Once a forgotten man in the Buffalo Bills’ quarterback competition, Nathan Peterman emerged Monday as the last man standing.
The Bills announced Monday that Peterman has been named the starting quarterback heading into Sunday’s season opener at Baltimore, bringing to an end what was a three-man competition. The team had previously narrowed the field to two by trading quarterback AJ McCarron to the Oakland Raiders on Saturday, leaving the choice to Peterman and rookie Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall draft pick in April.
After McCarron was signed as a free agent, and particularly after Allen was drafted, Peterman became an afterthought in the quarterback race. That was true even while he rotated taking first-team reps with McCarron during the spring. Few thought by the time the preseason arrived, Peterman would still be in the mix.
“It was a challenge ahead of me,” Peterman said Monday. “My focus, and it’s what I’ve got to continue to do, is focus on myself and focus on being the best I can be, no matter what. No matter what outside circumstances happen, I’ve got to focus on myself.”
Peterman got the call thanks to a dynamite preseason. He went 33 of 41 (an 80.5 completion percentage) for 431 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 124.7.
“Nate has earned the right,” coach Sean McDermott said. “I thought his total body of work, all the way back from the spring through the summer and fall camp to this point, he has certainly earned the right.”
Peterman winning the starting job is a remarkable comeback from what was a disastrous rookie season. His first career start ended up being one of the worst in NFL history, as he threw five first-half interceptions in what led to a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Peterman also started the snow game against Indianapolis, going 5 of 10 for 57 yards and a touchdown before suffering a concussion. In all, he appeared in four games as a rookie and was 24 of 49 for 252 yards with two touchdowns and those five interceptions.
“I believe he's a resilient young man,” McDermott said. “He's certainly come through some times of adversity throughout his career. He's still a young player, so I've been impressed with his mental toughness, his command of the offense. I think he's generated yards and then points in the preseason.”
For now, the Bills are carrying just two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, although an interesting development came about Monday night when NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the team will host a workout with Paxton Lynch on Tuesday. Lynch is a former first-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos who was beaten out by St. Joe’s product Chad Kelly for the backup job and eventually released.
“We’ve got two young quarterbacks that we believe in and they’re going to continue to grow,” McDermott said. “There’s going to be learning along the way and some good moments, hopefully, and there’s going to be growing pains as well, and we understand that.”
Peterman’s approach to his trying rookie year is admirable.
“When you have obstacles, hard things in your life, that doesn’t mean you should quit,” he said. “Maybe that’s the way some people think, but that’s not the way I think.
“I feel like I’ve gone through so much. I haven’t been perfect by any means this whole camp, but I think I’ve made steps. Like I said, I’ve got to continue to do that. I want to keep earning it. That’s what this league is, that’s what football is. It’s a ‘earn it every day’ type of sport, and that’s what I want to go do.”
Even If Peterman was a clear third in the eyes of outside observers entering training camp, the Bills never felt that way. McDermott has been unwavering in his support of the second-year quarterback, believing that one start will not define his career.
“It makes it, certainly, gratifying as a coach to be able to reward a young man that has earned it,” the coach said. “He went through some adversity. Not only last season, but in his college career. Look, we've all been through that. To me, it's a sign of our football team to some extent just in terms of, usually, if you go through some adversity early in life, you're that much more prepared for it when it comes around later in life. That to me becomes a personality or a character trait that's good to have.”
Statistically, Peterman was clearly ahead of the other two quarterbacks in the preseason. Neither McCarron nor Allen completed even 55 percent of their passes. Peterman’s 10.5 yards per attempt tied for second in the NFL during the preseason, and his quarterback rating of 124.7 ranked fifth.
“[I’ve] learned a lot, went through a lot, studied a lot this offseason, worked really hard fundamentally,” Peterman said. “I put a lot of work in to try and get leaps and bounds better, and I’ve got to continue to do that. Like I said, there’s a lot of challenges and I’ve got to keep making steps.”
McDermott didn’t offer up many details of why he chose Peterman as the starter, but the reasons are fairly easy to identify. The coach values consistency, and Peterman far outpaced the other competitors in that regard during camp.
“I’m not sure if there was one moment. There was a series of moments,” the coach said when asked if there was a specific moment he saw Peterman take a step forward. “When you go back and watch the journey to this point, you start in the spring. Like I mentioned, the full body of work. You look in the spring and the way he handled himself. You go through the early part of summer camp and the preseason games and his full body of work and the way he handled himself. He’s a steady young man and a lot can be said for that.”
One of Peterman’s strengths is getting the ball out quickly. As evidenced by his completion percentage, he’s also an accurate passer. He doesn’t have nearly the arm strength Allen does, but few NFL quarterbacks do.
“For me, it’s just about hitting the right spot on time and anticipating it and getting it to the right guy,” Peterman said. “I’ve got to continue to do that. I think the work I did this offseason definitely helped, and I’ve just got to continue with that. You can’t stop now.”
Peterman knows there is a significant portion of the Bills’ fan base that can’t shake the ghastly sight of him throwing five picks in his first career start.
“I know some people might think that, because that’s all that they’ve seen,” he said. “For me, it’s every time I step on the field, there’s a new opportunity no matter the good things or bad things that happen in the past. That’s how I’m approaching it.”
Depending on what happens with Lynch, McDermott mentioned tight end Logan Thomas as a possibility as an emergency third quarterback. Thomas played quarterback in college before making the position change.