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Florida Gators in the NFL, Week 15: Kyle Pitts earned his 2021 Pro Bowl selection

The Gators are only set to have one representative at the Pro Bowl for now — but he’s resetting the standard for rookie tight ends.

Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

It’s a Christmas miracle! I finally got one of these dispatches from Shawn Kopelakis up during the week it was meant to go up for! And almost before Sunday kickoffs, too!

Do you know which former Gator has the most National Football League Pro Bowl selections? I’ll give you a few minutes; the answer’s at the bottom of this week’s recap.

But the NFL’s 2021 Pro Bowl rosters being announced Wednesday night and Kyle Pitts earning a selection in his rookie campaign and becoming the first rookie tight end to make it since 2002 means we might have a new answer to the question in the next couple of decades.

Pitts is fourth among all tight ends in receiving yards with 847. He should also become only the second rookie tight end ever to eclipse 1,000 yards, and sits only 230 yards shy of breaking Mike Ditka’s rookie mark. And he’s doing this with Matt Ryan entering his twilight and as the focal point of a Falcons offense that is far from that of the Super Bowl-caliber teams the A saw under Dan Quinn.

When the Falcons move on from Ryan and rebuild, they will likely be doing it around Pitts — who only turned 21 in October. There is a long and fruitful career before him, if he stays healthy, and it is likely to get better as the years go on.

There were several Gators with deserving Pro Bowl cases besides Pitts, and many of them ended up as alternates, meaning they’ll have a chance to play when players bow out of the game with injuries or because of lack of interest.

The most deserving alternate is Tommy Townsend, who leads the league in net punting average. He’s pinned 19 of his 32 punts inside the 20 while suffering only one touchback. Oh, and he is perfect as a passer converting first downs on fake punts.

The Cardinals’ D.J. Humphries and Max Garcia both earned alternate selections. Humphries has been a captain and leader in Arizona and anchored Kyler Murray’s blind side. He and Garcia have helped James Connor to a resurgent season and his own Pro Bowl berth. I’ll admit seeing Garcia’s name was a pleasant surprise, especially after he struggled against Aaron Donald a couple weeks ago on Monday Night Football — but, frankly, who hasn’t?

I thought Trent Brown and Jonathan Greenard had a shot at being named alternates, but it doesn’t look like that’s the case, although the full list of alternates hasn’t been published yet. (Look, it’s the week of Christmas.)

The Pro Bowl returns to the field in 2022 after last year’s COVID-induced hiatus. Did you even remember it wasn’t played last year? Such is now the fate for most of the Big Four professional sports all-star contests. But if Pitts and any of the alternates end up playing in Las Vegas, Gator fans will at least have something to watch for.

And the most Pro Bowl selections by a former Gator? Maybe you guessed all-time rushing king Emmitt Smith, who had eight — but that’s one fewer than Maurkice Pouncey, who earned nine selections, third-most by a center in NFL history. Lomas Brown and Jack Youngblood are tied for third with seven selections.

Eddy Returns

I told you earlier this year how confusing it was that Eddy Pineiro did not have a job while kicker after kicker shanked balls left and right. After almost two years out of work, Pineiro returned in a big way for the New York Jets a couple weeks ago.

Pineiro drilled all three field goals he attempted in his first game back in the league. He hit another field goal this past weekend, plus three extra points. Going back to 2019, he’s now made 15 straight FGs and 12 straight XPs.

Kicking is hard and Pineiro surely has some struggles ahead of him at some point. Every kicker does. But his career numbers — 84 percent on field goals and 94 percent on extra points — show he’s good enough to stick in the league if he can finally stay healthy. It looks like the Jets, their fans, and the media covering the team are excited to finally have a reliable kicker.

Very cool that Pineiro’s second game with the Jets was in Miami, his hometown. He had 150 family and friends there to see him.

Powell Joins Jefferson

The Los Angeles Rams activated Brandon Powell from their practice squad a few weeks ago and he made his 2021 debut with quite a bang.

Taking your first touch of the season on a 65-yard jaunt is pretty good, isn’t it? Had to feel great for Powell, who wasn’t drafted coming out of Florida back in 2018 and has had to fight and claw for any opportunity in the league.

Don’t expect Powell to be satisfied with the great debut, either regardless of what Rams coach Sean McVay is saying about him: He’s seen a big performance be forgotten before.

