It was around his third or fourth season with the Buffalo Bills that Andre Reed started keeping a notebook.
Entries were limited to one item: every catch that Reed felt he should have made, but didn’t.
“It wasn’t that I was beating a dead horse,” the greatest receiver in team history said this week. “It was just the mindset that I needed. If it's on your fingertips, you should be able to catch it.”
It doesn’t always happen, though, which was evident Sunday. Rookie Zay Jones had the potential game-winning touchdown against the Carolina Panthers slip through his hands – and took it hard afterward.
Reed was among the many who rallied around Jones after the play, sending him encouragement on Twitter.
“We're all human, and some of the greatest ones have been in a slump,” Reed said. “Michael Jordan has. Roger Federer has. All the great athletes in their respective sports have. You've got to be able to forget it and move on, because it's going to happen again.
“He's a young kid, and I'm sure he expects so much out of himself. The team expects a lot out of him. Losing Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins, they thrust him into that position.”
Reed is right. The Bills do expect a lot out of Jones. They wouldn’t have traded up in the second round of the draft to select him if they didn’t. With that comes a pressure to perform.
"It does," Jones said Thursday inside the Bills' locker room. "But I feel really accepted by this group. The veterans have really welcomed me with open arms. I don't see it as like I'm having to prove myself. It's not that. Now it's just a job to do. The task is difficult. Playing receiver in the National Football League, playing any position in the National Football League, is not easy.
"Week in and week out you're going against top-caliber players. It's all about doing your job. I have a job to do. It might be a bigger job than what other rookies might have, but at the end of the day, I know I'm capable of doing it, and I know my teammates have trust in me."
It's not just his teammates. The greatest receiver in team history is also in that group.
“He's going to make a lot of plays this year. They're counting on him, and he has the talent, for sure,” Reed said. “Those things are going to happen and he's just got to keep his head up. We all drop them. Things happen. One great thing about it is you're able to come back the next week and atone for it. You can let your teammates know you can come back from a disappointment. In this game, they anoint you and put you on top, but they blame you too, and you've got to be able to handle that, especially at that level.”
Whether the play in question was truly a “drop” is debatable. There’s no doubt the throw from quarterback Tyrod Taylor could have been better. Jones himself, though, has called it a drop, which should end that debate.
Jones allowed himself 24 hours to wallow over it.
“I think if I would have made a spectacular catch, the game-winning touchdown, I would have only dwelled on it for 24 hours,” he said. “I think everyone’s seeing I’m back to myself and having fun again, I’m enjoying football again. It [stinks] what happened, but it happened, it’s over and I’m learning from it. I’m growing, I’m developing. I’m a rookie, but, no excuses, you have to keep moving forward.”
Jones gets that chance Sunday when the Denver Broncos and their top-flight cornerbacks come to town. In Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Denver has two of the best players in the league at the position. Reed will be in town for the game and plans to meet up with Jones beforehand.
“There's another game coming up and there's more catches you have to make,” Reed said. “You can't think about it too much. You've got to play. That's it.”
That a Pro Football Hall of Famer has been so willing to offer his support has been comforting to Jones.
“To have someone like that who’s paved the way and set such a foundation here at the Bills, it’s just incredible that he would take the time to reach out to me,” he said. “I'm really grateful for that. He's experienced it. He did it for years. He knows what it means to be a receiver, and is just calling it what it is.”
It’s not just Reed who has rallied around Jones. His teammates and coaches are also standing behind the rookie.
“He'll be fine,” fellow receiver Jordan Matthews said. “Zay is a hard worker, great player. Everybody in here respects him. I think any time you're that young and the team trusts you like that to give you an opportunity, that speaks volumes already.
“I've only been here a few months with him, but I love him like a brother. All of us have had these hard moments. My rookie year, I had one of these happen when we played the Cardinals. I told him, 'Bro, at least you attacked it. You didn't wait on the moment. You weren't scared of it.' When we were in the huddle and it was, 'Hey, get open Zay, it's coming to you,' he didn't flinch. So I know he's going to be just fine.”