ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The two loudest cheers at New Era Field during the Buffalo Bills' 47-10 loss Sunday to the New Orleans Saints might have both come in the fourth quarter -- one when a nude fan ran onto the field and the other when rookie Nathan Peterman replaced Tyrod Taylor at quarterback.
It was the sort of afternoon in which the streaker's slippery dance between security guards provided entertainment the Bills could not as they were pummeled by the Saints, who gained 298 rushing yards and ran for six touchdowns.
Sunday's blowout loss was also the best opportunity yet for fans clamoring to see Peterman to get their wish. Taylor completed 9 of 18 passes for 56 yards and a 33.6 passer rating, both career lows, before being pulled for Peterman with about five minutes remaining and the Bills trailing by 37 points.
Against a Saints defense with little need to dial up pressure, Peterman completed 7 of 10 passes for 79 yards and a 7-yard touchdown to tight end Nick O'Leary in two offensive possessions. For Peterman, a fifth-round pick from Pittsburgh, those were his first NFL regular-season snaps.
However, Peterman saw significant playing time in the preseason and statistically outplayed Taylor, although his performance was still largely pedestrian. The rookie completed 54 percent of his passes for one touchdown, no interceptions and a 75.6 passer rating. Taylor completed 48 percent of his throws for no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 27.9 rating.
Coach Sean McDermott shot down some fans' speculation late in the preseason about Peterman becoming the starter, and the first-year coach reiterated after Sunday's loss that Taylor will remain the starter.
It is the right call, although there was plenty not to like about Taylor's performance against the Saints. Notably, he checked down on passes to Mike Tolbert on third-and-13 and third-and-15, with the bruising running back -- not known for his elusiveness after the catch -- gaining eight and nine yards on the two plays.
Taylor targeted newly-acquired Kelvin Benjamin, making his Bills debut, only three times -- all on the opening drive. He completed a 9-yard slant to the 6-foot-5 wideout before overthrowing him in the end zone and then throwing behind him near the goal line. Taylor also connected only twice with tight end Charles Clay, back from a month-long absence because of a knee injury, for 13 yards.
Peterman found Benjamin for gains of 21 and 12 yards on consecutive plays late in the fourth quarter, but that should hardly be considered enough to justify making the rookie the starter at a critical juncture of the season.
After back-to-back losses to the New York Jets and Saints, the Bills have consecutive upcoming road games against the Los Angeles Chargers (3-6) and Kansas City Chiefs (6-3). They then return home to host the AFC East-leading New England Patriots.
At 5-4, the Bills still have a clear path to the playoffs in a weak AFC. They are one of only six teams with records above .500, although the Miami Dolphins can join that group with a win Monday night over the Carolina Panthers.
Taylor remains the Bills' best option to qualify for the postseason, despite his flaws. The bigger problem for Buffalo is its defense, which between Week 5 and the conclusion of Sunday's early games has ranked 28th in points allowed per game (28.4), 29th in yards allowed (403), 31st in yards per play (6.07), 26th in the red zone (65-percent opponent conversions) and 26th on third downs (43.5 percent).
If the defense continues its collapse, the Bills could easily find themselves below .500 after their Dec. 3 against New England. The playoffs could still be very much in play at that point because of the AFC's issues, but the discussion of starting Peterman would have more merit at that time.