Almost exactly a year ago, the future seemed bright for Nathan Peterman. On November 15, 2017, the Bills announced that they would give their rookie quarterback out of Pittsburgh his first career NFL start. Peterman had come on in mop-up duty the week prior, during a 47-10 loss to the Saints. In his first professional action, he instantly looked like a massive improvement over incumbent Buffalo starter Tyrod Taylor: Peterman finished 7-of-10 passing for 79 yards and a touchdown. Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin, recently acquired via trade, told the press afterward he was so impressed that he couldn’t believe it was Peterman’s first NFL game. There was so much poise and talent. Perhaps this was the beginning of a beautiful new connection between a star wideout and soon-to-be star QB?
Fast-forward 12 months. After throwing that touchdown in garbage time against the Saints, Peterman went on to tally 10 interceptions over his next 72 pass attempts. At this point last year, the Bills were in the middle of a playoff race, but were so high on Peterman’s potential that they benched the franchise’s first Pro Bowl quarterback since Drew Bledsoe to find out what the kid could do. Now the Bills are one of the laughingstocks of the league, and are so low on Peterman’s potential that they just cut him to retain Matt Barkley, a proven mediocre quarterback who was signed off the street two weeks ago.
Peterman is not the worst statistical quarterback of all time. It used to be somewhat common for players to throw a dozen or so interceptions without a tossing a touchdown—but that was in the 1940s, when the forward pass was all but considered a trick play, and passing wasn’t an act primarily performed by quarterbacks. (All-Pro running back and future Supreme Court justice Byron “Whizzer” White registered 12 interceptions and no touchdowns for the 1940 Detroit Lions. Justice Peterman, here we come.) Now we’re in the greatest passing era in football history. The statistics of bad passers in 2018 look like the statistics of average passers just 15 years ago. And then there’s Peterman, in a class all his own. He’s perfected the art of throwing interceptions.
Sadly, now that Peterman has been released, I have to assume that his pick-throwing days are over. It seems unlikely that another franchise will sign him. Highly drafted QBs like Paxton Lynch remain free agents, while Peterman was never considered a top-tier prospect. (He did, however, get the Jon Gruden seal of approval.) Plus, Peterman has spent the better part of 365 days cementing his status as one of the worst quarterbacks to play in the league this millennium. He may never throw another NFL pass.
So let us cherish what we had. Peterman ends his Bills tenure having thrown three touchdown passes and three interceptions for touchdowns. He threw 13 interceptions on just 133 attempts, counting playoffs, a remarkable 9.8 percent clip. This season, 14 of the league’s 32 starters boast passer ratings of at least 100; Peterman leaves the Bills with a rating of 30.7.
This all added up to make Peterman the NFL’s lone must-watch player. I simply had to turn on the Bills game every time a poor coaching decision or rash of injuries prompted the team to insert Peterman under center. The league’s glut of quality quarterbacks reminds me of what Leo Tolstoy said on a particularly philosophical episode of ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. “Listen, coach,” the Russian novelist shouted over Mike Ditka. “All good QBs are alike. Every crappy quarterback is a disaster in his own way.”
Peterman’s Buffalo stint was one of a kind. Here’s a ranking of the 13 picks he threw over a year in which he became a legend for all the wrong reasons.
Not Really His Fault
13. Pick-Six by Korey Toomer (Week 11, 2017 Season)
Let’s start with the first interception of Peterman’s career. Just three minutes into his debut NFL start, Peterman threw a pass that deflected off the hands of Bills fullback Patrick DiMarco and into the hands of Chargers linebacker Toomer, who returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. At the time, this seemed like an unfortunate circumstance for a rookie trying to get his career off the ground. Over the past year, we’ve learned that Peterman has a special way of making unfortunate circumstances come to him.
12. Picked Off by Adrian Amos (Week 9, 2018 Season)
If you bet on Nathan Peterman to throw an interception, you’re in luck pic.twitter.com/6SgTyI3V48— MyBookie Sportsbook (@betmybookie) November 4, 2018
This pass hit Buffalo receiver Terrelle Pryor directly in the hands. Pryor decided to slap the ball into the air after he was hit, and Amos was right there to reel it in. Pryor is a former college quarterback who learned how to continue playing an active role in creating interceptions by transitioning to receiver. Perhaps there’s an NFL future for Peterman, after all.
11. Pick-Six by Leonard Floyd (Week 9, 2018 Season)
Peterman made a bad throw here: He delivered an off-target ball to a well-covered Zay Jones at the line of scrimmage. In the best-case scenario, this pass would have fallen incomplete, or maybe been caught for a minimal gain. But Peterman never experiences the best-case scenario. This ball bounced into the air and to Floyd, who ran it 19 yards for a touchdown.
Run-of-the-Mill Bad Passes
10. Picked Off by Kyle Fuller (Week 9, 2018 Season)
Peterman was doomed heading into Buffalo’s November matchup against the Bears, who lead the league in interceptions. While his intended target, Benjamin, stood no chance at corralling this pass, it’s pretty impressive that Chicago’s Fuller scooped it up off his shoelaces.
9. Picked Off by Brandon Carr (Week 1, 2018 Season)
The Bills decided that Peterman should be their starting quarterback entering this fall. In Week 1 against the Ravens, he went 5-for-18 passing with two interceptions and a 0.0 rating, forcing the Buffalo coaches to insert 2018 first-round draft pick Josh Allen way earlier than anticipated.
