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Florida Gators in the NFL: Tommy Townsend makes Pro Bowl, Dameon Pierce out for year

It is a time of joy for Florida’s punting product — and one of frustration for another shining star.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We’re moving up Player of the Week this week. Why? Long hair, don’t care — making the Pro Bowl, that’s rare!

Tommy Townsend is a Pro Bowler for the first time in his third NFL season. Making the selection all the more special, Townsend wasn’t the fan-vote winner — despite our best efforts here last week — but instead earned the selection due to the coaches’ vote.

Townsend deserves the nod. He’s ranked second in the league in punt average at 51.8 and first in net average at 46.5. He’s also increased his average every season, and was starting from a high floor — 45.0 in 2020, 47.2 in 2021, and 51.8 this year. That right leg is a stick of dynamite.

Townsend is the third Florida punter to make the Pro Bowl. John James was a three-time selection, last in 1975 when he averaged 41.5 yards per punt. Bobby Joe Green made his only Pro Bowl in 1970 with a 40.9 average. (Hang) Times have changed.

One other fun punting note: Did you know Steve Spurrier punted 230 times in his NFL career? Of course, he was a quarterback, too, but the Head Ball Coach won the Heisman thanks to a little boot of his right foot — and yet, as much of an expert as I consider myself, even I didn’t realize he kicked that much in the league.

Piercing Will Have to Wait

Disappointing news late last week when the Texans placed Dameon Pierce on injured reserve with an ankle sprain. Pierce’s rookie season is over, coming up 61 yards shy of the magic number of 1,000 rushing yards, but impressive nonetheless.

Pierce showed everything you want in a three-down, lead NFL back: Speed, power, vision, agility, balance, good hands, and pass-blocking prowess. He had the early-season lead for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but after tailing off in the second half of the year and now landing on IR, he’ll finish well back in the voting. Nonetheless, his first NFL campaign was one the best rookie seasons in the league — and certainly one of the best by a Gator in a long time, even considering what Kyle Pitts did last season.

Oh, and am I linking to this montage of some of his season highlights because of the music choice? Yes. Yes, I am.

Dunlap Comin’

Carlos Dunlap hasn’t had a sack in over a month, but he’s still been a force for the Chiefs. On Sunday, he had three tackles and two QB hits, and also knocked down two passes.

Dunlap is having an excellent season as a rotational player along the Chiefs’ defensive line. Despite playing limited snaps, he is one of only four players in the entire league with at least four sacks and six passes defended. Geno Smith knows: Dunlap comin’.

Other Week 16 Notables

In Week One, Jawaan Taylor missed the first professional snaps in his four-year career with cramps. Since then, he once again had played every snap in every game … until Sunday. Taylor left with a hamstring injury but did return and finish the game.

Taylor being healthy for a playoff push would be helpful. The Jaguars entered this week one game back in the AFC South — and on Thursday, I was at the Meadowlands to see them shut down the Jets. Taylor played, despite being listed as questionable before the game, and while Trevor Lawrence took just one sack and fumbled, that wasn’t on Taylor, who blocked well on the play as pressure came in from the other side.

I haven’t written about Marcus Maye much this season. The Saints have been a mess and Maye missed some time early in the season. But he’s come in the past month and looks like the playmaking safety we saw in New York before injuries began to take their toll.

Kaiir Elam had a nice day on paper against the Dolphins — three tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass defended against Tyreek Hill. Bills fans and media loved the coverage.

Dolphins fans — like me — clearly saw blatant pass interference.

I’m not a hater, though, and was thrilled to see Elam have a nice night against elite competition on the big stage. Especially when the plays were clean like this one.

Eddy Pineiro was named NFC special teams player of the week last week. Then he went out this weekend and drilled all three of his field goals, including a 52-yarder. Plus, the former soccer player’s beloved Argentina took home the World Cup.

Kadarius Toney was back on the field for the first time in a month, catching his only target for five yards. Yung Joka played just five snaps on offense as the Chiefs likely take it slow before unleashing their dynamic weapon in the postseason.

Freddie Swain was on the move last week, after the Broncos poached him off the Dolphins’ practice squad and signed him to their 53-man roster. After what had to be a crash course with the playbook, he was on the field for an impressive 38 snaps and hauled in his first catch of 2022.

Play of the Week

A double Gator chomp sack celebration would qualify for not just play of the week, but maybe celly of the year, right?

Dameon Pierce has been the NFL rookie poster boy for Dan Mullen’s failures in Gainesville. Exhibit 1B is James Houston IV.

