ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- At 2-6, the Buffalo Bills are off to their worst start to a season since 2010. Their 87 points are the fewest any Bills team has scored through eight games in the 59-year history of the franchise. They have been outscored by 113 points, a more lopsided start than any season except 1971.
Second-year coach Sean McDermott insisted Tuesday his team's arrow continued to point up.
"I know we're getting it turned in the right direction," he said. "We have a vision for this football team -- [general manager] Brandon [Beane] and myself. ... Sometimes we're not getting the results necessarily on the scoreboard, and that's frustrating. I know it's frustrating for our fan base. But I know we're doing things that are right, that are going to lead us to that down the road. We've just got to continue to work at it, make smart decisions for our football team, continue to build this thing and develop our young players."
McDermott later invited a reporter to join him for his 3:30 a.m. wake-up call, saying of his urgency to win, "Spend a day with me. You'll know. You'll see it."
McDermott undoubtedly has his club's best interests in mind in attempting to instill a work ethic and "winning mindset" in his players. But 24 games into his tenure as coach, a motto that one of McDermott's predecessors, Doug Marrone, had painted in huge letters on the wall of the practice field house might apply: "Don't confuse effort with results."
Although McDermott should be applauded for his work in guiding a depleted roster to overachieve and finish with a 9-7 record last season, earning the franchise's first playoff berth in 18 seasons, the momentum of the rebuild in Buffalo has slowed this season.
At times, it is difficult to decipher between acceptable growing pains from what McDermott calls a young team and what would be considered more of the same meandering that Buffalo experienced in other middling -- or worse -- seasons under previous regimes.
The primary source of the questions is at quarterback, where a series of personnel decisions and injuries has led to chaos. Nathan Peterman, who has been benched before the end of two of his previous three starts, is expected to make his fourth career start Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Overall, he has thrown 10 interceptions on 84 career pass attempts in the regular season and postseason.
Peterman is the Bills' last quarterback standing after injuries to Derek Anderson, who suffered a concussion in the closing minutes of a loss Monday night to the New England Patriots, and Josh Allen, who sprained his elbow Oct. 14 and has already been ruled out this week. Bad luck has played a role in the situation at quarterback, but so has a bizarre loyalty to Peterman, a deficient offensive line and, before Anderson, a lack of a veteran backstop behind Allen and Peterman.
A circus at quarterback could not possibly have been part of McDermott and Beane's roadmap to building a long-term contender, and other than Allen under center, the Bills are doing little to develop young talent across their moribund offense. A pair of 2017 second-round picks -- left tackle Dion Dawkins and wide receiver Zay Jones -- could be considered the only long-term building blocks who are currently receiving significant playing time.
The rest of the offense -- particularly running backs LeSean McCoy, tight end Charles Clay and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin -- has little to no future in Buffalo. Trade value for Benjamin and Clay might have been limited, but ESPN's Jeff Darlington reported that several teams reached out to Buffalo about McCoy but were rebuffed, a decision that should be open to scrutiny.
Benjamin's brief tenure in Buffalo will likely end quietly in the upcoming final eight games of his contract, limited by his own flaws as a receiver and by his quarterbacks. McCoy, who ranks 28th in yards per carry among 32 NFL running backs with at least 200 carries since the start of last season, and Clay, who has not scored a touchdown since Week 3 of last season, both are signed through 2019 at inflated salaries that should put them under consideration to be released or traded next offseason.
Beane spent much of his first year in Buffalo dumping salary and stockpiling draft picks, many of which were used in April trades to acquire first-round picks Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Although Beane stayed true to whatever value he placed on McCoy and others, he came away from Tuesday's deadline with no additional draft picks or salary-cap space.
Instead, the Bills are left to salvage whatever they can from the stale pieces to their broken offense. The Bills have a 0.1 percent chance to make the playoffs this season, according to ESPN's Football Power Index, offering little upside to keeping the veterans they retained at the trade deadline. Perhaps those players will help Allen's development when he returns from his injury, but their impact was unimpressive when Allen was healthy.
The Bills have a trio of rookie wide receivers in Ray-Ray McCloud, Cam Phillips and Robert Foster (on the practice squad) who could receive developmental playing time late this season, but their path could be blocked by the signing Tuesday of 29-year-old receiver Terrelle Pryor.
Buffalo's defense is in considerably better shape, anchored by two safeties in their prime (Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer), their tremendous second-year cornerback Tre'Davious White and two promising young linebackers, Edmunds and Matt Milano. That group gave Patriots quarterback Tom Brady headaches Monday night.
However, past Bills defenses -- such as Jim Schwartz's superb 2014 unit -- have taken shape as the potential foundations of winning teams, only to be washed away by problems on the other side of the ball.