clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Florida Gators in the NFL: A finishing flourish to the regular season

Tommy Townsend earning All-Pro honors leads this week’s recap.

Kansas City Chiefs v Houston Texans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The National Football League regular season has wrapped and now 17 former Gators — plus another five on practice squads — head into the postseason hoping to earn a Super Bowl ring. A former Gator has played in the Super Bowl in 20 straight years, while eight of the past 10 Super Bowls have seen a Florida product raising the Lombardi Trophy. Of the former Gators in the playoff field, only Demarcus Robinson has been a champion.

But before we get to the postseason, let’s celebrate the regular season, some incredible individual accolades and honors, and a few memorable performances in Week 18.

Punt King

Tommy Townsend earned his first Pro Bowl selection a couple of weeks ago, but an even bigger honor is making the All-Pro team. After finishing the season as the league leader in net punting — and second in punt average — Townsend was named to the inaugural NFLPA All-Pro team. Considering the honor was voted on exclusively by his fellow players, it’s something to celebrate for T-Town.

He finished off his banner regular season with a punt duel against last year’s All-Pro punter A.J. Cole. As much as punting can be, it was quite a show.

Townsend is the first former Gator to be named an All-Pro since Maurkice Pouncey in 2014.

Picks King

C.J. Gardner-Johnson was headed to certain Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors before suffering a lacerated kidney in Week 12 and missing five games. At the time he was injured, CJGJ led the league with six interceptions. Incredibly, when he returned in Week 18, he was still tied for the league lead, even though he only played 12 games, and kept that tie through last weekend.

He’s only the second former Gator to lead the league in picks — Reggie Nelson did it with eight in 2015, meaning that the only Gators to do so have both hailed from Brevard County, with Nelson graduating from 2000s-era powerhouse Palm Bay and Gardner-Johnson starring at recent riser Cocoa.

Ceedy Duce also didn’t miss a beat on the field, with seven tackles and a tackle for loss. In fact, he showed off his ability to play all over the field by splitting time at safety and nickel corner. But ask Gardner-Johnson and he’ll tell you exactly who he is and what position he plays.

Piñeiro Almost Perfect

Eddy Piñeiro might have been the best kicker in the NFL this year. He finished 33-for-35 on field goals for a stellar 94.3 percent make rate — pairing the fourth-most field goals and second-best FG percentage in the league. And he went out with a bang, drilling a 42-yard game-winner in Week 18.

Piñeiro doing that and writing his own redemption tale was inspiring. After missing an extra point and a field goal in a brutal meltdown in the middle of the season against the Falcons, many were calling for his job. He answered the bell in incredible fashion.

Piñeiro’s current stretch of 19 consecutive made field goals was only his second-longest streak this year — he had a streak of 27 straight field goals going back to 2019 snapped earlier this season. Since getting another chance to kick in the league late last year, Piñeiro has made 41 of his past 43 field goals. In fact, his career numbers are now 64-for-71, or 90.1 percent.

If he had enough kicks to qualify? He’d be second in league history to Justin Tucker — who is only at 90.5 percent.

Eddy is steady. More than you think, probably.

Dunlap is Still Tall, Can Still Play

In his 13th season, Carlos Dunlap isn’t the double-digit sack machine and every-down player he was in his prime. But he’s still a force as a rotational edge rusher, notching his 100th career sack earlier this season, and one of the best defensive linemen ever at batting down passes.

Dunlap’s knockdown in Week 18 gave him eight passes defended, tied for first in the entire league among defensive linemen. This should come as no surprise: Since entering the NFL, Dunlap is the active leader among non-DBs in pass breakups with 77 — seven more than the retiring J.J. Watt, who became so notorious for his batting down of passes that he acquired the nickname J.J. Swatt.

Dunlap doesn’t get the same sort of respect, of course, and was never the game-wrecker that Watt was in his prime. But when he does hang them up, it’ll be the end of an illustrious career.

Davis Dazzles in Giants Debut

Jarrad Davis was languishing away on Detroit’s practice squad, active for only three games and a total of 36 defensive snaps. Last week, the New York Giants claimed Davis for linebacking depth, likely figuring he could fill in for their meaningless Week 18 game while their regulars got healthy.

