CARSON, Calif. — The move couldn't have blown up in Sean McDermott's face any worse if he had stuck his head in the annoying cannon that they set off in the corner of the end zone after every Chargers score.
McDermott said it was a calculated risk to put in rookie Nathan Peterman as his starting quarterback with his team in a playoff spot. He said it gave his team the best chance to win, now and in the future. Instead, it gave the Bills a chance to humiliate themselves before the nation.
Peterman was worse than anyone could have imagined, throwing five interceptions in the first half as the Bills suffered an utterly disgraceful 54-24 loss to the Chargers and Anthony Lynn on Sunday before about 25,000 fans at the StubHub Center.
By halftime, the Bills were in a 37-7 hole, having allowed their most points in a first half in 40 years. Peterman was 6 of 14 for 66 yards and no touchdowns. He finished that way. McDermott finally and mercifully pulled him at halftime in favor of Tyrod Taylor, who played well in a hopeless situation.
By midway through the second quarter, you felt as if some Peterman Principle were at work. If the rookie put the ball in the air, the worst possible thing was bound to happen. On his one great throw, early in the game, Kelvin Benjamin went out with a knee injury.
According to information gleaned by Rodger Sherman from Pro-Football-Reference, Peterman became the first player to throw five interceptions and no TD passes on 20 or fewer passes since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Once again, the quarterback issue tended to overshadow a brutal game by McDermott's defense. But when the cannon stopped firing, the Bills had set a team record by allowing 47 points in consecutive games. They also set a new team record for points allowed (135) over a three-game stretch.
All of this against a team coached by Lynn, who served as interim Bills head coach for last season's finale and was the perceived favorite to replace Rex Ryan before the Pegulas grew infatuated with McDermott.
The question is, could McDermott possibly go back to Peterman next week in Kansas City? He made his calculated risk. It was a colossal failure. But the Bills are still 5-5 and in the playoff hunt and the coach might lose his team if he puts Peterman back in after this.
Either way, it's hard to imagine the Bills rallying to make the playoffs now. The defense is a shambles. Peterman made it worse, of course. But they have allowed 118 points in their last three games, the most they have given over a three-game stretch since the final three games in 1976.
That doesn't sound like a playoff team to me. They were in a favorable spot many times during their 17-year playoff drought, only to find their level down the stretch and fail to make the postseason.
This makes 17 straight years in which the Bills haven't managed to be as good as after 10 games. Amazing as it sounds, they have now lost 16 games in a row when they had five wins and were above .500. That goes back to the start of the 2001 season.
So if Bills fans have a familiar, haunting sense of impending doom, there's good reason. I know this is saying a mouthful. But of all the horrible road losses during the millennium, this might have been the most distressing of all.
I've witnessed a chronicle of road woe during the drought, but this is the first time a head coach decided to pull his starting quarterback with his team above .500 and in a playoff spot. As Tim Graham recounted in Sunday's paper, it's fairly unprecedented in the history of the NFL.
The Bills are in a bad way right now. They're one of the worst teams in the NFL, and with Peterman on the field, they might be worse than the Browns. Before the game, I said it was the first big crisis of McDermott's first year as coach.
It just got a lot worse.