It’s come to this for the Buffalo Bills: Nathan Peterman is in line to start at quarterback Sunday, and Matt Barkley is going to back him up.
With rookie Josh Allen out because of an elbow injury and veteran Derek Anderson in the NFL’s concussion protocol, Peterman was the last quarterback standing until Barkley was signed Wednesday.
“That’s where we’re looking at,” coach Sean McDermott said. “We’re just going to take it one day at a time right now.”
That’s the same approach the team’s fans will have to take. Turning to Peterman – even if there are no other options – still feels hard to believe. He has been, by any statistical measure, one of the worst quarterbacks in NFL history. From the five-interception meltdown last year against the Chargers to the concussion he suffered against the Colts in the snow to this year’s two disastrous appearances, Peterman has been reduced to a walking, talking punchline. The Bills, though, are sticking by him.
“I’m confident and I believe his teammates are confident in Nathan,” McDermott said.
Despite his hardships, Peterman said his confidence has not been shaken.
“As a professional athlete, you’ve got to be able to move on and keep your confidence high, especially as a quarterback,” he said. “That’s the most valuable asset, I’d say, as a quarterback is confidence. It’s important to keep that high.”
As he has throughout his tumultuous two years in Buffalo, Peterman didn’t shy away from questions about his performance. He says he’s stayed away from social media chatter, which is a good thing, because it has been ruthless.
“I do ignore it. I don’t have much social media on my phone and I just kind of live day to day with what’s in front of me, the guys in this locker room and obviously my family at home,” he said. “I’m thankful to be out here throwing the ball and playing football every day and have another opportunity.”
It won’t be easy Sunday. The Bears come to town ranked seventh in total defense, third against the run, first in fewest first downs allowed and first in a stat that will make Bills fans shudder – interception percentage.
Peterman has thrown 10 interceptions on 84 career passes, including his appearance in the playoff game against Jacksonville.
“Each one has their own story and own lessons from it,” Peterman said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. I’ve taken a lot of those lessons and I’ve learned from them. Moving forward, really the goal is to learn from them and be better.”
Give Peterman credit for this: He’s kept a positive attitude in the face of extreme criticism.
“It’s life, I mean if anybody here has been through a bunch of perfect things in their life and nothing’s ever gone wrong, I’m extremely happy for you, but that doesn’t happen very much to the people I know and obviously me,” he said. “I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been through, all the lessons I’ve learned and I’m ready to be better from them.”
If that doesn’t happen, it might be down to Barkley. The 28-year-old has been out of football since being released off the Bengals’ injured reserve after Week 1 (he had a knee injury that has since healed). The Bills were the only team to call.
“I think every opportunity you get, is just that,” he said when asked if he’s viewing his time in Buffalo as the last chance to show he can be an NFL quarterback. “Whether it's helping the starter out or playing and helping the team out in whatever way possible, you're helping the team win somehow. Whatever I can do to show that, absolutely.”
Peterman has yet to start and finish an NFL game, twice getting benched and once getting hurt. If either of those things happen again, Barkley is in.
“I'm treating this week like anything is possible,” Barkley said. “Especially in this league, I'm preparing today like I’d be playing. The coaches have been great just in terms of letting me dive in. I got a few reps today, just in easy stuff. The offense is similar to stuff I've run before. Terminology is a little different, but when it comes down to it, football is football. You've got to be able to execute.”
Barkley has been in a similar situation before. He was signed to the Bears’ 53-man roster on Sept. 22, 2016, then forced into duty about a month later following injuries to Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler. A month, though, is way more time than he’ll have to face the Bears this week.
“Like 20 finals,” he said when asked if preparing this week is like cramming for a final exam. “Just because you've got to not only learn a new offense, but also realize what the Bears are doing. It helps having played there and against (defensive coordinator) Vic (Fangio), you kind of know what to expect a little bit. Obviously things have changed over two years, but, yeah there's a lot you have to learn in a couple days.”
Barkley had a standout college career at Southern California, leaving the Trojans as the program’s all-time leader in passing yards (12,327), completions (1,001) and passing touchdowns (116). Before USC, he was the 2007 Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior at Mater Dei High School.
That has not translated to the NFL level. In 11 career games with Philadelphia and Chicago, he has thrown for eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions.