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Dec 18, 2018

Tigers in the NFL: Week 15

By: Cole Little

Talented wideouts DeAndre Hopkins and Mike Williams did not have the opportunity to play with one another at Clemson, as Williams began his college career with the Tigers the season after Hopkins departed for the NFL. However, comparable athletic intangibles, catching abilities and playmaking potentials have naturally drawn parallels between the two throughout their respective careers, leading many football fans to ponder just how incredible it would have been if Hopkins and Williams had teamed up at “Wide Receiver U.” Hypotheticals aside, Hopkins and Williams have been showing out in the professional ranks this fall, with Week 15 of the 2018 NFL season seeing the star pass catchers produce a couple of the most clutch receiving performances of the year to lead the pack of former Clemson Tigers currently in the NFL.

Williams, a wide receiver for the Los Angeles Chargers, was a jack-of-all-trades in the Chargers’ impressive victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Scoring two receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown for his third multi-touchdown showing of the season, Williams dominated in an outing that featured him catching seven passes for 76 yards to go along with the aforementioned touchdown run of 19 yards.

Mike’s most important play of the game, however, was one that did not even show up on the stat sheet, as Williams caught the game-winning two-point conversion on the final play from scrimmage to lift the Chargers over the Chiefs by a final score of 29-28.

In fact, Williams was responsible for all eight of the points scored on the winning drive. Prior to finding himself wide open in the end zone for the triumphant two-point snag, Williams made a crucial one-yard touchdown grab to pull the Chargers to within one point of the Chiefs with just four seconds remaining on the game clock.

Leading up to his late-game heroics, Williams made several highlight-worthy plays throughout the contest. On Los Angeles’ first scoring drive, Mike hauled in a game-long 38-yard reception to place the Chargers deep in Chiefs territory. Williams was able to hang on to the football, despite getting pummeled by a defender immediately after securing the catch.

The Chargers were rewarded for Williams’ efforts at the end of the possession, when the 6-foot-4-inch receiver made a leaping three-yard touchdown grab in the left side of the end zone, which marked the first of three scores for Williams on the night.

Later on, Williams achieved a career milestone by scoring his first career touchdown on the ground. Converting a jet sweep into six points, Williams burst up the gut on the pitch play, fighting through contact en route to breaking the plane. The second-year wideout now boasts nine receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown on the season.

Williams was not the only former Clemson wide receiver to tally a winning touchdown in Week 15, as Hopkins did the same in the Houston Texans’ nail-biter against the New York Jets. Pulling off one of the top catches of the year, “Nuk” somehow hauled in a reception in the most minute of windows after fighting through intense coverage for a go-ahead 14-yard score with just over two minutes left in the game.

Hopkins put on quite a show in the Houston victory, as he led the league outright in Week 15 with 170 receiving yards and finished tied atop the league leaderboard with 10 receptions and two receiving touchdowns. In addition to catching his 10th and 11th touchdown passes of the year over the weekend, Hopkins became the second-youngest player in the history of the NFL to collect 500 career receptions.

During the second quarter, Hopkins obtained his first touchdown of the day via his longest reception of the matchup. After beating the New York secondary downfield, Hopkins corralled a 45-yard touchdown catch while falling down in the end zone, which served as his second-longest touchdown grab of 2018.

With two games remaining in the regular season, Hopkins is seventh in the league with 94 receptions, third in the league with 1,321 receiving yards and fourth in the league with 11 receiving touchdowns. His total of three games with 150-plus receiving yards leads the NFL.

Of course, DeAndre’s wingman, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, was a contributing factor to the epic performance by Hopkins in Week 15. Earning an impressive quarterback rating of 134.2, Watson went 22-of-28 through the air for 295 yards and the pair of touchdown throws to Nuk. Watson also picked up 26 yards on the ground by way of four carries, including one run that led to Watson comically taking a breather on the Jets’ bench at the end of it.

Houston defeated New York 29-22 on Saturday, with a 75-yard drive that was punctuated by Hopkins’ masterful 14-yard touchdown catch putting the Texans up 26-22 and providing them with a lead that they did not relinquish. The pivotal possession signified Watson’s fifth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, which, at the time, was tied for the highest such total by any quarterback in football.

A sizable sampling of former Clemson defensive players experienced their fair shares of success in Week 15, as well, including a tandem of Atlanta Falcons pass rushers. Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett continued his recent string of backfield dominance by collecting two sacks, including a strip sack that resulted in his third forced fumble in the past three games. Jarrett, who has six sacks to his name this season, finished with seven combined tackles, three of which were for a loss.

Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. obtained sack number five on the year for an Atlanta squad that compiled seven sacks in a 40-14 beatdown of the Arizona Cardinals. Beasley was credited with three combined tackles and two defended passes in the win.

Elsewhere, New York Giants inside linebacker B.J. Goodson racked up a season-best nine tackles, all of which were of the solo variety, to give himself 50 tackles for the 2018 slate. The third-year linebacker also broke up a pass as part of his superb performance.

For the Minnesota Vikings, cornerback Mackensie Alexander pulled off quite the personal achievement by procuring his fourth sack of the year to tie the single-season record for sacks by a Vikings defensive back. Alexander amassed three tackles in all, with two of them coming in the form of tackles for loss, and, on top of that, notched two pass deflections.

Keeping it on the defensive side of the ball, Texans defensive tackle D.J. Reader accrued six combined tackles, including one tackle for loss, and Chiefs inside linebacker Dorian O’Daniel garnered four total tackles and one pass break-up.

Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson made his presence felt, too, by virtue of his three combined tackles, two hits on the quarterback and one pass deflection. Also of note, Tampa Bay Buccaneers return specialist and wide receiver Adam Humphries caught four passes for 23 yards and tabbed a 12-yard punt return.