ORCHARD PARK, N.Y — Vontae Davis began Sunday as a defensive back for the Buffalo Bills. He ended the day retired from football, stunning his coaches and teammates by calling it a career in the middle of the game.
At halftime, with the Bills trailing 28-6, Davis up and quit. Quit. He wasn’t hurt, he hadn’t been benched by coach Sean McDermott. He just picked up his ball and went home.
“Pulled himself out of the game,” McDermott said. “He communicated to us that he was done.”
Asked for clarification so that there was no mistaking what happened, McDermott was asked if Davis had been benched, or was hurt.
“No,” the coach said. “When I get back in (to his office), we’ll continue to communicate on what exactly is going on there and we’ll go from there. I wish I had a better answer for you right now, I’m just being up front.”
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Davis signed with the Bills as a free agent in March after missing most of the 2017 season with a serious groin injury that required surgery. He was limited for much of the offseason program, and though his work picked up in training camp and the preseason, it was clear that he was struggling.
In fact, he was having such a tough time that McDermott decided to leave him inactive for the season opener in Baltimore. This week, with rookie cornerback Taron Johnson sidelined by a shoulder injury, Davis was active and he actually started the game at right cornerback.
However, he was in coverage when the Chargers scored their first touchdown as Philip Rivers found Mike Williams over the middle, and he was benched for the next series. Thereafter, he was on the field sporadically, and apparently, after going into the locker room at halftime, he opted not to come back out and play.
“This isn’t how I pictured retiring from the NFL,” Davis said in a statement Sunday night.
“…But today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard: I shouldn’t be out there anymore.”
“I think I did lose a little respect for him as a man,” said safety Rafael Bush, a nine-year veteran. “In this game, we’re always taught to fight to the end, and for you to give up on your teammates in the middle of the game, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Naturally, the two team leaders, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and Kyle Williams, were as stunned as everyone else by what transpired.
“I don’t have nothing to say about Vontae, I’m going to give him a little more respect than he showed us today as far as quitting on us in the middle of the game,” Alexander said.
Of course, Alexander did have more to say on Davis’ decision, though.
“Never have seen it, Pop Warner, high school, college, pros, never heard of it, never seen it,” he said. “Completely disrespectful to his teammates. He didn’t say nothing to nobody. You know as much as I know. I found out going out for the second half of the game. They said he’s not coming out, he retired. That’s it.”
Like Alexander, Williams had no clue what was happening when the second half started and Davis wasn’t on the sideline.
“I’ve never been around that, never heard anything like that,” the 13-year veteran said. “I think the only thing that needs to be said is he needs to be where he is right now. That’s not here. Point blank and simple. I don’t know what the thought process was. That’s the hard part about it; you can’t really wrap you mind around it.”
Davis’ decision really created problems for the secondary. There were only four cornerbacks active for the game – him, Tre’Davious White, Lafayette Pitts and Phillip Gaines. And in the second quarter, Gaines suffered an arm injury that knocked him out of the game.
With Davis apparently on Big Tree Road heading home, that left Pitts to play outside corner, and Bush had to move into the nickel spot. There were no backups.
“We just had to make corrections and adjustments and put people in places on the fly,” Bush said. “We actually played pretty well in the second half, we only gave up three points, so we played pretty well given the circumstances that were against us at that time. Those are some of the things that are inexcusable, and as a man, as a player that’s been playing a long time, it’s a pride thing and you don’t quit on your teammates like that.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my nine years of playing. It was a shocker; you got your teammates out there. We’re undermanned already with Phillip’s injury at the end of the half so we’re already down a man. For him to quit like that is unexplainable. You don’t quit on your teammates like that. I’m just at a loss for words.”
The Bills lost 31-20, and they are now 0-2.
“I meant no disrespect to my teammates and coaches,” Davis said in his statement.
“But I hold myself to a standard. Mentally, I always expect myself to play at a high level. But physically, I know today that isn’t possible, and I had an honest moment with myself. While I was on the field, I just didn’t feel right, and I told the coaches, ‘I’m not feeling like myself.’
“I also wondered: Do I want to keep sacrificing?
“And truthfully, I do not because the season is long, and it’s more important for me and my family to walk away healthy than to willfully embrace the warrior mentality and limp away too late.”
Follow Sal Maiorana on Twitter @salmaiorana