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Florida Gators in the NFL: You think it’s all real but then the joke is on you

After a brilliant preseason producing enormous hype, Dameon Pierce had a quiet first NFL game.

NFL: SEP 11 Colts at Texans Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A week ago, Gator Nation was riding high. The football program scored its biggest win in years and looked poised to return to national prominence. And a host of former Gators were pegged as breakout candidates in the National Football League.

But as we all know too well, life doesn’t follow a script.

The Gators ended up with 35 players on active NFL rosters for Week 1 after the Cardinals signed Max Garcia off the Giants’ practice squad and the Texans elevated Jeff Driskel from their own practice squad. According to Spotrac, that places Florida ninth among all colleges and universities.

This is our weekly recap of all 35, plus a list of who remains on each team’s practice squads. We’ll also keep track of guys coming and going, and we’re still on the lookout for Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins. Unfortunately, La’Mical Perine joined them as a free agent after Philadelphia released him from its practice squad.

The Missing Pierce

The biggest storyline for me heading into Week 1 was Dameon Pierce. The rookie running back dominated camps and preseason action, was far and away the best back in Houston, and was listed as the starter on the depth chart.

And then, after all that hype and buildup, the Texans decided to give journeyman backup Rex Burkhead 50 touches while Pierce was on the field for 20 snaps.

No offense to Rex Burkhead, but: What?

Texans head coach Lovie Smith acknowledged on Monday that he should have played Pierce more, but also said Pierce needs to do better in pass blocking, blitz pickup, and catching the football.

Um, Lovie, have you seen your starting running back play?

To his credit, Pierce handled the situation well after the game, saying he learned as much as he could watching the veteran Burkhead on the field.

Brighter days are ahead for Pierce.

The Weekly Kyle Pitts Update

Two things can be true at the same time: The Saints defense is very good, aaand Arthur Smith and the Falcons are still struggling to scheme up ways to use Kyle Pitts.

Pitts saw seven targets which resulted in two completions for 19 yards. The red zone continues to be a no-Pitts-land.

Pitts will have bigger games, and I still truly believe he’ll score plenty of touchdowns. But the Falcons are not a good team and the other guy named Smith who is kind of inexplicably an NFL head coach may not be a good one, so temper your expectations accordingly.

Joka’s On Us

Healthy. Seven snaps, two touches. This is, sadly, how to sum up Kadarius Toney’s situation in New York.

Hard to disagree, Sam!

The Streak is Over

Jawaan Taylor had never missed an offensive snap in his NFL career. That continued through the Jaguars’ first 65 plays against Washington in Week 1. In the heat and humidity of Sunday afternoon, however, Taylor’s body succumbed to cramps, and he couldn’t get on the field for Jacksonville’s final drive. His ironman streak is now over at 3,279 snaps.

Have you done anything successfully 3,279 times in a row? (I don’t even breathe successfully that many times in a row! — Andy)

The Streak is Over, Part II

Evan McPherson’s star couldn’t have been any brighter after his incredible rookie season. Including a perfect postseason last year, Mac had made 22 straight field goals and 18 straight extra points. That changed on Sunday, and in the biggest of spots.

You could easily argue neither miss was McPherson’s fault. Minkah Fitzpatrick was untouched on the blocked extra point; the high snap clearly affected Mac on the field goal. Even so, McPherson stepped up and took the blame.

I think the kid — who also banged a career-high 59-yarder in the game — will be just fine.

The Streak is Over, Part III

On the other foot, Eddy Piñeiro almost sent Carolina home with a win. He drilled the go-ahead field goal with under two minutes remaining, but the Panthers defense couldn’t hold. Piñeiro has now made 20 straight field goals.

Notables

I think Ceedy Deuce is going to work out just fine in Philadelphia.

Weirdly, Marco Wilson may have had the best game of his career despite his team giving up five touchdowns and 44 points to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

The Texans had a package of plays for Jeff Driskel, who definitely pass blocks better than Dameon Pierce, so it totally makes sense.

Player of the Week

Marcus Maye’s turbulent offseason could still have severe consequences. But in his first game with the Saints, he blocked out the distractions and helped New Orleans pull off an epic comeback against the Falcons.

Maye was solid in the run game, defended well in the slot, and generally played one of his best games in a few years. After two injury-plagued campaigns in 2020 and 2021, it was nice to be reminded of just how good a player he is.

