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Bucky Gleason: Bills can't have it both ways, so they should stick with Peterman

The concept made sense before the season began, back when Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane were still punching One Bills Drive into their GPSs while knowing little about Buffalo's long and disturbing sports history, back when short-term expectations were low but long-term optimism was high.

In theory, the idea of trying to win now while planning for the future was logical. It was a means of uniting the masses and pacifying people with competing opinions on how the Bills should proceed this season and beyond. The approach was an easy sell for players and fans, but it also came with a short lifespan.

Buffalo has reached a juncture in its season in which the rookie head coach and rookie general manager can no longer soothe both sides of the aisle. They need to decide whether they want to win now OR prepare for the future. It's one or the other because simultaneously achieving both is no longer an option.

First, this question: What is the goal?

Remember, the objective for the new regime going into the season wasn't simply making the playoffs one year. It was building a team that can achieve sustained success. The Bills' decision at quarterback this week may not reveal their true feelings about their team, but it will show which way they're leaning.

If Taylor starts Sunday, it's about winning now and keeping their playoff hopes alive and their veteran players happy and hungry. If they return to Peterman, assuming he's not scarred for life, they're accepting reality of an inferior team and turning their attention toward the future.

"That's your evaluation," McDermott said Monday after declining to name his starter. "I have to see it through my lenses. Both quarterbacks have their own ability and their own skill set. I'm always going to look at both. How best are we equipped to win now and also set ourselves up to build for a strong future. That's part of that process."

The Bills remain in contention for a playoff spot, along with 12 other teams in the lousy AFC, with six games remaining. Their schedule includes the Kansas City game and two games against New England. It's not to gloss over the Colts or Dolphins. The Bills aren't beating anybody if they continue to perform at the level they showed of late.

Buffalo's defense has been atrocious. Their quarterback play rests somewhere between mediocre and abysmal. Their running game is spotty at best. They've stopped taking away the ball and started giving it away. It has become more evident in the past three weeks that they're worse than their 5-5 record suggests.

What to do?

The Bills can't have it both ways, but that goes for everybody. You can't demand Taylor returns to the starting lineup while believing Buffalo isn't a playoff team. They can either play Taylor with the idea that he will take them to the postseason, if that's now their primary goal, or they can face reality and resume developing Peterman on the fly.

McDermott took a calculated risk when he inserted Peterman into the starting lineup on Sunday, and the rookie threw up on himself before the doors opened to his coming-out party. He had five interceptions in the first half before getting yanked in 54-24 loss to the Chargers.

What some failed to see was there also was inherent risk, albeit less, that came with NOT playing him Sunday. If the Bills lost their third straight game with Taylor – and there was a good chance they would have lost – people this week would be screaming from the mountaintops for Peterman.

Would it have made more sense to toss the rookie into a game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, home of one of the NFL's toughest venues? If the Bills stayed with Taylor last week and lost, and returned to him this weekend and lost again, would you want Peterman making his first NFL start against the Super Bowl champs?

To be clear: The Bills lost Sunday largely because Peterman threw five picks. But it doesn't mean they would have beaten the Chargers if Taylor had played. For anyone to argue they would have won with Taylor or Peterman is guessing. I'm guessing they would have gone down no matter who ran the offense.

Would fans feel better if the Bills lost by less?

"One game is not going to define Nathan's career," McDermott said. "Young players go through IT. And you saw some IT yesterday. I put that back on myself. I own the decision. As I said, I don't regret the decision. I regret the result."

McDermott is a big boy who can handle himself. He certainly doesn't need me coming to his defense. But I understood his decision to play Peterman. The kid was a primary example of trying to win now and plan for the future. In fact, there's a strong argument for playing the rookie against Kansas City.

Regardless of the quarterback, where are the Bills going?

Their defense allowed 135 points in games against the Jets, Saints and Chargers, the most for a three-game stretch in franchise history. The Bills were thin at wide receiver when the season began and lost top weapon in the passing game, Kelvin Benjamin, to a knee injury on their first series Sunday.

Buffalo could play Taylor until they're officially eliminated from playoff contention, but that's a copout. It could take several weeks before the math takes over, which means wasting several weeks that could be dedicated to Peterman. The reality is that they're miles away from becoming an elite team.

For what it's worth, I've been under the impression all along that the future was far more important than the present to McDermott and Beane. If enough had gone the Bills' way this season, and they won enough games, and they somehow slipped into the playoffs, well, even better.

Fans want to win sooner than yesterday. They have been carrying the weight of the playoff drought for 17 years. But the new regime made it clear from the beginning, before the Bills won five of their first seven games, that whatever happened in their first season didn't come at the expense of their long-term objective.

It's why they traded away Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby before the season started and began stockpiling draft picks. It's why they dumped Marcell Dareus and a contract that paid him $1 million per game. It's why they kept Taylor on a short leash and replaced him at the first opportunity.

And that's why nobody should be surprised if Peterman returns to the starting lineup Sunday. The Bills can’t worry about discord along One Bills Drive and beyond because they can't satisfy everyone – or perhaps anyone. They can’t get bogged down by popular opinion, either.

Their immediate future doesn't look promising, so they need to turn their attention toward long-term improvement. There have been no signs that the Bills are going to the Super Bowl any time soon, and they have shown no interest in bringing back Taylor next season for $18 million.

If that's the case, they need to do what's right: Play the kid.

What He Said: Bills coach McDermott on QB situation, building for future, injury updates

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