BALTIMORE – Sean McDermott readily pointed to himself as the first person whose performance he would evaluate after Sunday’s historically poor season opener for the Buffalo Bills.
Several times during his postgame news conference after the Bills’ 47-3 debacle against the Baltimore Ravens, the coach mentioned the need to “look at the tape.” That was how he answered the question of whether he would consider replacing Nathan Peterman with rookie Josh Allen as his starting quarterback for next Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
That was also what McDermott referenced in examining his role in why his team was so woefully unprepared to play. As admirable as that might be, he’s letting himself off far too easy.
McDermott doesn’t need to consult a replay for what was blatantly obvious: He overthought the QB decision.
Somehow he believed the Bills, who never figured to be all that competitive against an opponent that was superior in practically all phases, would have had a better chance of winning with a quarterback with two career NFL starts (including that five-interception nightmare in the first) rather than one with zero. The major flaw in that conclusion is that it overlooked the fact Allen was, is and always will be more talented than Peterman.
You play the better guy. Not the one you think has the better intangibles, such as showing the fortitude to bounce back from a rookie year defined by that atrocious inaugural start last November against the Chargers. Not the one who had the better stats in preseason games, which should be given only slightly more weight than practices.
When everything was added up from training camp and the three exhibition outings each one played, there should have been no doubt that allowing Allen to start from the very beginning of the season was the way to go.
He’s the one with the better arm. He’s the one with the better athleticism. He’s the one with the better everything.
These are the numbers that tell the tale on why the Peterman experiment should be dead: 5-of-18 for 24 yards. Two interceptions that resulted in 10 Raven points. A 0.0 passer rating (nudging his career rating to an embarrassing 25.6). No first downs, let alone points, in the first half. One first down total before being mercifully replaced by Allen with 11:22 left in the third quarter.
“It was just lack of execution, starting with me,” Peterman said. He, too, said he needed to “look at the film,” but seemed to acknowledged his tenuous status by adding he had to “be ready for whatever's next.”
With the Bills trailing, 40-0, Allen was in an impossible spot, but he actually moved the team to its only points and functioned with greater authority than his predecessor in completing six of 15 passes for 74 yards. He also ran four times for 26 yards, four more than LeSean McCoy had on seven attempts.
Perhaps McDermott gave clues as to the direction he was leaning in the aftermath of the Bills’ worst season-opening loss in franchise history by far and second-most lopsided defeat in their 59 seasons with the following responses to his assessments of Peterman and Allen.
On Peterman: “Overall, I thought we could have been better in a number of positions. I’ve got to look at the tape to be honest with you, to get a better feel and making sure we were in the right spots for him as well before I give you a better read out.”
On Allen: “Really, I thought he made some decisive throws finding some tight windows. He used his feet at time as well. I thought he had pretty good command of the huddle and the offense at the line of scrimmage.”
Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way here: It’s only one game ... it’s too early to assume any extended good, bad or ugly from an opening-day outcome.
Now, let’s get real: Ugly doesn’t begin to describe the Bills’ performance at M&T Bank Stadium. This is where I’d suggest it matched the weather, which brought nonstop rain, but that would be insulting to Mother Nature.
For the record, 81 seconds after the Bills yanked Peterman, the Ravens also replaced their starter, Joe Flacco, with the quarterback they, too, selected in the first round: Lamar Jackson. Of course, with that 40-point cushion, John Harbaugh was showing a little mercy while also getting the chance to give his rookie – who he had inserted for a smattering of plays earlier – some regular-season snaps.
Sure, there were plenty of others deserving of blame for the debacle.
The Bills’ offensive line remained true to form as a unit that lost too many key pieces to be anything but the pathetic group it looked like during the preseason. Not only couldn’t it protect (playing a large part in allowing six sacks), but it also couldn’t provide much running room for McCoy. Buffalo’s receivers couldn’t get open to save their lives. The defense, supposedly the area on which the Bills could lean while the offense sorted out its many issues, was terrible from the start. Flacco made it look absurdly easy in throwing for 236 yards – with chunk play after chunk play on the game’s first drive – and three touchdowns.
“There were a lot of different people involved,” McDermott said. “There were times when I thought we could have been better up front. There were times where we needed to catch the football. There were times where we hurt ourselves with penalties.
“So, it wasn’t just one guy. It was a full, total team effort there.”
He’s right. The Bills totally stunk in ways that conjure images of those back-to-back 2-14 teams in 1984 and 1985. That matters when determining where they go from here (other than cutting most of their players, that is).
What matters more, however, is the Bills getting on with the mission of building that “sustainable success” that McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane have been talking about since their arrival last year.
That has no chance of happening with Peterman at quarterback.
“That’s up to Sean and Brandon, the whole coaching staff, as far as what they want to do at the quarterback position,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “I do know that there is something to having some consistency there as well, so whatever decision they do make, I think as a team, we've got to just roll with it instead of having this each and every single week, this going back and forth. Somebody has to get some type of comfort and feel like they're not constantly looking over their shoulder because I think there is some power in that for whoever is quarterbacking.
“They’ll make a decision and, hopefully, we just ride it out.”
Given what everyone was able to see without the need to “look at the film,” the Bills have the perfect opportunity to launch the Josh Allen Era now. No more overthinking.
Just get on with it.