Column: The Bills’ biggest mistake was starting rookie Nathan Peterman at quarterback against the Chargers

Nathan Peterman throws a pass during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

So if Yu Darvish was a quarterback and started a Super Bowl, this is what it would look like.





There’s really not a more charitable way of describing Nathan Peterman’s performance at StubHub Center on Sunday — unless you were the Chargers, in which case you had to be immensely grateful that Buffalo Bills first-year coach Sean McDermott started the rookie quarterback for the first time.

Part of what makes sports interesting is how they occasionally make us reconsider what’s possible, but Peterman’s quarterbacking Waterloo in his team’s 54-24 loss to the Chargers presented an argument against pushing the boundaries of what is already known.

Ever wonder why sports franchises can be so conservative? Like when your favorite team started the stable-but-unspectacular veteran over the high-ceiling rookie or punted instead of trying to gain another yard or two on fourth down?

Well, it’s because what happened to the Bills can happen.

The 23-year-old Peterman was the captain of the Titanic. He was Steve Harvey at the Miss Universe pageant.

On his third play from scrimmage, Peterman rolled right and threw a pass that deflected off the hands of the fullback Patrick DiMarco and was ripped out of the air by linebacker Korey Toomer, who returned the interception 59 yards for a touchdown.

The interception was the first of five Peterman gifted the Chargers.

In 14 attempts, the Day 3 draft pick completed nearly as many passes to the Chargers as he did to his team — six.

McDermott mercifully removed Peterman from the game at halftime, ensuring former Chicago Cardinals quarterback Jim Hardy’s 67-year-old single-game record of eight interceptions would remain safe, at least until the next time Peterman takes the field.

“I don’t regret the decision,” McDermott said. “I regret the result.”

In that case, McDermott should evaluate his decision-making process. Even the writers in the StubHub Center press box knew this was a bad idea.

The Bills entered the game on a two-game losing streak, but were still 5-4 and holding on to an AFC playoff spot. They compiled that record behind Tyrod Taylor, who protected the football but was inconsistent with intermediate throws.

Taylor, a seventh-year player, had only three interceptions this season in 254 pass attempts.

McDermott said he knew he was taking a gamble in switching quarterbacks.

“You know when you put a young player out there as your quarterback, there’s going to be some ups and downs,” McDermott said.

So why take that risk at this stage of the season, in the thick of a playoff race?

“This is about not only winning now, but also the future,” McDermott said.

In other words, the organization isn’t sold on Taylor as their quarterback of the future, especially at the $16 million he will be owed if he isn’t released before the third day of the 2018 NFL calendar.

Problem was, Peterman wasn’t ready.

Hear from quarterback Philip Rivers, wide receiver Keenan Allen and head coach Anthony Lynn on the Chargers’ 54-24 win over the Bills.

The fifth-round selection from the University of Pittsburgh especially wasn’t ready to deal with Chargers edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

“Me and Melvin knew that if we were able to get pressure and get into his face that he would make some bad decisions with the football,” Bosa said. “We didn’t expect five interceptions, but you have to cut him a break. He’s a rookie, gets thrown in there out of the blue and it’s not like we were taking it easy on the guy.”

Peterman was flushed out of the pocket on his first interception. He was hit by Bosa as he unleashed an underthrown pass that resulted in his second.

The Bills tied the score 7-7 when running back LeSean McCoy covered 64 yards on a pair of runs.

When the Bills offense was on the sidelines, Taylor offered Peterman encouragement.

“Trust in your ability and go out there and keep playing,” Taylor told Peterman.

Bad advice.

Peterman had another interception on the Bills’ next possession, courtesy of another Bosa hit.

“We knew our pass rush would get to him if we put some pressure on him,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “We studied all the preseason film and every time he was under pressure, his completion percentage was a lot lower. We didn’t have to manufacture the pressure. We have guys that can apply it.”

The second quarter was more of the same. Peterman tried to reach Deonte Thompson on the right sideline on the first play of the period, only for cornerback Casey Hayward to leap in front of the receiver for his second interception of the game.

The Chargers recorded their final interception in the last minute of the half, which set up a 39-yard field goal by Nick Novak. The Bills were down 37-7 at halftime.

Peterman was more composed in the postgame interview room than he was on the field.

“I think anybody that would go through this would be disappointed because it means a lot to you,” he said. “You do put a lot of work and a lot of time and energy into trying to go out there and win. It’s definitely tough.”

Taylor played respectably in the second half, completing 15 of 25 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for another score.

When the Bills visit the Kansas City Chiefs next week, Taylor should be starting again. Peterman demonstrated what could happen if he doesn’t.

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez