It seemed like everyone in Mercedes-Benz Stadium was confused on Sunday.
Everyone, that is, except Tre’Davious White. While fans and even some of the Atlanta Falcons stood around, the Buffalo Bills’ rookie cornerback picked up the football and raced to the end zone early in the third quarter, like he has countless times in practice.
No whistle was ever blown, and White was rewarded for his alertness with a 52-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown – a key play in Buffalo’s 23-17 win over the Falcons.
“To be honest, that’s something that we practice in practice every day,” White said. “If it’s an incomplete pass, we’re taught to scoop and score. Pick the ball up because you never know what’ll happen, and it happened yesterday.”
Replays appeared to show that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had the ball in his hand with his arm moving forward, but after a review the ruling on the field was upheld.
Watching on one of the stadium’s sparkling-new scoreboards, White was convinced he had scored after seeing the replay – the first time he can ever recall taking a fumble back for a touchdown at any level.
“Once I saw Jerry hit the quarterback’s arm and the ball started getting loose, I knew it was a fumble then,” White said.
The play was one example of what the Bills liked about White when he was coming out of LSU – an uncommon level of maturity for a player who is just 22 years old.
“Going back to OTAs and the offseason program, we were all very impressed at his maturity early on,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Monday. “The way he was able to gather information and then take it to the field once we got into OTAs when we could go onto the field, and then be able to execute his assignments as well as he did.
“To see him in training camp and the preseason games, to see that the game wasn’t too big for him early on in our discussion about ‘should we start a rookie, and if we are going to start a rookie, when should we put him in the starting lineup.’ It was evident to us early on that this guy could handle it.”
While it feels like White was penciled into the starting lineup on the night he was drafted in the first round, Frazier said it wasn’t that quick.
“Early on, after we went through a few meetings and just observed how he was handling himself in those meetings, I think maybe some time in May the decision was made,” he said. “We’ve been impressed all along with his maturity, his ability to be able to have a short memory, which you have to have at that position, and the mental toughness that’s necessary to succeed out there. The more plays he makes, the more confidence he’s going to gather.
“We’re really encouraged by his play. There’s a lot more football to be played, but there are signs that he’s going to be a really good player in our league for a long time.”
Another sign of White’s maturity would be how he approached earning a starting job.
“I’ve heard nothing is official until you play the first game,” he said. “I didn’t get too high or too low on me going with the first group until probably the first game. It was a big deal for me, just playing in my first game and being a starter, that was a big deal. Other than that, I didn’t try to make it a big deal.”
White was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month for September, and got off to a great start on the first day of October in Atlanta. The analytics website Pro Football Focus charged White with allowing four catches on eight targets, for just 18 yards – only 2 of which came after the catch. He leads the NFL with eight passes defensed.
“I love his approach. He puts a lot of time in the film room, and the success he’s had is not a mistake,” McDermott said. “He’s wired the right way and that’s why we drafted Tre.”
White's got his standards set high. After he was honored by the NFL last week, he said his goal entering 2017 was to win defensive rookie of the year.
"That’s what you compete for," he said. "You go through the pre-draft process, you train, you want to come in and play. I’m a competitor and I want to be among one of the best to ever play. I put that pressure on myself, and I hold myself to that high standard."
White's play is a big reason why the Bills' pass defense has allowed just one touchdown pass all season, a number that leads the NFL. White credited the safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer for taking the pressure off himself and fellow cornerback E.J. Gaines.
"Those guys played corner and nickel, so they know pretty much how receivers work," White said. "It shows why they’re in the back end. We’ve got two guys that have been battle tested for years in this league and they’re back there behind me and E.J., so we’ve got a lot of room for error, me and E.J. do, because we’ve got two veteran guys back there to kind of cover us up."
White's performance on the field alone would be enough to win over the team's fanbase, but add in his personality and you get a player who will soon be a favorite. Take, for example, his answer about how much time the secondary spends together outside One Bills Drive.
"I think I said this before, Micah Hyde, he’s a rich guy, and he has a nice house that he just got built, so we go over there, we watch a little Thursday Night Football and Monday Night Football games over there," White said. "I think I’m hesitant to go over there again because you’ve got to take your shoes off because he’s a little bougie.
"You can’t wear your shoes in his house, but we spend some time together. I think we’ll be over there tonight. Today’s Monday? Yeah, we’ll be over there tonight. I’ve got to make sure I’ve got some clean socks."
As he spoke, White had a big smile plastered across his face. On the field and off, it's good to be Tre'Davious White right now.