Sean McDermott's decision to bench Tyrod Taylor put Bills in free-fall

CARSON, Calif. -- A week ago, the few remaining fans at New Era Field were cheering when Buffalo Bills first-year coach Sean McDermott decided to insert rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman into the final minutes of a blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints in which Tyrod Taylor threw for only 56 yards.

On Sunday, the sizable contingent of Bills fans at the StubHub Center cheered just as loudly when Taylor replaced Peterman to mercifully end the fifth-round pick's starting debut in which he threw five interceptions in the first half of a 54-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The same crowd had been chanting, "We want Tyrod!" in the closing minutes of the second quarter.

Giving Peterman a shot appealed to McDermott and the fans who supported his decision to bench Taylor last week, but reality came quickly and harshly. The quarterback switch was clearly a disaster and has put an already-faltering team in free-fall.

Like most quarterbacks selected on the third day of the NFL draft, Peterman proved he was not ready -- especially when handed the reins to the offense of a 5-4 team trying to hold onto its playoff position in a road venue more than 2,500 miles from home.

Taylor has his faults and is not the Bills' long-term answer at quarterback, but he was best suited to handle the gauntlet of the Bills' schedule that included Sunday's game against the Chargers, a road trip to play the Kansas City Chiefs and a home contest against the New England Patriots.

Had Taylor failed to keep the Bills in the thick of the postseason race after those three games, starting Peterman at New Era Field against the lowly Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 10 would have made more sense. Expecting Peterman to perform better than Taylor still would be unrealistic, but at least Peterman could gain NFL experience and allow the Bills to evaluate him for 2018 without a playoff run being on the line.

There lies the problem with McDermott's approach. Since he took over as coach in January, he made it clear his expectation was to win immediately -- that's what he told veterans such as Kyle Williams and Eric Wood. The Bills' 5-2 start validated his thinking, but turning to Peterman when his team had a 5-4 record cut against the grain.

"It's tough," running back LeSean McCoy said Sunday. "I'm sure everybody was surprised when it first happened. I sure was. But this is the NFL. Things like this happen a lot, guys getting benched."

Benching Taylor was a move that seemed to be designed to learn about Peterman as an option in 2018, not to go the playoffs in 2017. Even McDermott said simply going to the playoffs should not be the team's goal, which was interpreted to mean he wanted to see whether Peterman was a franchise quarterback who could lead the team to a Super Bowl.

"[The decision] was about not only winning now, but also in the future," McDermott said after Sunday's loss. "These guys work hard and I felt like I do every decision I’m making in the right and best interest of this football team moving forward.”

Now McDermott is stuck in the middle. Staying with Peterman against the Chiefs would be a wildly unpopular move, but it would have the team's best interests for 2018 in mind. Peterman clearly needs live action to develop.

But turning away from Taylor yet again would virtually ensure the Bills do not make the playoffs. So if McDermott was true in his intentions to win immediately, keeping Taylor under center would be the Bills' best option.

“I’m going to take my time and evaluate it,” McDermott said Sunday of which quarterback will start against the Chiefs. “I’m going to make the decision that I feel is right for this football team.”

No matter the decision, the damage has been done. Now having lost three games in a row by a combined score of 135-55, the Bills' playoff chances are spiraling, and going back to Taylor might not save a once-promising season.