CHARLOTTE, NC – When the Buffalo Bills selected wide receiver Zay Jones in the second-round of this year’s draft they did so knowing the guy simply doesn’t drop passes.
Over his four years at East Carolina University, Jones hauled in a NCAA record 399 passes. 158 of those came in his senior season alone, which is also the single-season record. Once he even caught 22 passes in a single game for 190 yards.
Jones’ hands are his calling card. And moments after being drafted by the Bills back in April, he made sure everyone knew that.
“I have the best hands in this draft class,” he declared via conference call.
Fast forward to Week 2 and those hands failed Jones when he needed them most.
Trailing the Carolina Panthers 9-3 with 14 seconds remaining, the Bills faced a 4th-and-11 at the Carolina 33. Out of the slot on the right side, Jones ran a corner route to about the five-yard line and found himself wide open between the safety and the cornerback. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor found him too, only the pass came in high and behind where Jones had cut his route, leaving him leaping and twisting back to the middle of the field to try and make the catch. Falling backward the ball hit his hands but fell to the turf. Game over.
The 21-year-old did indeed drop it but it wasn’t as if Taylor’s throw was stellar. Then again, as the old saying goes: if it hits you in the hands – or those ultra-sticky gloves – you have to catch it.
An emotional Jones shouldered the blame afterward. “The ball just came my way and I didn’t make the play,” he said. “I think it was a pretty good thrown ball. I just didn’t make the catch. It just didn’t bounce my way.
“It’s very tough, especially because of the guys in this locker room who I play my heart out for and I absolutely love.”
Meanwhile, Taylor summed up the play as poor execution and came to Jones’ defense.
“He’s a young player. A lot is being asked of him,” the 28-year-old said. “The main thing is to learn from it and move forward … As a team, we have his back. It didn’t boil down to that. Would it have helped? Yes, but there’s other plays out there that I didn’t make, that the team didn’t make.”
While Jones may blame himself, to put the burden of that loss on the rookie would be irresponsible. As Taylor eluded to, disappointing as it is to come that close to pulling off a dramatic victory over the Panthers, that single play did not decide the game.
For three quarters the Bills offense struggled to even move the football beyond the 50-yard line or run more than 6 plays in a single drive. Carolina’s offense held the ball for nearly 40 minutes. Buffalo’s usually dominant rushing attack anchored by LeSean McCoy amassed just 69 yards, of which McCoy had nine. 52 of their 176 total yards came on the final drive of the game.
If not for a herculean effort from the defense that featured six sacks from five different players and an impressive goal line stop late in the fourth quarter to hold the Panthers to a field goal and keep it a one-possession game, the Bills wouldn’t have even been in position to win on that final drive.
Perhaps unfairly, Jones’ drop will define this loss for many. But for a kid trying to prove he has the best hands in the 2017 draft class, it certainly won’t define his career.
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