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The Buffalo Bills promoting Josh Allen is the latest headscratcher from a franchise set for a painful season

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Josh Allen now has 15 games, surrounded by sub-par talent, to show what he can do: Josh Allen
Josh Allen now has 15 games, surrounded by sub-par talent, to show what he can do: Josh Allen

This is not about Nathan Peterman. Well, it is, but it is about Nathan Peterman as a victim rather than a protagonist, a player never good enough for the NFL level who was thrown to the wolves and what his treatment says about the Buffalo Bills and indeed the NFL.

It seems to happen every year that an NFL team will decide their rookie quarterback is not yet ready to play when the season starts, and so they will plug in a grizzled veteran as their ‘bridge’ QB until the veteran has lost enough games for the cries from fans and local media to get too loud to ignore. The kid waltzes in, plays half a season and offers some hope before getting a full year in as a lightly broken-in sophomore.

The Buffalo Bills, however, skipped the ‘grizzled veteran’ part of that plan. Back in the spring, the Bills took Josh Allen as one of five quarterbacks to go in the first round but Allen, a polarising prospect whose inaccuracy was always seen as potential for disaster, was deemed too inexperienced, too green, to start the Bills’ opener.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman was terrible against the Ravens (AP)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman was terrible against the Ravens (AP)

Of the other four first-round quarterbacks taken in the 2018 NFL draft only one started in week one – Sam Darnold. The New York Jets boasted the rare foresight of having two veterans in position had Darnold not impressed in pre-season but the coaching staff loved what they saw from the former USC passer and decided that the future begins now with Darnold under center.

The three remaining rookie QBs sit behind proven performers. First overall pick Baker Mayfield is behind Tyrod Taylor, who took the hapless Bills to the playoffs last year for the first time since 1999 only to be traded away as punishment. Josh Rosen is backing up Sam Bradford, a former first overall pick and one of the highest-paid QBs in NFL history, and Lamar Jackson is seen as the heir to Joe Flacco who can sit for a season behind the Super Bowl winner.

Which is where Nathan Peterman comes in.

Peterman looked okay in pre-season - against second-string players executing vanilla schemes (AP)
Peterman looked okay in pre-season – against second-string players executing vanilla schemes (AP)

In Buffalo, Allen was not deemed ready to play in the NFL. Rookies often talk about the speed of the game surprising them when they step up from college and, with Allen already considered such a project, they decided against putting him in.

Somehow they settled upon Peterman as their starter, even trading away experienced back-up AJ McCarron when he would have provided a much-needed third option.

Now Peterman is just a guy, but that is also Buffalo’s problem – he’s just a guy.

Peterman had pre-season to prove himself but was yanked after just two quarters of the regular season (AP)
Peterman had pre-season to prove himself but was yanked after just two quarters of the regular season (AP)

Last season in his first-ever NFL start, the fifth-round rookie turned in the worst-ever performance by a quarterback in the history of the league.

Of the 14 passes he attempted against the Los Angeles Chargers, six were caught and five were intercepted as the LA team mercilessly bullied the young signal-caller.

Never has it been more clear that a player had no hope at NFL level and that, you might have thought, would be enough to ensure he never started another game.

But the pre-season noise refused to die around Peterman and he was rather incredibly declared their starter for week one, notionally to protect the unready Allen.

So Peterman served up another performance so poor it couldn’t even be assigned a passer rating: 18 passes attempted, just five completions, two interceptions and only 24 yards gained. He’d have been more effective taking the snap and just running headfirst at the oncoming traffic, in fact, it may have even saved him some embarrassment.

Josh Allen drops back to throw a pass against the Baltimore Ravens (USA Today Sports)
Josh Allen drops back to throw a pass against the Baltimore Ravens (USA Today Sports)

But Peterman was never put in a position to succeed by a franchise that have clearly written off this season.

Putting an incapable quarterback in their opening game with a poor receiving corps having traded away their best offensive lineman was lunacy only surpassed by them deciding halfway through this opening-week encounter that Allen was ready after all and throwing him into the fire.

