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Bucky Gleason: With questions at quarterback, Bills look to Peterman for answers

Here's a question for serious Bills fans who don't throw women through buffet tables, start themselves on fire, bat-spin themselves into RVs or run across New Era Field naked: Who was the last Buffalo rookie to throw for 300 yards in a game? Why, it was Dennis Shaw, of course.

In his first NFL start, Shaw completed 12 of 21 passes for 317 yards and led the Bills to two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter in a 34-31 victory over Joe Namath and the Jets in 1970. Two weeks later, Shaw threw for 348 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a blowout loss to the Dolphins.

Shaw started three seasons for the Bills, was replaced by rookie Joe Ferguson in the fourth, rode the bench for two seasons in St. Louis and retired.

The only other Bills rookie to throw for 300 yards in a game was Johnny Green, who torched the Texans for 348 yards during the Eisenhower administration. The third game of his career, which came in the AFL's inaugural season in 1960, ended up being the best performance of his career.

Only five veteran quarterbacks threw for 300 yards in one of their first seven starts with the Bills, and none was named Jim Kelly. They were Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb and Kyle Orton. Kelly had his first 300-yard performance in his ninth game and another in his 14th, both losses, before finishing 4-12 in 1986.

Keep that in mind when fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman takes the field Sunday against the Chargers for his first NFL start. If you're looking for instant success from the kid after he took the starting job from Tyrod Taylor, the odds are stacked against him. Then again, the odds also were against Taylor lighting up the Chargers.

Tom Brady had only one 300-yard game in his first season as a starter with the Patriots and added another in the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl. Brady is the best quarterback in NFL history, but he didn’t dominate with his arm early in his career. He averaged 186 yards passing after taking over for the injured Bledsoe.

Peyton Manning threw for 302 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions in his NFL debut. Robert Griffin III threw for 320 yards and two TDs in his first game and joined a list of one-year wonders. Cam Newton started his career with 422 yards and two TDs, while John Elway completed 1 of 8 passes for 14 yards in his first game.

Brett Favre didn't complete a pass in his first season with the Falcons, and his first completion with the Packers was to himself for a 7-yard loss. Joe Montana completed 5 of 12 passes for 36 yards in his first start. Eli Manning was 4 for 18 for 27 yards in his fourth NFL start. There's no telling what will happen Sunday.

The Bills are entering the unknown with Peterman, but they do know this: Taylor was not the answer. The issue wasn't him not being their guy. It was him not being the right quarterback for their offense. Buffalo clearly believes Peterman's drop-back style is more suited for their pocket-passing attack.

Sean McDermott knew second-guessers would activate, and rightfully so, with the Bills in playoff contention with a 5-4 record. Certainly, there were people who concluded switching to Peterman was the equivalent of kissing a promising season goodbye while failing to consider he could be an upgrade.

The quarterback change was hardly based on Taylor having one poor performance. McDermott realized what others knew for two-plus years: Taylor can be spectacular, but overall he's a fundamentally flawed player who can take the Bills only to a certain point. He reached that point at 5-2.

If there was an injustice with Taylor, it's that the Bills' passing game wasn't geared toward his ability. He's at his best when he's on the move. The Bills could have maximized his ability by moving the pocket or called more plays designed for him to roll out and slide away from the pass rush.

All along, he was a on short leash.

Peterman will try to buck odds for rookie starter in road debut

Last offseason, the Bills were looking for a bridge quarterback who could link Taylor, circa 2016, to the next quarterback. Taylor returned and ended up being the bridge. The Bills drafted Peterman with the idea he would become a viable backup and possibly more. How he plays could alter how they approach the 2018 draft.

Peterman should fit their pro-style approach, but nobody knows for sure whether he can succeed until they compile enough evidence. They need to see him play over an extended period. The Bills would be thrilled if he led them to the playoffs. If not, oh well. They weren't expected to reach the postseason, anyway.

McDermott obviously believes Peterman can relieve pressure from his offensive line with quick decisions and his accurate arm. He should be more willing to throw the ball into traffic than Taylor was over two-plus seasons. It could lead to keeping defenses honest, which would open up the running game and help the defense.

It could work.

Peterman must have made progress behind the scenes. The next seven weeks will reveal how he performs in games. He doesn't need to throw for 300 yards every week, a mark Taylor hit only once in his career. In fact, in the grand scheme, it doesn't matter much if he shreds the Chargers this week or not.

He'll be the fifth NFL rookie to start this season. He'll need time to show his potential, like every other quarterback in history. For the foreseeable future, there will be more questions than answers about him. If we've learned anything over the years, it's that one game, or even one season, does not a career make.

Just ask Dennis Shaw.

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