Here are my three thoughts on the Buffalo Bills as they pick up the pieces from a mostly ugly performance in Thursday night's 20-16 preseason loss against the Philadelphia Eagles:
1. Sean McDermott went out of his way to extinguish any flames from a potential quarterback controversy after realizing he might very well have struck the match himself by saying, in response to my question about whether he was considering benching Tyrod Taylor, “We’re always going to evaluate everything and that goes for everything including the quarterback position." The coach pulled me aside shortly thereafter to clarify that he wasn't contemplating a change.
I'm inclined to agree that it's a tad early to make such a call, although Taylor's horrendous performance and Nathan Peterman's far more competent showing in his first outing as the No. 2 QB certainly make the topic worth broaching. So let's broach.
Taylor was awful. He threw two interceptions, the first on a tipped pass that never should have left his hand, and the second to Ronald Darby, of all people. Darby is one of the primary symbols of out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new at One Bills Drive. Taylor easily could have thrown a another pick to his former teammate. More than a few of his passes were delivered late, others were late and/or wildly off-target.
Taylor's status has been tenuous, at best, since the Bills chopped his salary by $10 million and began stocking picks for a draft supposedly rich with quarterbacking talent. His stats declined as a second-year starter last season, he didn't have a particularly good offseason and his training camp was spotty, at best.
Peterman wasn't spectacular in the offseason, either, but he did have the best camp of the Bills' three quarterbacks. It took almost no time for him to move ahead of T.J. Yates on the depth chart, no small accomplishment considering how much offensive coordinator Rick Dennison values Yates' thorough grasp of his scheme from their three years together with the Houston Texans. And Peterman took advantage of the opportunity by showing the poise and decisiveness that McDermott was quick to praise. He was a commanding presence, something the Bills haven't had behind center in a very long time.
What happened Thursday night can't be ignored.
In the wake of the major roster overhaul that has continued into the preseason, this is not an established club that should approach its third exhibition game as the typical "tune-up" for the regular season. This team is a true work in progress – with McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane focused on a long-term build – and the quarterback position should be no exception.
If McDermott doesn't want Peterman to start against the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 26, he should, at the very least, allow the rookie to split time with Taylor with the starting offense. Let's see how Peterman handles himself against a first-unit defense and, more importantly, how his supporting cast responds to him.
Peterman might not be the long-term franchise answer, but if the Bills are as determined as they seem to pursue one in next year's draft, they should take full advantage of their state of flux and gather more crucial evidence about what they have now.
McDermott shouldn't fear a quarterback controversy. His players, especially the veteran leaders, understand what it is happening around them and would likely respect the decision to move in a new direction at quarterback should the Taylor-Peterman situation continue to trend as it has so far.
2. McDermott was red-faced as he spoke with reporters after the game about the 15 accepted penalties on the Bills for minus-131 yards, and a few others that weren't. That gives them 25 penalties, and several more that weren't marched off, in both of their preseason games.
Wasn't that lack of discipline supposed to have gone out the door with Rex Ryan's firing? Wasn't McDermott's more demanding, button-down approach that would keep those yellow-flag showers to a minimum one of the main qualities that sold the Pegulas on him?
"We've got a lot of work to do," the new coach said in an understatement. As McDermott pointed out, much of that work concerns "technique," although the proliferation of infractions raises questions about just how dialed-in everyone is at this late stage of preparation for the real thing.
Maybe McDermott saw more than he was willing to share publicly when he suddenly stopped practice on the second to last day of training camp to blast his players and assistant coaches in the middle of the field.
3. LeSean McCoy was able to use his Philly homecoming to convince McDermott to allow him stay in the game through the entire first quarter. I'd have rather seen him exit no later than after the second series.
McCoy has nothing to prove or to show his coaches or Beane or anyone else. I get that his emotions boil over whenever he's back in the place where his NFL career began and he will always call home, but that can't override the Bills avoiding unnecessary risks with his health.
His 13-yard run on the Bills' first play from scrimmage and 10-yard carry on the second play of their third series should have been enough to convince McDermott call it a night for the only offensive player opponents have to worry about.