Pitoniak: White saves the day on a day when the Bills defense gets carved up

Bills emerge from bye week with resolve and mettle

ORCHARD PARK -                 Forget Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Mike Evans. Bills rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White has met an opponent much more difficult to handle than those freakishly talented receivers: Himself. 

                Never mind that White had 11 pass breakups through five games or that he had won National Football League Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for September. And never mind that he saved the day Sunday, forcing and recovering a fumble that set up Stephen Hauschka’s 30-yard field goal with 18 seconds remaining to ice a 30-27 victory against the Tampa Bay Bucs.

                When reporters approached him at his locker following the Bills fourth victory in six games, White immediately dismissed his late-game heroics and instead focused on the touchdown reception Evans made against him that put the Bucs up by seven with 3:14 to go.

                “I almost cost us the game again,’’ he said, shaking his head in disgust. “Gave up another touchdown. It if weren’t for the offense we would have lost because of me again.”

                A reporter mentioned that the TD toss by Jameis Winston to Evans was a heck of a play by both quarterback and receiver. Even Darrelle Revis in his prime would have had problems defending that one. But White was having none of it.

                “They catch the ball, it’s bad coverage no matter how great of position you’re in,’’ the Bills first-round draft pick said. “He made a great throw that not many QBs in this league can make. I was there, but he made the throw, so it was bad coverage and almost cost the team again.”

                Fortunately, when he returned to the field following that score, White had erased it from his mind. His laser focus was on the present, not the past. There was no time for ruminating or sulking. The game was knotted at 27, but the Bucs had the ball, three timeouts and two minutes and 28 seconds to march down the field against a Bills secondary that had been shredded by Winston.

                On Tampa’s first play from its 25, Winston threw a short pass in the right flat to Adam Humphries. White bore in on the receiver and delivered a punch to the pigskin that would have sent a heavyweight boxing champion sprawling to the canvass. The ball flew out, and before anyone else could react, White pounced on it. First down Bills at the Bucs 33-yard-line. Six snaps later, Hauschka split the uprights, and following a Tampa desperation play featuring eight laterals, Buffalo had the win.

                White had come up with a bounce-back, game-changing play – the kind of opportunistic play that saved a game and perhaps indicates that after 17 years of bad luck the breaks may finally be going the Bills way. Don’t get him wrong. Despite the self-flagellation, White was thankful for the win. “It doesn’t matter how you get it,’’ he said. “It matters that you get it because it’s hard to win games in this league.”

                But you got the sense that this perfectionist wanted to head to the film room rather than a victory party with family and friends after this one. There were mistakes to correct for a defense that had carried this team the first five games before yielding 384 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air vs. Winston and his corps of talented receivers.

                “Now, we got to bounce back and get ready for a tough, explosive (Oakland) Raiders team (next Sunday at New Era Field),” he said.

                White admits this is the way he’s always been. It’s what enabled him to become an All-America at LSU and a first-round pick with the Bills.

                “I’ve always been my own worst critic,’’ he said. “Whenever I don’t play a game up to my standards, I’m going to be hard on myself, man. I don’t settle for less. I don’t settle for moral victories. I want to be the best and I want to try to play a perfect game, even though that’s probably not possible.”

                His teammates, especially the veteran ones, love White’s competitiveness and his drive to be the best.

                “He’s a throw-back player, in the sense that a lot of guys come into the league these days and have a pampered mentality, that ‘I’ve made it’ mentality,’’ said Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, an 11-year veteran. “He’s the opposite of that. He’s very blue-collar, a hard-worker … And he’s always competing, never giving up, even after those rare occasions when he’s been beaten on a play. I have a lot of respect for him. He keeps that attitude and he could become one of the great ones.”

                White was so upset with himself after giving up two receptions for more than 100 yards to Green in a loss to Cincinnati two weeks ago that he left the locker room in tears. Never mind that after losing those two battles to one of the NFL’s best, he broke up three passes thrown Green’s way.

                “He bounced back in that game, and he bounced back in this one, too,’’ said Bills safety Micah Hyde. “That’s the mind-set you have to have. He made a play today that turned the game around. Who knows what happens if he doesn’t force and recover that fumble? I’m going to pull him aside and remind him of that.”

                Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is in his seventh season as a Bills analyst for WROC-TV and in his 33rd season covering the team.


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