Then Davis started making plays.

He showed speed and aggressiveness. He shot gaps. He was closing out in space. Ten tackles and a half sack later, Davis blew away any expectations the Giants might have had.

Apparently, the Giants pursued Davis for a while before finally convincing him to leave Detroit and sign with them. It looks like a decision that could pay off for both in the playoffs.

Anzalone Ends With Some Bangs

Alex Anzalone and the Detroit Lions left it all on the field at Lambeau last Sunday. The Lions had been eliminated from playoff contention earlier in the day, but instead of sulking, they came out and knocked their hated rivals out of the postseason as well. Anzalone finished his best season with 125 tackles - tied for 21st in the league - including this huge tackle for loss.

Anzalone helped ice the game when he blitzed Aaron Rodgers and pressured him into an underthrown pass that was intercepted.

He also gave the best lineup intro of the season.

Other Week 18 Notables

Kyle Trask finally made his NFL debut. His final numbers weren’t great — 3-for-9 for 23 yards — but 10 snaps with backups at every position is hardly a fair shot.

It wasn’t the season Van Jefferson wanted, but at least he finished strong with three grabs for 61 yards last Sunday and six catches for 138 over his last two games.

Freddie Swain didn’t have the season he thought he’d have either, but this 52-yarder at least shows he can still make plays in the league. He’ll be looking for a bigger opportunity in 2023.

Player of the Week

The Chiefs have been building to it for weeks and finally unleashed Kadarius Toney in the first half of the season finale against the Raiders. Early on, Toney combined cuts and power on this strong run that almost found the end zone.

Toney broke a few more ankles in space later in the game.

Then the Chiefs just plain showed off with one of the coolest plays — or pre-snap motions, at least — we’ve ever seen run in an NFL game.

Toney was the recipient of that trick play, broke a tackle, and scored. Of course, the touchdown was called back. So what did Kansas City do? They called a jet sweep for Toney on the very next play.

Toney finished last week with a modest 44 yards on five touches and that score, all in the first half. Seemed pretty clear, though, that Andy Reid and his merry band of mad scientists have ramped up the Toney integration — he’s gotten a combined nine touches for 115 yards the past two weeks — just in time for the postseason.

Play of the Week

For the second time this season, a former Gator’s pick six lands the Play of the Week.

Marco Wilson’s finish was spectacular. For Greenard, it was all about the deflection and catch. Great reflexes and hands by the big edge rusher.

Greenard has produced at a high level when he’s been on the field for the Texans. In 33 career games, he has 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. The problem has been staying healthy: He missed nine games this season and was limited in a few others.

Greenard was also honored by the local Houston media with their 2022 season good guy award for always taking the time to talk with them even while battling through those injuries.

Super Wild Card Weekend Preview

Seahawks at 49ers

Teez Tabor and Stone Forsythe are likely to see limited snaps in backup roles for Seattle. Janoris Jenkins, signed to the 49ers practice squad back in late November, has been elevated for this game and could see a backup role. Jenkins is third among all active players in passes defended with 124.

Chargers at Jaguars

Jawaan Taylor is the lone Gator in action. He’ll have his hands full with the Chargers’ pass rush duo of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. Taylor had his best season in 2022, only allowing five sacks while opening holes for Travis Etienne in the run game.

Dolphins at Bills

The bad news? Kaiir Elam will line up across from Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. The good news? Skylar Thompson might be the one throwing the passes. Elam could have a chance to make some plays.

Giants at Vikings

As mentioned, look for Jarrad Davis to play a key role for the Giants especially in a matchup against Dalvin Cook and the Vikings run game. On the other side, Jonathan Bullard will do his best to help control the line of scrimmage and keep Saquan Barkley from getting loose.

Ravens at Bengals

It’s Money Mac time. After an historic postseason last year, Evan McPherson will be looking to shake off an up and down regular season with more big kicks in the playoffs. Zach Carter fills a rotational role on the Bengals defensive line.

For the Ravens, Demarcus Robinson will see a handful of targets as one of Baltimore’s top pass-catching options.

