Professional football players often say that their bodies tell them when it’s time to retire. For Buffalo Bills cornerback Vontae Davis, that realization happened at halftime during the team’s Sunday matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Davis stunned teammates, coaches, and fans by abruptly resigning from the N.F.L., when the Bills were down 28-6 in what ended up being a 31-20 loss against the Chargers. The cornerback, who just turned 30 in May and was in his tenth season of N.F.L. football, said in a Twitter statement that he had played through several injuries in his career, but that in Sunday’s game, “reality hit [him] fast and hard,” making him realize that he “shouldn’t be out there anymore.”
Davis, who spent his college years playing at the University of Illinois, forwent his senior season to become eligible for the 2009 N.F.L. draft, during which he was selected in the first round by the Miami Dolphins. He spent three years with the Dolphins and was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, before the regular season began. After playing for six years in Indianapolis, Davis signed a one-year contract with the Buffalo Bills. During his time in the N.F.L., the cornerback boasted an impressive 396 tackles and 22 interceptions; he also competed in two Pro Bowls.
Despite Davis’s impressive career as a professional, his legacy will forever be tarnished by his actions on Sunday. “I don’t have nothing to say about Vontae. I’ll give him a little bit more respect than he showed us today as far as quitting,” Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander expressed postgame. Alexander then added, “He didn’t say nothing to nobody. You know as much as I know. I found out going into the second half of the game. They said, he’s not coming out. He retired.”
Other players, as well as the Bills coaching staff, shared a similar attitude.
Head Coach Sean McDermott said, “He pulled himself out of the game. He communicated to us that he was done.”
“I think I did lose a little respect for him as a man,” said Bills safety Rafael Bush, who has spent nine years in the N.F.L. “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.”
Davis’s correspondence with his team and the N.F.L. did not end with his mid-game retirement, however. He did issue an official statement explaining part of his decision, posted on the N.F.L.’s official Twitter.
Davis began his statement with “This isn’t how I pictured retiring from the N.F.L. … I mean no disrespect to my teammates and coaches. 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”
The former cornerback also expressed his desire to stay healthy not just for himself, but for his family.
“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.”
Sunday’s matchup against the Chargers was Davis’s first regular-season game with the Buffalo Bills. Davis was benched in favor of Phillip Gaines, who started in the Bills’ week one 41-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. On Sunday, Gaines played nickel cornerback after Bills rookie Taron Johnson suffered an injury in the season opener against the Ravens, leaving room for Davis to step in. But after playing for a half, Davis decided his time was up, leading to his premature retirement in the middle of the game.
With Davis’s abrupt departure, the Bills’s coaching staff is now forced to think quickly about how to replenish team morale and chemistry. Coach McDermott, speaking about how he plans to address Davis’ retirement going forward, said, “When I get back in here, we’ll continue to communicate on what exactly is going on there, and we’ll go from there.”
In Sunday’s game, McDermott took over play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier following Davis’s departure.
“I just felt we needed a spark,” the head coach expressed. “That’s my background. Coach Frazier does a really good job, as well as the defensive staff. I just felt like we needed a spark.”
Coach McDermott additionally said that he would discuss and think about both the play-calling decision and “a lot of other things,” following the loss of both the game and Davis.
McDermott’s intervention seemed to help the team out in the second half. While the Chargers gained 284 yards in the first half, the most Buffalo has ever allowed before halftime since 2013, the Bills rallied, and with McDermott behind the plays, they allowed only three points in the second half.
“I didn’t change all that much, honestly,” McDermott said. “I thought the defense played with a lot of energy in the second half. I’ll give the players credit: They battled. It was almost the tale of two halves. I thought we battled and played some Buffalo Bill football at times in the second half, at times. Not enough, still. But in the first half, no way was that good enough.”
The next few weeks will be rough for the Bills. They just lost an important teammate, and regardless of how well the coaches motivate their players, the recent event will take a toll on team spirit. This week, the 0-2-0 Bills will try their luck against the 1-0-1 Minnesota Vikings. Fortunately for the Bills, it will be another Sunday matchup, giving the team some time to recoup their morale and sort out their defensive strategy. Meanwhile, Vontae Davis will be sitting pretty, watching the game not from the sideline, but from his living room couch.