ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Judging the Buffalo Bills' 41-9 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bears solely by its box score would result in more of the same pointing and laughing at Nathan Peterman's three interceptions, which raised his career total to 13 in 133 regular-season and playoff pass attempts.
Peterman has done little to prove he is not overmatched at the NFL level, yet blaming the Bills' offensive ineptitude solely on him or the Bills' other quarterbacks to have started games this season, Josh Allen and Derek Anderson, would be unfair.
"Actually, I'm proud of Nate," said receiver Terrelle Pryor, who caught two passes for 17 yards in his debut for the Bills. "I thought he did a good job. I think he managed it and he hit the guys that were open."
Pryor might be taking his praise of Peterman too far, but Peterman was not the Bills' only problem Sunday. He completed 31 of 49 passes for 189 yards and ran eight times for 46 yards, including a 1-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that ended a streak of 38 consecutive Bills possessions without a touchdown. That streak, which dated to Peterman's last passing touchdown in Week 6 at Houston and included two games with Anderson as the starter, was the NFL's longest since the Arizona Cardinals went 42 possessions in 2012 without scoring a touchdown, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Bills are one of only 13 teams since 1940, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, to have scored eight or fewer touchdowns through their first nine games.
Peterman might be the subject of jokes Monday morning, but any discussion about the bumbling Bills, who dropped to 2-7, should include LeSean McCoy. The once-star rusher has run 24 times for 24 yards in his past three games, often handcuffing the offense by placing it in third-and-long situations its struggling quarterbacks cannot overcome.
The problem was evident from the start of Sunday's game. In the first quarter, McCoy ran for 1 yard on second-and-10, setting up an incompletion by Peterman on third-and-9. Later in the quarter, McCoy was stopped for a loss of 2 yards on a second-and-10 preceding another third-and-long misfire by Peterman.
Those were only two examples from McCoy, who had averaged 3.38 yards per carry on first- and second-down runs entering Sunday's game, ranking him 41st among 49 NFL runners with a qualifying number of carries.
McCoy finished with 10 yards on 10 carries Sunday and left the locker room as reporters entered, avoiding facing questions about his performance in the same way he did the entire preceding week, when he skirted his league-mandated responsibility to speak to reporters.
Peterman, who threw another pick-six Sunday to only strengthen his standing as an NFL punchline, stood at a lectern after the game and answered questions. Pryor, who bobbled one of Peterman's passes that led to an interception, also stood under the lights and took his medicine. McCoy did not.
McCoy was open and honest after his performance in a loss last Monday night to the New England Patriots, but his frustration has apparently peaked -- coincidentally or not -- since he was not traded by last Tuesday's deadline.
Unlike Peterman, whose development is secondary to that of first-round pick Allen, McCoy matters to the Bills' future. General manager Brandon Beane told The Buffalo News last week that McCoy was "definitely" in the team's plans for 2019, the final year of his contract. That decision should be open to scrutiny, as should the Bills' decision not to trade McCoy and continue to collect future assets and salary-cap space as part of their ongoing rebuilding project.
Blaming McCoy's sharply declining production on an obviously deficient offensive line or defenses' lack of respect of the passing game would not be telling the complete story. McCoy has been less able to consistently make defenders miss, a critical quality for a runner who does not often break tackles. Since McCoy joined Buffalo in 2015 through Week 8 of this season, he ranked 65th among 67 players with a qualifying number of carries in averaging 1.37 yards after contact per rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
With less room to run this season because of personnel issues along the Bills' offensive line, the team has been better served by the bruising Chris Ivory, especially in recent weeks. Ivory has rushed 29 times for 151 yards over the past three games, a 5.2-yard average that stands in stark contrast to McCoy's 1.0 average over those three games.
However, Ivory suffered a shoulder injury on a goal-line dive in the fourth quarter of Sunday's blowout loss to the Bears and was later carted to the locker room. That puts his availability in serious doubt, shining an even brighter light on McCoy. There is no heir apparent on the roster; the only two running backs whom the Bills drafted over the past seven seasons, Jonathan Williams and Karlos Williams, are no longer with the team. Marcus Murphy, the only other running back on the roster, is 27 and aging by NFL standards at his position.
It is possible McCoy, who turns 31 next July, rebounds in 2019, his 11th NFL season, with an offensive line that could receive much-needed reinforcements in the offseason. It is also possible that the six-time Pro Bowler's best days are behind him and we are witnessing the startling decline of one of the best runners of his time.