Fiesta Bowl drop gave Gabriel Davis a huge spark for his career

Bill receiver Gabriel Davis, who quietly had a stellar rookie season in Buffalo, found his motivation in Arizona, in early 2019.

A key second-half drop in the Fiesta Bowl while playing for UCF provided the spark for his future career.

“He dropped it,” Bert Whigham, a long-time Davis trainer, told Jason Wolf of the Buffalo News. “And he should have caught it. And he calls me after the game, crying. ‘What do I gotta do?’ . . . And I said, ‘You’ve got to outwork everyone.’ And he drove to Disney, where we were, from UCF. An hour each way. During peak traffic times. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for the next five months going into his junior year. And then the whole summer trained with us, too. That’s what it takes, right there. What do I got to do? You’ve got to work. And he did it.”

Davis had 35 catches for 599 yards and seven touchdowns last year, matching the scoring output from Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson. Only Stefon Diggs, with eight, had more receiving touchdowns for the Bills last year.

“Before I dropped that pass, I had caught a touchdown,” Davis told Wolf regarding the Fiesta Bowl fiasco. “When the ball was in the air, I’m like, ‘I’m about to catch this ball, it’s about to be another touchdown, I’m about to put it in these people’s face what kind of player I am.’ And I feel like instead of just focusing on the ball, I was thinking about the end goal. And I let it slip right through. I don’t even think I touched it. It slipped right through my face and between my hands.”

Davis has a new source of motivation. An ankle injury limited him in the AFC Championship, which Buffalo lost to Kansas City. He then tried to watch the Chiefs and the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl — and hated the experience.

“I couldn’t watch it,” Davis said. “My stomach was hurting too bad when I was looking at the screen. I just turned it off. I had to do something else. I tried. At this level, you’re so competitive and you hate to see yourself fall short with the amount of sacrifice and time. . . . And just to be able to get that close and not make it, it hurt all of us really bad and it was hard to watch.”

This year, they’ll try it again. The Bills have the talent to get there. Plenty of other AFC teams do, too, and despite all the effort and work and study and preparation and execution, it ultimately will come down to lucky breaks and bounces, and maybe a bad call or two. Or a good call, if your team is the one the benefits from the blunder.

For Davis, that blunder from two years ago has put him in position to be part of what the Bills are trying to do, and they’ll likely be in the conversation of elite NFL teams for years to come.