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Jerry Sullivan: Bills regressing, which points to Peterman

As a rule, NFL head coaches are skilled at saying close to nothing in their weekly pressers. Experiences teaches you to read between the lines, to be watchful for an agenda.

Sean McDermott hammers away at his "process," which is a popular buzz word among coaches who want to remind us not to put too much stock in results. He also talks about how his team needs to "continue to improve." The operative word is "continue." The submliminal message is that the Bills have, indeed, been improving all along.

That's highly debatable. If the Bills have been improving over the last month or so, you wouldn't know it. They've lost four of their last five games by a total margin of 100 points (158-58). Over the last five games, they have passed for an average of 168 yards and allowed 177 yards rushing.

If McDermott sees that as progress, someone should tell him this isn't the 1970s. Stats can be misleading. The Patriots were 30th in defense when they hit town last week. But the Bills are now 26th on offense and 27th on defense, which is hard to explain away.

Virtually every year during the drought, no matter how promising things seemed earlier, the Bills looked like one of the worst teams in the league entering the final month. They look that way on paper, and they've played like it on the turf.

"You go back and you focus on that process and you're seeing small victories," McDermott said Wednesday. "Just like I did in the LA game, where it wasn't reflected on the scoreboard but that led us to what we got the following week."

Well, if fans are looking for small victories — and tickets were going for $4 on the secondary market Wednesday — they'll have a glorious chance Sunday when the Bills host an atrocious Indianapolis squad at New Era Field.

The Colts are truly bad, by any measure. They're 3-9, with losses in five of six. Two of their three wins are over the Browns and Niners. They've lost four games by 20 points or more. They have allowed the most points (330) in the league. They're 27th in offense, 29th in defense, 32nd in pass defense and yards allowed per play.

So there's no excuse for the Bills to lose this one, regardless of injuries or who lines up under center. It doesn't matter if Tyrod Taylor or Nathan Peterman plays quarterback. They'd have a decent chance to win with Joe Webb, or even Spud Webb.

McDermott does best to keep Bills' QB situation a mystery

The Bills' playoff hopes are rapidly fading. At 6-6 (4-4), they're a game behind the second wild-card spot. They'll likely have to win three of the last four to have a glimmer of a chance. That means winning in New England if they don't sweep the other three. If you believe they're still in the hunt, they cannot afford to lose to the Colts.

"Probably not," said defensive end Jerry Hughes.

"I'm glad we're still in the hunt," said fellow end Ryan Davis, "but we've got to win out."

But how committed is McDermott to making a playoff run? Several times, he mentioned all the young players who are contributing. He talked about short-term and long-term goals. Someone asked if his long-term vision was in better shape these days.

"I think both work hand in hand," he said. "We're always focused on the long term. A lot of people, back in training camp, were using that word 'tanking.' I don't see that in the way our guys play. I expect us to continue to grow and build through the rest of this year and develop.

"We’ve got a number of young guys out there playing and contributing on this football team," McDermott said. "I’m encouraged by that as well."

I'm guessing the head coach would like Nathan Peterman to be one of those young guys learning on the field. McDermott was ready to move on from Tyrod Taylor when he made the premature switch to Peterman as his quarterback before the Chargers game.

Peterman might get another shot on Sunday. Not surprisingly, McDermott wouldn't commit to a starter on Wednesday. Taylor didn't practice because of the knee injury he suffered early against the Pats. Peterman got the starter's snaps.

McDermott is happy to play the coach's game, keeping the Colts guessing as long as possible. But it's a perfect spot for Peterman to go back on the field and justify his coach's faith with a strong performance against a bad Colts defense.

The Colts are a brutal pass defense, a get-well-soon card for struggling quarterbacks. The Jaguars' Blake Bortles has two 300-yard passing days this season. Both came against Indy. The Niners' Brian Hoyer threw for 353 yards against them, Marcus Mariota a season-high 306.

Things could actually get worse for the beleaguered secondary. Because of injuries to Rashaan Melvin and Pierre Desire, the Colts' top three cornerbacks will likely be rookies on Sunday: Quincy Wilson, Kenny Moore II and Nate Hairston.

So McDermott has incentive to play Peterman. If the rookie plays well, it won't erase the memory of the Chargers debacle, but it would help validate the organization's faith in him. Plus, if Taylor comes back and lights it up against Indy, it will make it harder for the Bills to go away from him for good.

In retrospect, the Colts game would have been an ideal spot for McDermott to switch to Peterman if he hadn't jumped the gun three weeks ago. The Bills are still technically alive, but after Taylor played two brutal home games in a row it would have been a lot easier to justify changing quarterbacks.

The more McDermott talks, the more he makes it sound like he's looking to the future. He says they're improving, but the record screams otherwise. They've hit their ceiling, and that's especially so with Taylor. They're playing out the string now, looking for small victories and hope for the future, so don't be shocked if it's Peterman.

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