ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Rather than continue watching a pedestrian offense muddle through a third consecutive game, Bills coach Sean McDermott sent his team a jolt by making an abrupt change at quarterback.
Tyrod Taylor was benched Wednesday and rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman will make his first career start on Sunday, when Buffalo (5-4) plays at the Los Angeles Chargers (3-6).
McDermott acknowledged taking a “calculated risk” in making the switch at a time when the Bills have a winning record. They sit sixth in the AFC standings, and control their own destiny in a bid to end a 17-season playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.
“This is about becoming better as a football team,” he said. “As a decision maker, you have to be able to or willing to take calculated risks to get to where we’re trying to go. And I’m comfortable doing that.”
As for the Bills record, the first-year coach said his objective isn’t being a winner in November.
“It is and will be for the time that I’m here be about becoming the best team we can possibly become,” McDermott said. “We are made for more than 5-4. And I’ve come here to be more than 5-4.”
The quarterback switch comes after Buffalo’s offense and defense were overmatched in a 47-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints . While the defense allowed 298 yards and six touchdowns rushing, the Taylor-led offense was hardly better.
Taylor was benched after Buffalo produced 99 yards and four first downs on eight drives. In two series, Peterman finished going 7 of 10 for 79 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Nick O’Leary.
McDermott backed Taylor as his starter immediately after the game and again on Monday, before having a change of heart upon waking up on Tuesday.
“I thought about it. Slept on it. And I felt that we needed to move in a different direction at this time,” McDermott said.
Buffalo has lost two straight with Taylor overseeing an offense that ranks 28th in the NFL in yards and 30th in yards passing. Take away the final two drives of each of Buffalo’s past two games, including a 34-21 loss at the New York Jets , and the Bills have produced 10 points, 305 yards, 16 first downs and committed four turnovers on 18 possessions.
McDermott would only say “we’ll see,” when asked if Peterman will remain the starter beyond this weekend, but also acknowledged he’s not going to “send him out there with a leash.”
The switch caught the entire team by surprise.
Peterman was emotional, while noting he’s not proven anything yet.
“It’s a great opportunity, but it’s still all in front of me, and I’ve got to go work to earn it,” he said.
Peterman is more of a prototypical pocket passer than Taylor, which has the potential of making him a better fit in the offensive system installed by first-year coordinator Rick Dennison.
At college, Peterman left Tennessee after two seasons and finished as a two-year starter at Pittsburgh. The Panthers set a school record last year by scoring 532 points, and he finished fourth in the nation in averaging 15.43 yards per completion.
Taylor acknowledged feeling somewhat betrayed, saying “that’s one of the feelings.”
“Obviously disappointed,” Taylor said. “I don’t agree with the decision, but ultimately coach McDermott has a vision for this team, what he feels is best for the team as well as the owner and GM. I have to move forward and continue to be a teammate and a leader that I am in a different role.”
Taylor has a 20-18 record since taking over as the Bills’ starter in 2015.
Taylor has been efficient. He’s thrown 10 touchdowns versus three interceptions this season. He also enjoyed two fourth-quarter comebacks in wins over Atlanta and Tampa Bay .
As for the rest of the team, players were still attempting to get over the shock of being informed the news before practice
“Nothing like this is ever easy,” center Eric Wood said. “But fortunately, or unfortunately, there’s no time to really reflect on it.”
Running back LeSean McCoy wasn’t sure what to expect from Peterman, who hasn’t had extensive playing time since the preseason.
“It could be good or bad, you just never know, that’s why I really can’t give you an honest answer,” McCoy said. “We’re going to support him. We want him to do well. We’ll see if the switch was right.”
The Bills are getting accustomed to sudden changes since McDermott was hired in January.
Buffalo traded starting receiver Sammy Watkins and starting cornerback Ronald Darby in separate deals on the same day in August. Last month, the Bills traded their highest-paid player, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, to Jacksonville in further transforming a roster that now features just 23 holdovers from last year.