Powell had some spotty playing time in his rookie season with Detroit before earning a start in the final game of the 2018 season in place of an injured Kenny Golladay. All he did with that first real opportunity was put up six grabs for 103 yards.

The Lions, naturally, cut him before the start of the 2019 season. Of course, the Lions are 10-34-2 since then, and with a loss today would go longer between six-win seasons than they did during the stretch that included a winless campaign in the early 2010s — probably, they make good decisions all the time.

Powell spent 2020 with Atlanta returning kicks and filling in at receiver. He then bounced around the Bills and Dolphins practice squads before the Rams claimed him this fall after Robert Woods’ season-ending injury.

Powell’s battle back to the NFL has united him with Van Jefferson as the first pair of Gators receivers to play together since Percy Harvin and David Nelson with the New York Jets in 2014.

Here are a few other fun facts from my research on this:

If Powell catches a pass this season (he hasn’t had an offensive snap yet this year), he and Jefferson will become the first pair of former Gators to catch passes on the same team since 2016 — when it happened twice. In Buffalo, running back Mike Gillislee and Harvin caught a combined 11 passes. Washington had running backs Mack Brown and Matt Jones, tight end Jordan Reed, and receiver/defensive back Quinton Dunbar all come away with at least one reception.

My favorite discovery down the rabbit hole was the teams with the most combined receptions by former Gators in one season:

  • 2007 Tampa Bay: 111 (62 for WR Ike Hilliard, 49 for RB Earnest Graham)
  • 2015 Washington: 106 (67 for Jordan Reed (87), 19 for Matt Jones)
  • 1992 Seattle: 95 (74 for RB John L. Williams, 21 for RB James Jones)
  • 2006 New England: 86 (Four WRs here: 61 for Reche Caldwell, 13 for Chad Jackson, 11 for Jabar Gaffney, and one (!) for WR Kelvin Kight)
  • 1999 Tampa Bay: 86 (56 for Jacquez Green, 30 for Reidel Anthony)

There Goes That Van!

Van Jefferson had a touchdown catch in three straight games before being held out of the end zone on Tuesday. He’s known more for his precise route-running than for being a burner who can get behind the defense.

And yet, seemingly every other week, he’s hauling in a deep bomb from Matthew Stafford.

Two weeks ago, you may have noticed a cut away shot of the Cardinals’ sideline and the reaction of one of their coaches — it was Shawn Jefferson, the Cardinals’ wide receivers coach, who in the moment was upset with his team.

But after the game? Nothing but love between father and son.

Player of the Week

As of two weeks ago, Carlos Dunlap’s 2021 season was going to be remembered for his shoe toss against the Packers back in Week 10.

But in Week 13, Dunlap — over only seven snaps! — did everything he could to beat the 49ers. He recorded a safety that tied the game for Seattle, then knocked down a fourth-down pass that could have let San Francisco tie it back up.

This week, Dunlap hit the Fountain of Youth with a throwback performance to when he was one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league. He sacked Matthew Stafford three times, tying a career high he set with the Bengals back in 2015, when he had his best season with 13.5 sacks total.

Dunlap now has 4.5 sacks on the season, which is tied for his career low in a season. But he has three games left to add to that total, and considering he now has four sacks in his past three games, he’s fairly likely to do so. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year so he’ll be motivated to finish strong.

Play of the Week

There have been some incredible plays highlighted here this season. But there hasn’t been a bigger play in a bigger moment than what Joe Haden did on Sunday.

It’s rare that you can point to a specific play and say that decided the game, but Haden’s tackle most definitely did that for the Steelers: If he doesn’t make it, the Titans probably score and win.

When you make a play that keeps your team’s playoff hopes alive and play into a previous viral moment, feel free to flex.

Haden — or should we say “Joe Money”? — has been flexing off the field, too, as detailed in this great profile by ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. Love the anecdote about how Haden might be responsible for Cam Newton’s, um, style, given their time as teammates at Florida.

Given Haden’s deal with Jordan Brand, you know he was thrilled when the Gators came on board in 2018.

