Bucky Gleason: Bills' balancing now and later comes down to faith ... and a prayer - The Buffalo News

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Bucky Gleason: Bills' balancing now and later comes down to faith ... and a prayer

Sean McDermott declined to announce his starting quarterback for this week while meeting with the media Monday, saying he was awaiting word on Tyrod Taylor's health after he left the game Sunday in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. One person praying for a speedy recovery was Nathan Peterman.

The two became fast friends this season, in part because they're teammates but also because they're well-intentioned people and devout Christians. Taylor supported Peterman after losing the starting job to him against the Chargers and encouraged Peterman afterward with a verse from the Bible to maintain his confidence.

Under a higher order, both see a bigger picture.

In that sense, they're similar to McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane as the Bills trudge through another season. They're 6-6 after the Patriots trampled them Sunday, but all along there has been the short-term goal of winning the next game and the long-term vision of winning with regularity.

Now, with Taylor's health a concern and availability this week against the Colts uncertain, McDermott could be in a different bind with his quarterbacks. Are they better off with Taylor in the game at less than 100 percent or should he return to Peterman with the idea he's more suited for their immediate and overall plans?

"We're always going to do what's right for the team," said McDermott, sticking with his mantra. "That's what we've done in the past. That's what we'll continue to do moving forward. When you look at the game, there were a lot of things we can learn from. When you play a team of that caliber, you can learn some valuable lessons."

The dose of reality should be enough for the Bills to concentrate more on the future than making the playoffs. Again, reaching the postseason and ending the drought has never been the top priority of the new regime. Since their first day together, McDermott and Beane have operated with the long-term future in mind.

Taylor had a towel covering his face when he was carted off the field in the fourth quarter after playing the first three quarters with an injured knee. It was a noble effort, which should be expected from an upstanding guy like Taylor. There was no structural damage to the knee, leaving him day to day.

It doesn't change the fact that the Bills hierarchy has understood Taylor's ceiling for some time now, which was why they turned toward Peterman even when the veteran starter was healthy. They were looking to raise the standard at the position with hopes of winning now and later. They didn't know, couldn't know, about Peterman until he stepped on the field.

Taylor gives the Bills a level of comfort with his high passing percentage and low interception rate. He makes things interesting. He can keep the Bills in contention in a strange season like this one. The AFC has an abundance of mediocre teams that have taken turns falling on their faces and, in a weird way, inflating each other's record.

But how many truly good teams are in the conference? Two. The Pats and Steelers are considerably better than everyone else. The Bills are trending in the wrong direction while remaining among eight of the 16 teams in the AFC that are between 7-5 and 5-7. The conflict within has pitted mathematics against reality.

McDermott and Beane must be well aware that the Bills are closer to the team that has lost four of the past five games than the one starting 5-2. The wide gap between them and an upper-echelon team like the Patriots was evident after New England systematically overwhelmed the Bills, 23-3, in their own stadium.

"Good teams stay consistent and will not beat themselves, and (the Pats) do a really good job of that," McDermott said. "I give them credit. They are who they are, and where they are, for a reason. It was an up close and personal evaluation for where we are compared to where the standard is."

You know what you're getting with Taylor, something along the lines of 18 for 27 for 182 yards, two touchdowns and the odd interception. And that would be fine if he were the backup quarterback for the Saints, but it's not enough for a Bills team that was forced to redefine success because it has so much failure.

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The injury aside, Taylor's days are numbered in Buffalo. The Bills weren't planning to bring him back this season but did because he had experience and familiarity with his teammates. McDermott hoped to address Taylor's flaws with coaching and repetition with the idea the Bills would take what they could get from him.

McDermott and Beane have done everything in their power to separate themselves from the organization's ugly recent past. They have overhauled the roster, replacing dozens of players who had grown accustomed to losing with players who knew little and cared less about the Bills' history.

More changes are forthcoming. Nobody should be surprised if the 2018 Bills have fewer than a dozen players who were on the roster in 2016. Taylor is among the least likely to return, largely because the Bills aren't in the business of paying $18 million to a quarterback in whom they lack faith.

Taylor apparently suffered the knee injury on the first play Sunday. Whether it became progressively worse or he toughed it out wasn't quite clear afterward. But he was healthy enough to run around and scramble from the pocket for a few first downs. In other words, it's not an excuse for 9 of 18 passing for 65 yards through three quarters.

"You got to be able to throw the ball in this league," McDermott said. "You can't just become a one-dimensional team whether it's throwing or running. Balance is important. At the end of the day, being able to score points is important."

Taylor's premature exit Sunday prevented him from collecting garbage yardage that contributed to inflated and misleading career stats. And it gave Peterman a chance to regain his feet after throwing five first-half interceptions in his first game as an NFL starting quarterback, but he did little to stand out.

McDermott was escorted to the Town Square and hanged in the Court of Public Opinion for starting the kid when the Bills were still in the playoff race. The mistake was not replacing Taylor, however, nor was it taking a gamble with the idea that another quarterback just might have more upside.

7 takeaways from Sean McDermott: Tyrod Taylor day to day with knee injury

The miscalculation came down to Peterman's readiness. He wasn't prepared to handle the speed of the NFL game and the talented pass rushers the Chargers, motivated in part by feelings McDermott disrespected them when making the change, unleashed in the rookie quarterback's direction.

All along, McDermott had the bigger picture in mind.

Even in defeat, McDermott would have stayed with Peterman had he avoided a disastrous performance that blew up in his coach's face. Pedestrian numbers that had become the norm would have sufficed to keep him in the lineup because they would have been measured differently for him than for Taylor.

If he made a few first downs rather than have a pass bounce off Patrick DiMarco's head for an interception and a touchdown, things could have gone completely different for Peterman. We’ll never know because there's no room for "if" and "what could have been" and whether players have good intentions in the NFL.

It's about results.

Taylor had a typical performance against the Chiefs, but all was well because the Bills won. McDermott talked about being "in the hunt" because the math said so.

Now the Bills may not have a choice but to face reality and play Peterman with their eye on a broader landscape, as has been the plan all along. They don't have the talent and depth to compete with the NFL's best teams in the playoffs, even if they managed to qualify, regardless of the quarterback.

If we learned anything about their loss to the Patriots, in fact, it’s that the Bills' chances of postseason success have been reduced to a prayer.

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