Don't count out Nathan Peterman in Bills' QB race

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott were meeting with reporters in June when they were asked how second-year quarterback Nathan Peterman had responded after throwing five interceptions in his NFL debut last season.

"He's a very confident young man," Beane said. "He's resilient. You saw a guy who got knocked down hard -- not all on him, either -- but the greatest thing about what Nathan did was he never pointed a finger. That says a lot. Because it's hard. He could have easily said, 'Well, this guy,' or, 'This happened.' His next opportunity was the snow game."

A reporter then asked about whether Peterman gets enough credit for his second career start, a 13-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Peterman threw an early touchdown in heavy snow before later exiting the game because of a concussion.

"No," McDermott quickly interjected.

"No," echoed Beane. "Nobody talks about that. He made a great throw to Kelvin [Benjamin] to get us the lead before halftime, which proved super important after [the Colts] scored late.

"Nate has come back in here. He's super smart. He's not gonna tell you how good he is or how smart he is. He's steady Eddie everyday. You love how he approaches the game. I know Sean has been in [the quarterback meeting room] more than me, but even I've stopped in there a couple of times when [offensive coordinator Brian] Daboll has had those guys in there, and they're writing stuff on the board. [Daboll] is playing 'Jeopardy' with them. He's trying to just see what they know, and Nathan is really, really smart."

The Bills have sky-high hopes for rookie quarterback Josh Allen after they made him the No. 7 overall pick of April's draft. But Peterman seems to have the inside track to lead Buffalo if the coaches don't think Allen is ready to start Week 1.

The Bills on Monday named Allen as their starter for Sunday’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the next logical step in a quarterback rotation that saw Peterman start the first preseason game and AJ McCarron the second as an audition for the starting job.

With McCarron set to return soon from a right shoulder injury that was not a fractured collarbone, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, McDermott said the team will pick up where it left off with its three-way quarterback competition.

Peterman has been more effective in preseason games than McCarron. Between his start in the preseason opener Aug. 9 and playing most of the second half of last Friday's game, Peterman has completed 17 of 20 passes for 231 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, which was not thrown accurately but hit his receiver's hands.

McCarron went 7-for-10 passing in the preseason opener, playing in the second quarter. He started Friday's game and completed 3 of 6 passes for 12 yards. McCarron and the Bills' first-team offense did not gain a first down in four possessions in Cleveland.

Given McCarron’s performance, the Bills' quarterback competition for Week 1 would likely come down to Peterman and Allen. There have been flashes of Allen's obvious talent, including on a 2-yard touchdown to Rod Streater in which the rookie evaded pressure and fired to the back of the end zone, but overall Allen's statistics have lagged behind Peterman's. Allen has completed 18 of 32 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns.

If Allen continues his upward trajectory with a strong showing Sunday, it could convince McDermott to give the rookie the starting job. However, there would be several reasons for McDermott to stick to his long-stated intention of not rushing Allen into action.

McDermott has often pointed to his experience as a young assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles. He watched his mentor, Andy Reid, wait until Week 10 of the 1999 season to start Donovan McNabb after he was chosen No. 2 overall in the draft. McNabb made the Pro Bowl each of his next four seasons and helped the Eagles to the NFC Championship each season from 2001-04.

McDermott might also draw upon more recent history. He seemed to buy into some fervor last November about Peterman, who led the Bills on a late touchdown drive in a blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints. Three days later, McDermott benched Tyrod Taylor and started Peterman against the Los Angeles Chargers. Peterman threw a post-merger NFL record five interceptions in the first half before being benched for the remainder of the 54-24 loss.

There was little choice for McDermott other than to pull the plug on Peterman and return to Taylor. If McDermott started Allen early this season and the results were similarly disastrous, benching Allen would not be a decision to be taken lightly. No first-round quarterback since at least 2007 has recovered from a benching to return as a full-time NFL starter.

McDermott’s mistake with Peterman could serve as a cautionary tale. Allen has only played about three quarters of football this preseason, which is likely why Buffalo is starting him Sunday and continuing to evaluate his readiness to start in the opener.

Turning to Allen out of the gate would be throwing the rookie into the fire, as Buffalo’s schedule includes five road games in their first seven.

If McDermott believes he would be risking too much by starting Allen, giving Peterman the nod to begin the season would make sense. It would be a remarkable turn of events for Peterman, whom McDermott and former general manager Doug Whaley selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft.

McDermott continued to back Peterman, even after his five-pick game, in his June meeting with reporters.

"He's a winner," McDermott said. "I understand what happened [last November]. I acknowledge that. But that doesn't define someone. One game never defines someone. The guy is a winner. You hope over the course of time that will come out, but his whole approach, as Brandon mentioned, is what you want."

It was also clear Sunday that McDermott's high opinion of Peterman has not faded.

"I have great appreciation, and I think our team does as well, for Nate’s mental toughness," he said. "He’s driven to complete and loves to compete. I think there’s a steadiness about Nate that is important at that position, the quarterback position that is, but also is one that teammates can appreciate."