From Jaire Alexander vs. Stefon Diggs to Quay Walker's ejection, chippy play hurt Packers
ORCHARD PARK, New York − There is only one entrance to the field at Highmark Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. Both teams exit from locker rooms that face each other under the stadium, a mere 30-feet from door-to-door. If players from opposing teams head to the field at the same time, they merge in the tunnel, a kaleidoscope of jerseys and personalities and competitive juices meeting in a volatile environment.
That’s where the story of the Green Bay Packers' Sunday night matchup against the Buffalo Bills began. The result was a 27-17 Packers loss, their fourth straight.
As the Packers exited their locker room Sunday night, an hour before kickoff and led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they passed a group of Bills players huddling before running through the blue walls, draped in screaming fans. Rodgers veered left, taking his team around their opponents as the Bills finished their huddle. The two teams took to the field together, causing a bit of confusion for spectators wanting to cheer their team and boo the other.
Then came Jaire Alexander, the Packers All-Pro corner who openly campaigns each week to cover the opponents top receivers. Jogging next to him was Bills All-Pro receiver Stefon Diggs, stepping sideways so he could stay in Alexander’s face. The latter yapped at Diggs a few times but it was Diggs who stayed in the corner’s bubble, asking if Alexander knew who he was.
BOX SCOREBills 27, Packers 17
The two have had a rivalry since Diggs was with the Minnesota Vikings, playing the Packers twice a year.
“I don’t know who the (expletive) started it,” Diggs told reporters after the game of his rivalry with Alexander. “I finished it.”
Alexander, unsurprisingly, felt the same: "I don't (know) either. I finished it.”
In reality, Diggs finished with six receptions for 108 yards a touchdown. Spanning his time at Minnesota and now with Buffalo, Diggs has scored a touchdown in eight straight games against the Packers. Alexander, who was on Diggs at times but on Gabe Davis the majority of the time (14 of 23 routes, according to Next Gen Stats), finished with a tackle, a touchdown-saving interception while on Davis and four passes defended. Alexander did not let Davis (two receptions, 35 yards) make a reception when he was in coverage. In other words, both played at the top of their games under the brightest lights
"I mean, I always thought he was a decent receiver,” Alexander said of Diggs after the game. “Not much I can say about him.”
When Alexander was on Diggs for a few plays, they stayed on top of each other. At one point, when Alexander broke up a pass on Diggs, the corner mimicked sheathing a sword as if in battle. It epitomized the game: While the Diggs and Alexander rivalry may not have been center stage, it certainly set the tone for what became a chippy, aggressive game that was begging for a fight. The opportunity arose a few times, before teammates stepped in to prevent a scuffle.
“For the most part, most of the game was real chippy,” defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. “Just all part of the game. So, you know, our competitive nature.”
The Packers finished with eight penalties for 58 total yards. It led to more moments of taking one step forward and two back than the Packers could overcome.
Rasul Douglas, who finished with a team-leading five tackles, a quarterback hurry, a sack and an interception, said at times officials can assume the worst in a harmless situation.
“That might be your brother over there, they don’t know,” Douglas said. “They was talking. I think people like overhype it. It’ll be regular conversation but refs don’t know you know a player, or y’all train in the offseason, they just come in there rah-rahing, throwing everybody, and it’s like ‘bro, ain’t nobody talking about nothing in here.’”
Quay Walker gets ejected from the game
But for the Packers on Sunday night, that tension led to a game-defining moment.
Leading 14-7 and starting their second drive of the second quarter, the Bills faced a second-and-6 from midfield. Running back James Cook took a handoff off the left tackle, cut toward the sideline and was run out of bounds by Packers rookie middle linebacker Quay Walker. The two played together at Georgia.
Walker felt a pair of hands on him, not realizing it was Bills practice squad tight end Zach Davidson trying to keep the linebacker from falling farther. Walker, a normally even-keeled person, turned and pushed back.
Originally handed a 15-yard penalty, officials reviewed the play and ejected Walker from the game. Before halftime, the Packers also would lose middle linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who calls the plays on the defense, to injury.
“As I was getting up, I felt somebody push me from behind,” Walker said. "And I probably misinterpreted on what it was. I just felt the push and I’m on their sidelines. Feelings going, and I’m very hyped and everything like that. And I just reacted out of emotion. Right away, soon as I did that, I regretted it. Something I’m gonna have to live with, I’m gonna have to face and I’m willing to do so. I apologize to the guy I did push.
“I hate that I did it cause people that don’t know me are gonna assume I’m a bad guy … I’m wrong for what I did … sometimes my emotions can lead me to do things that after I do them, I regret. I regret I did it.”
Walker was visibly emotional in the postgame locker room, wiping away tears as he spoke with media. Just shy of four minutes into his interview, Walker was asked about the emotions he was feeling. It was one more question than he was willing to answer and quickly excused himself and exited the locker room.
“Like I told him on the field, it’s always the second guy and you gotta keep your poise and that’s something we talk about and we stress all the time,” coach Matt LaFleur said after the game. “We show clips of guys around the league losing their mind. And it’s an unfortunate lesson that he’s gotta learn and I hope it’s a good reminder for everybody on our football team 'cause that’s the stuff I have zero tolerance for. Mistakes are gonna happen in this game, but losing your cool, losing your poise, putting the team in jeopardy, we’ve got no tolerance for that.”
LaFleur’s message to Walker may be pointed, but it will also be his message to the entire team. Show fight, show heart and share a tunnel with the opposing team. But right now, at 3-5, the Green Bay Packers do not have the luxury of playing a dangerous chippy game.
Said LaFleur, “We were getting killed with penalties. It’s taking points off the board. It’s extending drives. When it gets chippy, keep your poise. We can’t be losing players to a personal foul, getting in a shoving match on the sidelines. So that was disappointing.”