NFL Wire News

Twitter oils Rust Belt rivalry between Bills, Browns


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills certainly have rivalries established with AFC East foes New England, Miami and the New York Jets, but there is also noticeable ferocity when they play their Lake Erie neighbors, the Cleveland Browns.

Because the cities share blue-collar values and have similar unbridled passion for their football teams, the games against each other have some added meaning because there is Rust Belt pride at stake. The city of Buffalo often is the brunt of jokes, and Cleveland isn’t far behind.

Or maybe the other way around, depending on where you hear about this.

Now Sunday’s game at Ralph Wilson Stadium has even more juice after Fred Jackson and Aaron Williams called out Browns safety Donte Whitner, a former Bill, for some spiteful comments he made on Twitter during the summer.

For some reason, Whitner — the Bills’ first-round draft pick in 2006 — decided to do some Twitter trolling of Bills fans.

With the team’s ownership situation still in flux at the time and Bills fans fearing that the team could be moved to Toronto with rock star Bon Jovi serving as the face of a Toronto ownership group, Whitner tweeted: “Can you say Toronto Bills?!?!?!?!” He then followed that with, “Wonder how you Bills fans gonna feel when the team is moved? LOL.”

The night he sent those tweets, he was confronted on Twitter by Bills legend Darryl Talley, and the two engaged in a spirited, sometimes expletive-filled back-and-forth. One of the most entertaining Talley offerings was, “Funny thing. If I saw u I wouldn’t know u to fall over u. 25 years later people still recognize me.” Whitner actually challenged Talley to a boxing match, to which Talley laughed.

When asked about Whitner on Wednesday, Jackson, who normally plays the role of Switzerland when it comes to controversy, fired away with guns blazing.

“That’s just him being him; Donte is a guy that likes to ruffle feathers,” Jackson said. “He found any way he could to try and ruffle Buffalo’s feathers, knowing he had to come up to us (to play Sunday). That’s just him doing what he does, but at the same time, I mean, it’s annoying. It’s just dumb for him to do and talk about people like that and talk about the city of Buffalo like that. But at the same time, you’ve just got to take it with a grain of salt and say it’s just some dude that’s being an idiot about some stuff.”

Weeks before the Toronto tweets, Whitner also took some shots at Bills rookie receiver Sammy Watkins. The Bills selected Watkins with the No. 4 overall pick thanks to a trade with the Browns. Weeks after the draft, Watkins made a comment about looking forward to playing against the Browns, a team that might have picked Watkins. Whitner felt that disrespected the Browns, and he tweeted, “Be quiet, Sammy. Trust me!”

Veteran Bills safety Williams caught wind of that, and he leapt to the rookie’s defense.

“I tried to step in,” Williams said. “I don’t know why he’d fire on a rookie. Just having my teammate’s back and letting him know, at the time, welcome to the team and we have your back, no matter what.”

Williams, who joined the Bills as a second-round draft pick the year Whitner left to join the 49ers, knows that Whitner caught some flak from Bills fans because he never really lived up to being the No. 8 overall pick in 2006, and that may have fueled his attacks on Watkins and the fans.

“People here don’t like Donte, and Donte don’t like people here for, once again, for whatever reason,” Williams said. “My concern is not with that or how he feels about Sammy. My concern is how to stop (Josh) Gordon and the rest of the receivers and Jordan (Cameron) and how to slow down their quarterback. I’m gonna let Sammy take care of Donte.”

Interestingly, while Williams said the Bills need to keep their focus on the Browns because this is an important game for two teams that are in the playoff race, Whitner’s responses Wednesday indicated that he believes he has disrupted the Bills’ concentration.

“If they’re over there talking about this, maybe we are in their heads; maybe I’m in their heads. Maybe,” Whitner said. “The goal is to get them talking about things other than football, and I guess that’s what they’re doing.”

When asked to address Jackson’s comments, Whitner said, “I will shake his hand. I don’t really care about words and personal feelings and things like that.”

Beyond the Twitter spats, Browns coach Mike Pettine is returning to Buffalo to play against a Bills defense that is one of the best in the league, a defense that he helped lay the foundation for in 2013, his only season as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here in this chair if it wasn’t for that group,” he said of the Bills’ defense. “It’ll be healthy competition. I’m going to see a lot of those guys before the game and look them in the eye and wish them well, and I’m sure they’ll do the same to me. We’re going to go out and compete against each other and, after the game, we’ll shake hands and off we go. I thoroughly enjoyed the year I was there. It was tough to leave that group.”

NOTES: Among those who did not practice Wednesday were TEs Chris Gragg (knee) and Lee Smith (non-football illness). WR Robert Woods (ankle) was limited. WR Marcus Thigpen was claimed off waivers and DE Bryan Johnson was cut.

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