Here are all of the Week 13 through 15 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

  • Van Jefferson, LAR, WR

Week 13: 6 rec, 41 yards, 1 TD, 53 snaps (78%)

Week 14: 2 rec, 58 yards, 1 TD, 1 rush, 10 yards, 46 snaps (79%)

Week 15: 2 rec, 23 yards, 1 rush, 10 yards, 61 snaps (92%)

  • Trent Brown, NE, RT

Week 13: 51 snaps (100%)

Week 14: Bye Week

Week 15: 68 snaps (100%)

  • Carlos Dunlap, SEA, DE

Week 13: 1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 safety, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, 1 pass defended, 7 snaps (12%)

Week 14: 2 tackles, 28 snaps (35%)

Week 15: 4 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 TFLs, 3 QB hits, 21 snaps (32%)

  • Eddy Pineiro, NYJ, K

Week 13: Free Agent

Week 14: 3/3 FG, Long 46

Week 15: 1/1 FG, Long 27, 3/3 XP

  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, NO, S

Week 13: Injured Reserve

Week 14: 1 tackle, 36 snaps (55%), first game back from IR

Week 15: 7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass defended, 70 snaps (95%)

  • Keanu Neal, DAL, LB

Week 13: 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, 23 snaps (33%)

Week 14: 2 tackles, 1 QB hit, 46 snaps (68%)

Week 15: 7 tackles, 27 snaps (43%)

  • D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT

Week 13: 53 snaps (100%)

Week 14: 78 snaps (100%)

Week 15: 75 snaps (100%)

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., ATL, OLB

Week 13: 2 tackles, 33 snaps (47%)

Week 14: 3 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 QB hit, 32 snaps (50%)

Week 15: 1 tackle, 1 QB hit, 13 snaps (23%)

  • Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE

Week 13: 2 tackles, 1 QB hit, 38 snaps (53%)

Week 14: 4 tackles, 1 pass defended, 44 snaps (72%)

Week 15: Covid-19/Reserve List

  • Max Garcia, ARI, C/G

Week 13: 53 snaps (100%)

Week 14: 78 snaps (100%)

Week 15: 75 snaps (100%)

  • Marco Wilson, ARI, CB

Week 13: 3 tackles, 68 snaps (89%)

Week 14: 2 tackles, 1 TFL, 53 snaps (91%)

Week 15: 1 tackle, 43 snaps (66%)

  • Freddie Swain, SEA, WR

Week 13: 3 rec, 18 yards, 32 snaps (46%)

Week 14: 1 rush, 3 yards, 2 punt returns, 15.5 avg, 27 snaps (44%)

Week 15: 1 rec, 25 yards, 2 punt returns, 7.0 avg, 52 snaps (91%)

  • Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Week 13: 59 snaps (100%)

Week 14: 55 snaps (100%)

Week 15: 70 snaps (100%)

The Limited

  • Joe Haden, PIT, CB

Week 13: Inactive (Foot)

Week 14: Inactive (Foot)

Week 15: 2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 27 snaps (34%)

  • Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Week 13: 1/1 FG, Long 48, 1/2 XP

Week 14: 3/4 FG, Long 41, 2/2 XP

Week 15: 3/3 FG, Long 58

  • Tommy Townsend, KC, P

Week 13: 4 punts, 47.5 avg

Week 14: 1 punt, 52.0 avg

Week 15: 1 punt, 32. 0 avg

  • C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB

Week 13: Bye Week

Week 14: 3 tackles, 1 pass defended, 18 snaps (26%)

Week 15: 5 tackles, 41 snaps (59%)

  • Marcell Harris, SF, S

Week 13: DNP (Concussion)

Week 14: 3 tackles, 22 DEF snaps (33%), 28 ST snaps (82%)

Week 15: 3 tackles, 60 DEF snaps (100%), 5 ST snaps (21%)

  • Brandon Powell, LAR, WR

Week 13: 2 kick returns, 41.0 avg, Long 65

Week 14: 1 kick return, 27.0 avg

Week 15: 2 kick returns, 23.0 avg, Long 32, 1 punt return, 0 yards

  • Jarrad Davis, NYJ, LB

Week 13: 3 tackles, 6 DEF snaps (8%), 20 ST snaps (83%)

Week 14: 4 tackles, 24 DEF snaps (34%), 20 ST snaps (67%)

Week 15: no stats, 4 DEF snaps (6%), 19 ST snaps (63%)

  • Taven Bryan, JAX, DE

Week 13: 2 tackles, 19 DEF snaps (28%), 6 ST snaps (24%)