Cowboys at Bucs

Dante Fowler could be a factor for Dallas. He’s had success sacking Tom Brady in the past. Malik Davis isn’t likely to see much time behind Tony Pollard and Zeke Elliott. Keanu Neal has seen his playing time decrease as Tampa’s secondary has gotten healthy. Kyle Trask will surely be inactive.

Here are all of the Week 18 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

  • Kadarius Toney, KC, WR

Week 18: 3 rush, 26 yards, TD, 2 rec (2 targets), 18 yards, 1 PR, 5.0 avg, 18 snaps (31%), 3 ST snaps (13%)

Season: 9 G, 16 rec, 171 yards, 2 TD, 7 rush, 82 yards, TD, 10 PR, 6.1 avg

  • Jarrad Davis, NYG, LB

Week 18: 10 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, 70 snaps (96%)

Season: 4 G, 13 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, 1 PD

  • Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE

Week 18: 1 INT, 39 return yards, TD, 3 tackles, 1 PD, 29 snaps (40%)

Season: 8 G, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, TD, 16 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 QB hits, 1 PD, 1 FR

  • Alex Anzalone, DET, LB

Week 18: 8 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, 60 snaps (100%)

Season: 17 G, 125 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 7 TFL, 7 QB hits, 6 PD, 1 FR

  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, PHI, S

Week 18: 7 tackles, 1 TFL, 63 snaps (100%)

Season: 12 G, 6 INT (tied for NFL lead), 54 return yards, 67 tackles, 8 PD, 5 TFL, 2 QB hits

  • Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Week 18: 49 snaps (100%)

Season: 17 G, 1,097 snaps (98%), 6 penalties, 5 sacks allowed, 1 tackle

  • Van Jefferson, LAR, WR

Week 18: 3 rec (7 targets), 61 yards, 59 snaps (97%)

Season: 11 G, 24 rec, 369 yards, 3 TD

  • Carlos Dunlap, KC, DE

Week 18: 2 QB hits, 1 PD, 51 snaps (73%)

Season: 17 G, 4.0 sacks, 39 tackles, 12 QB hits, 8 PD, 6 TFL, 1 FF

  • Max Garcia, ARI, G

Week 18: 52 snaps (100%)

Season: 12 G, 544 snaps (64%), 2 penalties, 1 sack allowed

  • Eddy Pineiro, CAR, K

Week 18: 1/1 FG, Long 42, 1/1 XP

Season: 17 G, 33/35 FG, Long 54, 30/32 XP

  • Freddie Swain, DEN, WR

Week 18: 2 rec (3 targets), 54 yards, 1 PR, 0 yards, 1 fumble, 21 snaps (32%), 13 ST snaps (42%)

Season: 4 G, 4 rec, 74 yards

  • Brandon Powell, LAR, WR

Week 18: 1 rec (3 targets), 2 yards, 1 rush, 15 yards, 1 KR, 17.0 avg, 3 PR, 7.3 avg, 49 snaps (80%), 16 ST snaps (48%)

Season: 24 rec, 156 yards, 17 rush, 80 yards, 30 KR, 20.2 avg, 24 PR, 7.4 avg

  • Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Week 18: 2/2 FG, Long 34, 3/3 XP

Season: 16 G, 24/29 FG, Long 59, 40/44 XP

  • Demarcus Robinson, BAL, WR

Week 18: 2 rec (9 targets), 24 yards, 2 tackles, 49 snaps (63%)

Season: 17 G, 48 rec, 458 yards, 2 TD, 5 tackles

  • C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB

Week 18: 4 tackles, 1 PD, 1 FF, 60 snaps (100%), 8 ST snaps (40%)

Season: 17 G, 58 tackles, 2 INT, 74 return yards, 7 PD, 2 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR

  • T.J. Slaton, GB, DT

Week 18: 3 tackles, 32 snaps (52%), 12 ST snaps (48%)

Season: 17 G, 31 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 PD

  • Trent Brown, NE, RT

Week 18: 68 snaps (100%)

Season: 17 G, 1,032 snaps (98%), 9 penalties, 5 sacks allowed

  • Tommy Townsend, KC, P

Week 18: 4 punts, 49.0 avg

Season: 17 G, 53 punts, 50.4 avg, 45.6 net (led NFL), 0/1 passing

  • Taven Bryan, CLE, DT

Week 18: 1 tackle, 48 snaps (66%), 5 ST snaps (23%)

