CARSON, Calif. -- After Sean McDermott dropped the bombshell last Wednesday that he had benched starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor amid a two-game losing streak, the Buffalo Bills' first-year coach defended the decision by saying, "We are made for more than 5-4, and I've come here to be more than 5-4."
McDermott's "calculated risk" to start Nathan Peterman backfired in a spectacular way when the rookie fifth-round pick tossed five interceptions before being mercifully yanked at halftime of the Bills' 54-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Peterman was not pulled too soon to rewrite the record books; his five picks were the most by any quarterback in a first half since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Now McDermott's problem is not whether the Bills are made for more than the 5-5 record they own but whether they are good enough to be better than 5-11 by season's end.
Buffalo has been outscored 135-55 during its three-game losing streak. That is the most points allowed over three games in franchise history and tied for the fourth most allowed by any team over a three-game span since the merger.
After the Bills were dismantled by the New York Jets 34-21 in Week 9, McDermott's message was that his team was still 5-3 and could not expect to be perfect each game. Then, when the Saints trampled the well-rested Bills 47-10, McDermott pointed to a 5-4 record and the inside track to a playoff berth.
McDermott could not dip back into that well on Sunday, when the Chargers scored 37 points in the first half, the most allowed by Buffalo before halftime in 40 years. The Bills not only lost their winning record, but their defeat, combined with the Baltimore Ravens' shutout win against Green Bay, flipped Buffalo out of a projected wild-card berth.
Even so, McDermott tried to put his team's staggering slide in perspective. He told reporters Sunday that "all teams go through this," even though the Bills' failures of the past three weeks have been of historic proportion.
The Bills' remarkable decline since Halloween only seems to be accelerating, and to pin it all on Taylor or Peterman would be missing a field full of red flags. This team's issues run much deeper than quarterback.
It is true turnovers have been a massive problem. Six interceptions, two fumbles and two strip-sacks have torn a hole in what was a league-leading plus-14 turnover margin through Week 8.
But no matter how opposing offenses have gained possession, the Bills' defense has seemed helpless. From early in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Jets until late in the third quarter of Sunday's loss to the Chargers, Buffalo did not force a single punt.
The Jets, Saints and Chargers combined for 22 consecutive possessions over 113 minutes, 9 seconds of game action without punting back to the Bills. Instead, those three teams scored 10 touchdowns, converted seven field goals, missed one field goal, fumbled once and took a knee three times.
Over the past three games, the Bills have allowed an average of 212 rushing yards, easily an NFL worst. The Bills hoped Peterman would help the offense find more of a rhythm through its short passing game, helping the defense stay fresh and fare better against the run, but the opposite happened: Peterman's reckless passing led to five interceptions and a tired defense trying to clean up the quarterback's mess.
Three weeks ago, McDermott seemed to have the magic touch. He was a candidate for coach of the year, and his relentless talk about the "process" behind winning had fans thinking about another P-word: playoffs.
Now, the only P-word on fans' minds is plummet, which is exactly what the Bills are doing. How far down will they go?