Seconds left, fourth down, one last heave to the end zone – it was very much a schoolyard scenario at the end of Carolina’s Sunday game against Buffalo.
The Panthers led 9-3, but Buffalo had wriggled down the field and into Panthers territory. On fourth down, from 33 yards out, Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor heaved a pass toward the end zone. Rookie receiver Zay Jones, whom the Bills took in the second round of April’s draft out of ECU, lept, got two hands on the ball ... and then couldn’t finish the catch. Game over.
Jones stayed down on the field for a second, until teammates came over and gathered around him.
One teammate in particular, running back Mike Tolbert, made sure to talk to Jones. He knows what its like to make a mistake, and Jones’ drop reminded him of one mistake that Panthers fans won’t soon forget.
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During the 2015 season, when Carolina went 15-1 and made Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos, Tolbert was one of the men in Carolina’s potent backfield. The problem was that the usually sure-handed Tolbert couldn’t hang onto the ball in the biggest game of his career.
He fumbled twice, the second of which the Broncos recovered, stealing the game’s momentum away.
“Everybody makes mistakes, everybody misses plays. I mean look at me, I fumbled in a Super Bowl. You know what I’m saying?” Tolbert said. “You’ve gotta come back from it quicker and stronger. That’s a play he’s made 1,000 times and the next time he’ll make it.”
Tolbert came back to Carolina in 2016 and then signed with Buffalo this offseason. Now he’ll just have to teach one of his rookie teammates how to pick himself up – there are few better to teach that lesson.
“He’s gonna be a hell of a player in this league,” Tolbert said. “The sun’s still gonna shine tomorrow.”