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Requiem for an INT: The Bills’ Impossibly Dire QB Situation

With Josh Allen’s injury and Nathan Peterman’s underwhelming performance, Buffalo is poised to answer the question: How much mediocrity does it take to get to Derek Anderson?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Buffalo Bills, long home to one of the worst QB situations in the league, could be facing an extended stretch without their highly drafted signal-caller.

Rookie Josh Allen, picked seventh overall in April, will miss Sunday’s game against the Colts with an elbow injury—and could be out longer. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Tuesday that sources within the team said the injury is “not considered major,” but that it was a UCL issue, an injury that warrants a DEFCON 1 response in baseball. Allen will reportedly see Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. I’m not a doctor, but this doesn’t seem to bode well for Allen’s season.

A quarterback potentially needing Tommy John surgery might sound bad, but like most things in Buffalo, the situation is even worse than it appears. The Bills rank dead last in every passing category that matters, and their average per-game passing numbers are below average even against box scores from the 1940s. ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported that Bills players may revolt against the coaching staff if the team starts Nathan Peterman again—perhaps the most reasonable locker room issue in the history of locker room issues after Peterman further cemented his interception-laden reputation on Sunday. With the ball at the Bills’ 25-yard line and 94 seconds left in the 13-13 game against the Texans, Peterman had the chance to win in relief of Allen. On his second dropback of the drive, he threw a pick-six that gave the Texans a 20-13 lead.

Peterman had the ball again less than 20 game seconds later (the sneaky-best part about pick-sixes is the quarterback immediately gets the ball back), giving him the chance to drive down the field and undo his mistake. Instead, he threw a second interception and sealed the game for Houston.

Peterman, who lost the starting job to Allen less than three quarters into the season during a Week 1 drubbing against the Ravens, was so bad so quickly in his second chance on Sunday that the coaching staff may have just one choice to avoid a rebellion from players (and fans): Derek Anderson.

You may remember Anderson as the quarterback of the 2007 Cleveland Browns, the only winning Browns season of the past 15 years. More likely, you don’t remember Anderson at all, because he peaked during the second Bush administration and has started four games since 2010. The 35-year-old reportedly deemed by Bills players as their best option has been on the team for a grand total of seven days. Yet the Bills’ quarterback situation is so impossibly bad that players may stage a coup unless the coaches start someone who has been with the team for half as long as Lil Wayne’s new album has been out.

Making the situation even crueler is that Buffalo’s defense has played shockingly well this season. Buffalo allows the second-fewest yards per play in the league and was the seventh-most-efficient defense through Week 5, according to Football Outsiders. Thirty-five-year-old Lorenzo Alexander is the NFL’s no. 1-graded edge defender by Pro Football Focus, and defensive end Jerry Hughes leads NFL edge defenders in quarterback pressures. That effort has kept the Bills close in games and helped shatter a Super Bowl contender in one of the biggest point-spread upsets ever in Week 3. Yet Buffalo’s defensive prowess is being wasted by Allen, who has had a higher yards-per-carry average than yards-per-pass average in half his games this season, and Peterman, who has thrown three interceptions for every one touchdown in his career. Now it will be wasted by Anderson, who is presumably still relying on the names on the back of his teammates’ jerseys to know who is who in the huddle.

(When asked about Buffalo’s situation, resident Ringer Bills fan Andrew Gruttadaro painted a bleak portrait: “I had a dream last night that this trailer was about the Bills,” Gruttadaro wrote via Slack DM. “I’m Steve Carell, and the Bills are meth-addicted Timothée Chalamet.”)

That the Bills have fallen to these depths is all the more incredible considering how many other options they had. They traded away Tyrod Taylor this offseason. They also dealt A.J. McCarron after he suffered a collarbone injury. They passed on Josh Rosen, by all accounts a far more polished pro passer, in favor of Allen in the draft. Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed. Tony Romo on seven hours’ notice would be superior to Derek Anderson on seven days’ notice.

If Buffalo’s dire quarterback situation is beginning to feel like a Clevelandesque tradition, it’s because the quarterbacks the Bills have trotted out this century is a who’s who of who? (Nathan Peterman, Thaddeus Lewis, Jeff Tuel, Brian Brohm) and I forgot about him! (Matt Cassel, Kyle Orton, EJ Manuel, Trent Edwards, J.P. Losman, and Kelly Holcomb).

Most teams are defined by their quarterbacks. For Buffalo, that used to mean irrelevant and mostly forgettable. In 2018, it means the Bills are such an easy punch line that it feels mean to keep hitting them.

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly listed defensive end Jerry Hughes as a linebacker and named tight end Logan Thomas as a Bills quarterback.