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Buffalo Bills WR Zay Jones’ emotional postgame response strikes a chord

In a league where it’s easy to forget these guys are human, Jones’ display was refreshing

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

I get it.

This is the National Football League, where superstar athletes are not supposed to wear their emotions on their sleeves.

These men fly across the football field at breakneck speeds, delivering bone-crunching hits, making acrobatic catches, and engaging in battle in the trenches against super-sized men...all while appearing immune to the troubling thought that each of them is one hit away from a potential career-ending injury.

NFL players wear helmets on the field and often hide behind cliches off the field. Unlike their NBA and MLB counterparts, NFL players wear helmets that both provide anonymity and a place to hide when things don’t go well.

Displays such as the one rookie Zay Jones put on in front of his locker room following the Buffalo Bills9-3 loss Sunday to the Carolina Panthers are unexpected in the NFL.

These men are gladiators, and gladiators don’t cry, even after a heartbreaking loss where, despite an inept showing from the offense for the first 58 minutes, the Bills STILL had a chance to earn a strong non-conference win.

With the game’s outcome still in doubt, Buffalo was mounting a potential game-winning touchdown drive, moving to the Carolina 33-yard line.

Facing a fourth-and-11, Tyrod Taylor dropped back and lofted a flawed pass in the direction of Jones, who was running a corner route into the end zone.

Jones, the talented WR who set NCAA records for most receptions in a career (399) and a single season (158 catches in 2016) with East Carolina, initially broke for the right-front portion of the end zone before adjusting and turning back towards the middle of the field. He left his feet and fully extended his 6-foot-2 frame in an attempt to haul in Taylor’s last-ditch pass, but the ball glanced off his hands and fell harmlessly to the ground.

The Bills were denied a 2-0 start and sole possession of first place in the AFC East. A dejected Jones, who fought back tears following the loss, blamed himself for the lack of execution on the throw.

“It’s very tough, especially because of the guys in this locker room. I play my heart out for them and absolutely love (them). It’s really difficult. I let my team down. I didn’t get the job done,” said Jones. “I play my heart out for them, and absolutely love (them). It is just really difficult right now. ... Coach saw a good opportunity to capitalize on the defense. Tyrod made a good throw and I just didn’t come down with the catch. The ball just came my way and I didn’t make the play. I think it was a pretty good thrown ball. I just didn’t make the catch. It just didn’t bounce my way.”

I applaud Jones for his candor and honesty when dealing with the first heartbreaking loss of his Buffalo career.

Afterwards, Taylor was one of the first Bills to approach Jones after the near-miss on the potential game-winning drive.

“He’s a young player,” Taylor said of Jones’ Buffalo’s second-round draft pick. “There’s a lot being asked of him, but there are some plays that are going to be made and not going to be made. The main thing is you’ve just got to learn from it and continue to move forward. Don’t let it hinder him moving forward. Learn to brush it off.”

“As a team, we have his back,” continued Taylor. “The game didn’t boil down to that. Would it have helped? Yes, but there were other plays out there that I didn’t make, as a team we didn’t make. As a team moving forward we have to learn from it.”

Several other teammates also came over to Jones and tried to lift his spirits following the defeat. Jones said seeing his teammates extend their support to him, even after he went from potential hero to potential goat (depending on your view of the final play), meant a lot to him.

Jones, who finished the contest with two receptions for 18 yards, felt like he let his teammates down by not making the difficult catch.

Also chiming in were former Bills receivers Stevie Johnson and Hall of Famer Andre Reed. Johnson is no stranger to big drops at big moments. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, Johnson had a game-winning touchdown bounce off his hands.

Reed quote Johnson in also lending his support:

Jones will have his first chance to redeem himself when Buffalo hosts the Denver Broncos at 1 p.m. Sunday at New Era Field.