Play of the Week

It didn’t take Carlos Dunlap long to notch his first sack as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Early in the third quarter, Dunlap lines up at left end, stunts to the inside, breaks down to prevent Kyler Murray from taking off, and pulls him down. It’s a really impressive play.

Dunlap now has 97 career sacks. Going back to last year, he now has nine sacks in his past seven games. Considering the pace, Dunlap should eclipse the century mark this month, and would be the first Gator to do so since Kevin Carter (104.5 career sacks), who ranks third behind Jack Youngblood (151.5) and Trace Armstrong (106 — also !!!) in career NFL sacks by Gators.

And there is ample reason to believe Dunlap has enough gas in the tank to keep up that pace and maybe chase down Carter and Armstrong in addition to QBs: In just 26 snaps, he also had four tackles.

Here are all of the Week 1 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

Marcus Maye, NO, S

Week 1: 9 tackles, 1 FF, 75 snaps (100%)

Marco Wilson, ARI, CB

Week 1: 5 tackles, 2 passes defended, 1 FF, 67 snaps (96%)

Carlos Dunlap, KC, DE

Week 1: 1 sack, 4 tackles, 1 QB hits, 1 TFL, 26 snaps (40%)

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, PHI, S

Week 1: 5 tackles, 1 pass defended, 67 snaps (97%)

Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE

Week 1: 4 tackes, 2 TFL, 62 snaps (67%)

Alex Anzalone, DET, LB

Week 1: 9 tackles, 1 TFL, 71 snaps (92%)

Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Week 1: 65 snaps (93%)

D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT

Week 1: 65 snaps (100%)

Trent Brown, NE, RT

Week 1: 57 snaps (100%)

Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE

Week 1: 2 rec, 7 targets, 19 yards, 63 snaps (84%)

Demarcus Robinson, KC, WR

Week 1: 2 rec, 4 targets, 19 yards, 1 tackle, 25 snaps (45%)

C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB

Week 1: 3 tackles, 1 pass defended, 37 snaps (46%), 3 ST snaps (9%)

Kaiir Elam, BUF, CB

Week 1: 3 tackles, 30 snaps (45%), 3 ST snaps (16%)

Eddy Pineiro, NYJ, K

Week 1: 1/1 FG, Long 34, 3/3 XP

Taven Bryan, CLE, DT

Week 1: 1 tackle, 44 snaps (83%)

Jonathan Bullard, MIN, DT

Week 1: 1 tackle, 29 snaps (48%)

Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Week 1: 2/3 FG, Long 59, 0/1 XP

The Limited

Dameon Pierce, HOU, RB

Week 1: 11 rush, 33 yards, 1 rec, 6 yards, 20 snaps (29%)

Brandon Powell, LAR, WR

Week 1: 1 rush, 3 yards, 1 rec, 10 yards, 4 kick returns, 16.8 avg, 3 OFF snaps (4%)

T.J. Slaton, GB, DT

Week 1: 2 tackles, 18 snaps (29%), 6 ST snaps (26%)

Kadarius Toney, NYG, WR

Week 1: 2 rush, 23 yards, 7 snaps (12%)

Tommy Townsend, KC, P

Week 1: 2 punts, 54.0 avg

Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR

Week 1: 1 tackle, 8 OFF snaps (12%), 11 ST snaps (58%)

Keanu Neal, TB, S

Week 1: 1 tackle, 12 ST snaps (50%)

Marcell Harris, NYJ, LB/S

Week 1: no stats, 18 ST snaps (67%)

Jeff Driskel, QB, HOU

Week 1: 1 rush, 5 yards, 2 snaps (3%)

Dante Fowler, Jr., DAL, OLB

Week 1: no stats, 10 snaps (16%)

Zach Carter, CIN, DT

Week 1: no stats, 11 DEF snaps (17%), 6 ST snaps (19%)

Max Garcia, ARI, G

Week 1: 8 snaps (12%)

Stone Forsythe, SEA, T

Week 1: 3 ST snaps (16%)

Jon Bostic, WAS, LB

Week 1: Active but did not play

Feleipe Franks, ATL, TE

Week 1: Active but did not play

The Inactive

  • Van Jefferson, LAR, WR: Inactive (Knee)
  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB: Inactive
  • Fred Johnson, TB, G/T: Inactive

The Practice Squad

  • Freddie Swain, MIA, WR
  • Malik Davis, DAL, RB
  • Jarrad Davis, DET, LB
  • Jeremiah Moon, BAL, LB
  • David Sharpe, BAL, T
  • Teez Tabor, ATL, S
  • Jabari Zuniga, NYJ, DE