Week 14: 1 tackle, 1 QB hit, 29 DEF snaps (41%), 5 ST snaps (24%)

Week 15: 1 QB hit, 19 DEF snaps (32%), 6 ST snaps (19%)

  • T.J. Slaton, GB, DT

Week 13: Bye Week

Week 14: 1 tackle, 7 DEF snaps (11%), 14 ST snaps (39%)

Week 15: 4 tackles, 25 DEF snaps (36%), 9 ST snaps (36%)

  • Lerentee McCray, JAX, OLB

Week 13: 1 tackle, 4 DEF snaps (6%), 25 ST snaps (96%)

Week 14: 1 tackle, 11 DEF snaps (15%), 20 ST snaps (95%)

Week 15: 2 tackles, 3 DEF snaps (5%), 24 ST snaps (75%)

  • Demarcus Robinson, KC, WR

Week 13: 2 rec, 21 yards, 31 snaps (54%)

Week 14: no stats, 30 snaps (45%)

Week 15: 3 targets, 0 rec, 49 snaps (68%)

  • Alex Anzalone, DET, LB

Week 13: 5 tackles, 2 passes defended, 76 snaps (100%)

Week 14: no stats, 15 snaps (22%), left game in first quarter with ankle injury

Week 15: no stats, 5 snaps (7%), left in the first quarter with shoulder injury, placed on injured reserve this week

  • Teez Tabor, CHI, S

Week 13: Inactive

Week 14: Inactive

Week 15: 6 tackles, 64 snaps (100%), first start of 2021

  • Fred Johnson, CIN, G/T

Week 13: Active but did not play

Week 14: Inactive

Week 15: 53 snaps (100%), first start of 2021

  • La’mical Perine, NYJ, RB

Week 13: Inactive

Week 14: 7 rush, 28 yards, 17 snaps (26%)

Week 15: Inactive

  • Vernon Hargreaves III, CIN, CB

Week 13: 2 tackles, 29 DEF snaps (45%)

Week 14: no stats, 14 DEF snaps (20%)

Week 15: Inactive

  • Stone Forsythe, SEA, T

Week 13: 14 OFF snaps (20%), first offensive snaps of his career, 5 ST snaps (17%)

Week 14: 5 ST snaps (18%)

Week 15: 2 ST snaps (8%)

  • Feleipe Franks, ATL, QB

Week 13: no stats, 10 ST snaps (38%)

Week 14: Active but did not play

Week 15: no stats, 1 OFF snap (2%)

  • Jeff Driskel, HOU, QB/TE

Week 13: Inactive

Week 14: Active but did not play

Week 15: no stats, 10 ST snaps (31%), placed on injured reserve this week with a broken collarbone

  • Chaz Green, PIT, T

Week 13: Practice Squad

Week 14: 3 ST snaps (12%)

Week 15: Practice Squad

The Inactive

  • Kadarius Toney, NYG, WR

Week 13: Inactive (Quad)

Week 14: Inactive (Quad)

Week 15: Inactive (Quad)

  • Jonathan Bullard, ATL, DL

Week 13: Inactive (Ankle)

Week 14: Inactive (Ankle)

Week 15: Inactive (Ankle)

  • Janoris Jenkins, TEN, CB

Week 13: Bye Week

Week 14: Inactive (Ankle)

Week 15: Inactive (Ankle)

  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB

Week 13: Inactive

Week 14: Inactive

Week 15: Inactive

  • Shawn Davis, GB, S

Week 13: Practice Squad

Week 14: Practice Squad

Week 15: Elevated to active roster for first time, Inactive

  • Marcus Maye, NYJ, S: Injured Reserve (Achilles)
  • Jon Bostic, WAS, LB: Injured Reserve (Chest)
  • Jonotthan Harrison, NYG, OL: Injured Reserve (Achilles)
  • Quincy Wilson, NYG, CB: Injured Reserve (Ankle)
  • Bryan Cox, Jr., BUF, DE: Injured Reserve (Achilles)

The Practice Squad

  • Brian Poole, IND, CB
  • Jabari Zuniga, NYJ, DE
  • Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR
  • Duke Dawson, DEN, CB
  • Jon Halapio, SF, G
  • Josh Hammond, JAX, WR
  • David Sharpe, BAL, T
  • Donovan Stiner, PIT, S
  • Jordan Scarlett, MIA, RB