that were returned for 84 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown – in the first half – and was back on the bench. It was so dreadful that he sent statisticians deep into NFL record books to find a worse performance for any quarterback making his first start.
Los Angeles took advantage of the five first-half interceptions, scored a franchise record 37 points in the first half and cruised in StubHub Center. The Bills, after a 5-2 start to the season, have lost three straight with a game at Kansas City next week and New England coming to New Era Field the following Sunday.
Even when the Bills were playing well, the Kansas City game had all but been counted as a loss until Sunday, when the Chiefs struggled offensively against the 1-8 Giants before losing in overtime. Kansas City has lost four of its last five, but Buffalo hasn't been any better in recent weeks.
OK, now what?
Peterman was the recipient of the second straight mercy pulling. Tyrod Taylor was put out of his misery last week after throwing for 56 yards in a blowout loss to the Saints before getting pushed out of the starting lineup. McDermott will need to determine which quarterback gives his team the best chance to win next week.
The decision could come down to this: Which quarterback is less likely to lose?
Taylor came in relief in the third quarter, and he fumbled away the ball to Melvin Ingram for another defensive touchdown and a 47-10 lead (see: the score of the Saints' victory over Bills) for the Chargers. Taylor completed 15 of 25 passes for 158 yards, one touchdown pass another running during two long quarters of garbage time.
Peterman's resolve will certainly be tested after this one. Not every interception was his fault, but there's no denying that his first real taste of the NFL couldn't have gone much worse. It was only one game, but the Bills learned enough Sunday to reaffirm the idea that they need to shop for a franchise quarterback in the NFL Draft.
Sean McDermott's decision to replace Taylor while the Bills had a 5-4 record and were still in the playoff hunt was twofold: He had lost confidence in Taylor after a terrible game against New Orleans, and Peterman had made enough progress in practice to take him for a spin against the Chargers.
McDermott and GM Brandon Beane repeatedly had claimed they were trying to win now while building for the future. If there was a player on the roster who personified their mantra, it was Peterman. Starting him was a sign they had moved on from Taylor and were giving the kid a chance while hoping for the best.
The decision backfired.
Sunday's game was a calamity almost from the start. Peterman's first interception actually came after an accurate toss to Patrick DiMarco that bounced off the fullback's hands, off his facemask and into the arms of linebacker Korey Toomer, who took the interception 59 yards to the house. And it was just the beginning.
On the second series, while under pressure, he threw off his back foot and was picked off by Casey Hayward. He was in the process – hey, there's that word – of getting buried by Joey Bosa when he threw his third pick. Hayward jumped the route for his second interception. He airmailed Deonte Thompson for the fifth interception.
Welcome to the NFL, kid.
Peterman completed his first two passes with routine throws, but it was the second one that served as a reminder of what the Bills had wanted from Taylor. Peterman took a three-step drop and threw a dart into tight coverage near the hash marks to Kelvin Benjamin for a 20-yard gain.
Right when you started feeling good about the kid, events started taking place that have become typical of Bills' sordid past. DiMarco let the ball slip away from him, and the Bills watched the game quickly slip away from them. If the Bills were looking to take something positive away from the game, it's this:
It can’t get much worse.