Houston played 35 games for Florida from 2018 to 2020, totaling 103 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. He transferred to Jackson State in 2021 — and in 13 games produced 70 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, one interception, and two defensive touchdowns.

The Lions took Houston in the sixth round, taking a flier on a workout freak with big numbers at the HBCU level. I thought he’d be a productive pass rusher coming into the league.

The Lions didn’t bring him up to the active roster until Thanksgiving. Five sacks in four games — and Detroit being 3-1 in that stretch — probably have them wishing they’d played him earlier. He’s setting records, and has a few weeks left to break some more.

And so long as Houston’s Gator Chomping in the pros, I think we get to claim him.

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

The Good

  • Tommy Townsend, KC, P

Week 15: 4 punts, 48.3 avg

Pro Bowl Selection

  • Carlos Dunlap, KC, DE

Week 15: 3 tackles, 2 QB hits, 2 PD, 30 snaps (48%)

  • Marcus Maye, NO, S

Week 15: 7 tackles, 2 PD, 74 snaps (100%)

  • Alex Anzalone, DET, LB

Week 15: 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, 62 snaps (98%)

  • Eddy Pineiro, CAR, K

Week 15: 3/3 FG, Long 52, 1/1 XP

  • Demarcus Robinson, BAL, WR

Week 15: 6 rec (6 targets), 29 yards, 1 fumble lost, 40 snaps (63%)

  • Keanu Neal, TB, S

Week 15: 4 tackles, 1 PD, 32 snaps (48%), 3 ST snaps (12%)

  • Kaiir Elam, BUF, CB

Week 15: 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PD, 28 snaps (47%), 4 ST snaps (13%)

  • Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Week 15: 2/2 FG, Long 41, 2/2 XP

  • Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Week 15: 55 snaps (79%)

  • Van Jefferson, LAR, WR

Week 15: 2 rec (2 targets), 32 yards, 44 snaps (98%)

  • Freddie Swain, DEN, WR

Week 15: 1 rec (1 target), 9 yards, 38 snaps (55%)

  • Max Garcia, ARI, G

Week 15: 2 tackles, 57 snaps (88%)

  • Trent Brown, NE, RT

Week 15: 65 snaps (100%)

  • Taven Bryan, CLE, DT

Week 15: 1 tackle, 1 QB hit, 37 snaps (59%), 8 ST snaps (44%)

  • Jon Bostic, WAS, LB

Week 15: 1 tackle, 45 snaps (71%)

The Limited

  • Jeff Driskel, HOU, QB

Week 15: 2/4 passing, 8 yards, 4 rush, 8 yards, 18 snaps (29%)

  • Brandon Powell, LAR, WR

Week 15: 1 rec (2 targets), 4 yards, 1 rush, 3 yards, 4 KR, 19.8 avg, 1 PR, 8.0 avg, 8 snaps (18%), 10 ST snaps (48%)

  • Kadarius Toney, KC, WR

Week 15: 1 rec (1 target), 5 yards, 2 punt returns, 4.0 avg, 5 snaps (6%), 5 ST snaps (18%)

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., DAL, OLB

Week 15: 1 tackle, 20 snaps (29%)

  • Zach Carter, CIN, DT

Week 15: 1 tackle, 28 snaps (38%), 4 ST snaps (16%)

  • Feleipe Franks, ATL, TE

Week 15: 1 rush, 0 yards, 4 snaps (5%), 12 ST snaps (55%)

  • Teez Tabor, SEA, S

Week 15: 10 snaps (16%), 4 ST snaps (14%)

  • Malik Davis, DAL, RB

Week 15: 21 ST snaps (64%)

  • C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB

Week 15: 4 snaps (6%), left in first quarter with an ankle injury

  • Stone Forsythe, SEA, T

Week 15: 3 ST snaps (11%)

The Inactive

  • Marco Wilson, ARI, CB: Inactive (Neck)
  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB: Inactive
  • Dameon Pierce, HOU, RB: Injured Reserve (Ankle)
  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, PHI, S: Injured Reserve
  • Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE: Injured Reserve
  • D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT: Injured Reserve
  • Jonathan Bullard, MIN, DT: Injured Reserve
  • Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE: Injured Reserve

The Practice Squad

  • Jarrad Davis, DET, LB
  • Marcell Harris, NYJ, LB
  • Jabari Zuniga, NO, DE
  • Antonio Callaway, DAL, WR
  • Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR
  • Fred Johnson, PHI, OL
  • La’mical Perine, MIA, RB
  • David Sharpe, BAL, T
  • Jeremiah Moon, BAL, LB
  • Duke Dawson, PIT, DB
  • Jonotthan Harrison, ATL, OL