Season: 16 G, 3.0 sacks, 26 tackles, 6 QB hits, 2 TFL, 1 PD

The Limited

  • Keanu Neal, TB, S

Week 18: 1 QB hit, 31 snaps (46%), 3 ST snaps (11%)

Season: 17 G, 63 tackles, 1 INT, 0.5 sack, 5 QB hits, 4 PD, 2 TFL

  • Kaiir Elam, BUF, CB

Week 18: 2 tackles, 29 snaps (43%), 6 ST snaps (23%)

Season: 13 G, 2 INT, 41 tackles, 4 PD, 1 TFL

  • Zach Carter, CIN, DT

Week 18: 2 tackles, 1 PD, 33 snaps (42%), 4 ST snaps (13%)

Season: 16 G, 23 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, 1 PD

  • Jeff Driskel, HOU, QB

Week 18: 2/2 passing, 13 yards, 3 rush, 7 yards, 6 snaps (9%)

Season: 7 G, 14/20 passing, 108 yards, TD, 20 rush, 75 yards, 1 rec, 4 yards

  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB

Week 18: 3/9 passing, 23 yards, 10 snaps (18%)

Season: 3/9 passing, 23 yards

  • Malik Davis, DAL, RB

Week 18: 5 rush, 19 yards, 6 snaps (9%), 8 ST snaps (24%)

Season: 12 G, 38 rush, 161 yards, TD, 6 rec, 63 yards, 2 tackles

  • Janoris Jenkins, SF, CB

Week 18: 1 tackle, 17 snaps (33%), 13 ST snaps (50%)

Season: 2 G, 3 tackles

  • Teez Tabor, SEA, S

Week 18: 1 tackle, 7 snaps (11%), 15 ST snaps (45%)

Season: 10 G, 9 tackles

  • Jonathan Bullard, MIN, DT

Week 18: 22 snaps (43%)

Season: 12 G, 23 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 QB hit

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., DAL, OLB

Week 18: 14 snaps (21%)

Season: 17 G, 6.0 sacks, 27 tackles, 9 QB hits, 7 TFL, 2 FF, 2 PD

  • Stone Forsythe, SEA, T

Week 18: 3 snaps (4%), 6 ST snaps (18%)

Season: 17 G, 122 snaps (11%), 79 ST snaps (17%), 1 penalty, 0 sacks allowed

The Inactive

  • Dameon Pierce, HOU, RB: Injured Reserve

Season: 220 rush, 939 yards, 4 TD, 30 rec, 165 yards, TD, 1 tackle

  • Marco Wilson, ARI, CB: Inactive (Neck)

Season: 13 G, 3 INT, 77 return yards, TD, 10 PD, 2 TFL, 1 QB hit, 1 FF

  • Marcus Maye, NO, S: Inactive (Shoulder)

Season: 10 G, 60 tackles, 2 PD, 1 FF

  • Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE: Injured Reserve

Season: 10 G, 28 rec, 356 yards, 2 TD

  • D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT: Injured Reserve

Season: 8 G, 575 snaps (99%), 4 penalties, 0 sacks allowed

  • Jon Bostic, WAS, LB: Injured Reserve

Season: 15 G, 25 tackles

  • Marcell Harris, NYJ, LB: Injured Reserve

Season: 11 G, 12 tackles

  • Feleipe Franks, ATL, TE: Inactive

Season: 11 G, 1 rush, 0 yards, 1 tackle

The Practice Squad

  • Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR

Season: 6 G, 2 rec, 28 yards, 3 tackles, 2 KR, 9.0 avg

  • Fred Johnson, PHI, OL

Season: 5 G, 2 snaps (1%), 18 ST snaps (14%)

  • Jabari Zuniga, NO, DE

Season: 1 G, 2 tackles

  • Jonotthan Harrison, ATL, OL

Season: 1 G, no snaps

  • La’mical Perine, MIA, RB
  • David Sharpe, BAL, T
  • Jeremiah Moon, BAL, LB
  • Duke Dawson, PIT, DB
  • Jean Delance, GB, OL
  • Antonio Callaway, DAL, WR