Peterman was always likely to be a bit of a lamb to the slaughter with the Bills cursed by a terrifying opening slate of games. Up against the Ravens in week one (a 47-3 shellacking) they were then scheduled to face the terrifying Chargers pass rush, a Vikings defense that should propel them to Super Bowl contention and then Aaron Rodgers’ Packers. As baptisms of fire go, this baby was having its head dunked into the centre of the Earth.

Nate had no chance, and the team surely knew that when they were nailing him up on the cross by making him starter.

They’ve now burnt through their joker in the pack though. Once Allen is in, should he struggle then the only option is to revert to Peterman, perhaps to see if he can break his own record for the worst-ever performance by a QB. Allen, like it or not, is going to have to play out 15 games this season even if he is nowhere near ready as his college tape suggests.

The Wyoming product will, for sure, be more explosive than Peterman. He showed off a live arm in pre-season that can produce spectacular plays but there are plenty of questions hanging over his ability to play a position where being able to sling it isn’t enough on its own.

If Allen can survive this season, showing enough potential, then the next steps seem fairly obvious.

Josh Allen was a polarising draft prospect whose inaccuracy may cause him problems (Getty)
Josh Allen was a polarising draft prospect whose inaccuracy may cause him problems (Getty)

All around the NFL, teams are realising the competitive advantage of having quarterbacks – the most important position in the game – on a fixed-price rookie deal and so they’re going all-in to surround their young passers with helpful coaching and premium talent.

We’ve seen it with the Los Angeles Rams as the perfect example, and the Chicago Bears have spent much of summer 2018 attempting a fairly decent facsimile of what has gone on in LA.

The Bills have loads of salary cap space next year and can afford to make significant moves in free agency but that relies on good players becoming available and, more pertinently, wanting to sign for a franchise that might only win two or three games this season.

Goff had a tough rookie year but has been surrounded by help in Los Angeles (Getty)
Goff had a tough rookie year but has been surrounded by help in Los Angeles (Getty)

At a time when franchises are doing everything to put young quarterbacks in the best possible situation to succeed, it might just be that Buffalo end up driving two lambs to the slaughter this year, a second-year QB who was so bad he has broken records and a rookie who some draft analysts felt had major, uncorrectable flaws in his game.

Should the Bills’ season shake out as expected, Allen will probably have a new coach to pick up the pieces of his confidence and try to turn this franchise around. People talk about zigging when every other team is zagging, but the direction the Bills are going in is not one that will end well for anybody involved with the franchise. Indeed, it might not even be too much of a stretch to say that a season of truly dreadful quarterback play might strengthen Colin Kaepernick’s collusion case against the NFL.

In the year of the quarterback, the Bills might just have the worst QB situation in the league. And what makes it worse is that mismanaging their situation has only drawn them closer to abject failure.

Additional thoughts

  • The Kansas City Chiefs might have been the team that surprised me the most in week one. Patrick Mahomes looks fun as we knew, but Andy Reid’s playcalling turns this collection of players into one of the most watchable offenses in the league. Shame about what’s going on in the back end of that D.

  • I might already be out on the LA Chargers. They always find a way to let you down and without Joey Bosa they put in a disappointing display last week. Anything but a convincing destruction of the Bills will be a further worry.

  • Minnesota look every bit the Super Bowl contender we expected.

  • Chicago look like what they are – a team at the start of a process. Matt Nagy’s play script was very impressive for a first-time head coach but after that script ran out, he and Mitch Trubisky contributed to Green Bay’s comeback by going into their shell. It wouldn’t have happened against a team without Rodgers at QB but they have to get used to it – they play him twice a year.

  • Rodgers remains the greatest QB I’ve ever seen. Magical.

  • Cincinatti aren’t a team I find interesting but they’re looking much improved on last year and a weak AFC gives them a chance of the playoffs.

  • Oakland are not a team I’ll be watching much of this year. Putrid stuff.

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