Here’s one of those two picks. Benjamin’s job is to catch contested passes. Unfortunately, he seems to hate trying to catch contested passes. That said, it takes a special quarterback to throw a slant to a 6-foot-5 wideout and miss him by as much as Peterman did here.
8. Picked Off by Jalen Ramsey (Wild-Card Round, 2017 Season)
Never forget that the Bills made the playoffs last season! Not only that, but never forget that Peterman actually got to play in the playoffs when Taylor went out with a concussion. It was Peterman who put an end to the most successful Buffalo season this millennium by throwing an interception.
7. Picked Off by Tre Boston (Week 11, 2017 Season)
This was an awful pass, flipped downfield to nobody in particular. I’m not labeling it a disaster, though, because Peterman was in a genuinely awful situation: He was allotted about 2.4 seconds in the pocket before Joey Bosa obliterated him. This play came on a third-and-10, and Peterman taking a sack wouldn’t have been significantly worse than his making this terrible pass. The truly bad decision was letting a rookie drafted in the fifth round make his first start against one of the scariest pass rushes in the league.
Oh, and just so everybody is on the same page: It was clear this was a really, really, really bad idea at the time.
6. Picked Off by Casey Hayward (Week 11, 2017 Season)
Why does Peterman think he’s going to complete all of these short, delayed floaters to the outside? By my count, three of Peterman’s 13 picks came on these types of routes. Hayward should’ve had a pick-six here, but as he streaked toward the end zone, he got tripped up by the feet of Deonte Thompson—the intended Bills receiver turned accidental tackler.
5. Picked Off by Trevor Williams (Week 11, 2017 Season)
I had to upload this video myself, because most of Peterman’s interceptions from his debut start against the Chargers were not considered worthy of their own YouTube videos. They were just lumped into larger “Nathan Peterman threw five interceptions in one half” compilations.
The generous thing to do with this pick would be to assume that there was some sort of miscommunication between Peterman and Thompson. The QB was probably flustered, having thrown four interceptions in a couple of hours, and besides, he was only a rookie. But do we really know that this wasn’t just a badly missed pass?
4. Picked Off by Casey Hayward Again (Week 11, 2017 Season)
I’ve watched this play a dozen or so times, and I still can’t figure out which Bills receiver Peterman’s pass was intended for. The ball floated well over the head and to the right of Andre Holmes, whose route brought him across the middle of the field. But it was well short and to the left of Brandon Tate, who was running a vertical route downfield. Tate looked stunned when he peered over his shoulder and realized that this pass was being intercepted 10 yards shy of him. This pass was so far away from Peterman’s receivers that Hayward fell down, rolled, and still had enough time to get back up and start running before any Buffalo players could touch him.
My best guess is that Peterman was supposed to hit Tate on a post route, but was forced to throw earlier than expected to avoid becoming the meat in a tasty Bosa and Melvin Ingram sandwich. Of course, we’ll never know for certain, just like we’ll never know if Peterman screamed out a point value in hopes of bringing the classic schoolyard game “500” to a professional level.
3. Picked Off by Kareem Jackson (Week 6, 2018 Season)
There is a series of events I’ve decided to call The Peterman Cycle. Bad quarterbacks throw pick-sixes. Pick-sixes give the opposing team points, putting teams such as Peterman’s in big deficits. Big deficits often require bad quarterbacks to throw more. Bad quarterbacks who are required to throw more face defenses that are prepared to defend the pass, and bad throws against prepared defenses are often picked off. The cycle continues.
This brings us to Peterman’s second interception in a span of six plays against the Texans in October. Peterman threw a pick-six in a 13-13 game with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, giving Houston a seven-point lead. Instead of trying to take the Bills on a game-winning drive, Peterman set out to lead a game-tying drive. Desperate to make a play on a critical third-and-6 with the clock running, Peterman scrambled out of the pocket, decided that a checkdown to running back LeSean McCoy was open, and hurled the ball across his body while sprinting. A good QB doesn’t attempt this pass: The Bills had no timeouts and McCoy was in the middle of the field. Peterman not only attempted it, but sailed a deflected throw well over McCoy’s head for an easy interception.
2. Picked Off by Tony Jefferson (Week 1, 2018 Season)
Benjamin is tall. As mentioned above, he is 6-foot-5. Peterman threw this pass about four feet over Benjamin’s head, comfortably into the arms of a safety playing center field. Jefferson doesn’t even have to move as the pass sails over Peterman’s massive target and straight into his arms.
If Peterman were in charge of NASA, there would be a ton of astronauts just floating through space for eternity. (Or until their space probes were intercepted by the gravity of other planets.)
1. Pick-Six by Johnathan Joseph (Week 6, 2018 Season)
Remember Peterman’s pick-six versus the Texans that I mentioned earlier? Well, here it is! After Bills rookie quarterback Allen went out with an injury, Peterman came into a tight contest and had an opportunity to lead a game-winning drive. He did, kind of—just not for the Bills.
On this throw, Peterman locked eyes with Benjamin, letting everybody in NRG Stadium know that he was about to risk it all for a 6-yard pass to the outside. He never looked at any other Buffalo receivers. Joseph was already breaking on the route when Peterman wound up to pass, and the pick-six was so simple that Joseph began celebrating 20 yards from the end zone.
Even the NFL’s best players couldn’t match Peterman’s level of impact: Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers give their teams good chances of winning, but neither can single-handedly swing a game like Peterman. A year ago, some thought he had the potential for greatness, and in a strange way, he did: No one has ever been greater at throwing interceptions. As Peterman found out time and again, things don’t always reach their intended target.