If it wasn’t already evident after the Buffalo Bills first two preseason games, it became abundantly clear after their third one. Buffalo has a quarterback controversy.
Just eight plays into the Bills road meeting with the Baltimore Ravens, starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s “final dress rehearsal” was cut short. After slamming his head hard against the turf early in the first quarter, he was promptly escorted to the locker room and later put in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
In two series, Taylor completed one of his three pass attempts for one yard and the sack that ended the Bills second drive and left him concussed had the offense in the negative for total yards gained. It was the exact outing Taylor needed to avoid after two lackluster performances in the previous preseason games. And assuming it’s his last appearance this preseason – the fourth game is generally reserved for backups and players on the roster bubble – he’ll enter the regular season having not led a single touchdown drive.
For Taylor, a disappointing night only got worse when rookie Nathan Peterman took over the first-team offense in his place. In Peterman’s first series on the field he picked up the Bills first, first down of the night. The drive stalled, but his confidence delivering the football was growing. A trio of penalty hindered three-and-outs followed before the Pittsburgh product did something just before the half, that Taylor hasn’t in three games: lead the first-team offense on a touchdown drive.
Peterman now has two touchdown drives this preseason, more than journeyman T.J. Yates (1) and Taylor (0). He finished the night 11-of-23 passing for 93 yards and while there were some rookie mistakes sprinkled in, his effectiveness leading the Bills top unit against an opponent’s top defense spoke for itself.
So the quarterback controversy Taylor hoped to put to bed on Saturday night rolls on, and not even head coach Sean McDermott – who reaffirmed afterward that Taylor is his starting quarterback – can silence it. The calls for Peterman to start the regular season are louder than ever and maybe he’ll have to by default if Taylor isn’t able to clear the league’s concussion protocol by Sept. 10.
Regardless, the situation is a delicate one with no obvious right answer.
The root of the debate could lie in how this new regime views this upcoming season. They made a purpose of restructuring Taylor’s contract this past offseason in an effort to remain competitive with him under center. That same message helped McDermott convince 34-year-old DT Kyle Williams not to hang them up, and they’ve stood by it in recent weeks when calls for “tanking” and trading their best player LeSean McCoy hit the news cycle. Handing things over to an unproven rookie may be considered a wave of the white flag for 2017.
Conversely, Peterman has looked better than Taylor during the preseason, particularly with the first-team offense last night. Maybe that is the move more conducive to winning now. Then again, starting him too soon could also lead to his demise. Orchard Park has been a burial ground for quarterbacks who were thrust into action too quickly, with former first-round pick E.J. Manuel being the latest casualty. That said every quarterback is different. Some need to be handled with kid gloves, others learn best on the fly out there on the field. We don’t yet know Peterman’s temperament or preference but from what he’s shown in the preseason being thrust into action doesn’t seem to phase him.
Ultimately it’s McDermott’s decision to make, and at least for now his confidence in Taylor remains. If the 27-year-old’s struggles continue into the regular season though, he’ll have no choice but to turn it over to the rook.
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