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Stanford in the NFL, Week 9: Linebackers force turnovers, McCaffrey returns

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Stanford football alumni made an impact this week in the NFL on both sides of the ball, forcing critical turnovers on defense and rushing on offense. 

Colts’ linebacker Bobby Okereke ‘19 had a team-leading 11 total tackles, nine of which were solo. Okereke also sealed the 45-30 win for Indianapolis with a fourth-quarter interception of Jets’ quarterback Josh Johnson. 

Okereke was not the only former Stanford linebacker to force a turnover in the clutch. James Vaughters ‘15 recorded a strip sack in the fourth quarter for the Atlanta Falcons, helping them defeat the Saints 27-25.

Linebacker Brennan Scarlett ‘16 and safety Justin Reid ‘18 each recorded a tackle for their respective teams, as Scarlett’s Dolphins ultimately defeated Reid’s Texans 17-9.

Several Cardinal alumni contributed on the defensive line throughout the professional football action. Solomon Thomas ‘17 had two tackles and a quarterback hit as the Raiders fell to the Giants 23-16. Josh Mauro ‘14 had a tackle for the Cardinals, and Bills’ defensive tackle Harrison Phillips ‘18 had five total tackles, three of which were solo.

Opposite of Phillips was Walker Little ‘21, who made his first career start on the offensive line for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The second round pick from last year’s draft played every offensive snap for Jacksonville. Little was not aware he would be starting until 10 minutes prior to gametime, when it was determined that Cam Robinson’s back injury would prevent him from playing. However, Little stepped in and helped the Jaguars upset the Super Bowl-contending Buffalo Bills 9-6 in a game in which they were 14.5-point underdogs.

While Little made the first start of his career this weekend, running back Christian McCaffrey ‘17 made his first start since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 3. 

Despite playing less than 50% of the Panthers’ offensive snaps as he continued to return to form, McCaffrey eclipsed 100 scrimmage yards, with 52 coming on the ground and 54 in the air. This has been the standard for a healthy McCaffrey this season — he has recorded over 100 scrimmage yards in every full game he has played this year. However, three interceptions from Panthers’ quarterback Sam Darnold against a talented Patriots defense spoiled McCaffrey’s return, and Carolina fell to New England 24-6. 

McCaffrey was not the only notable name to return from a hamstring injury in Week 9. Houston Texans’ quarterback Tyrod Taylor started for the first time since injuring his hamstring in a Week 2 loss to the Browns. Taylor’s return meant that Davis Mills ‘21 would resume his backup role, despite eclipsing 300 passing yards against the Rams in Week 8. Mills will continue to develop under the veteran signal caller as the season progresses. Taylor’s two previous rookie quarterback successors, Browns’ Baker Mayfield and Chargers’ Justin Herbert, have had success as starting quarterbacks in the league, and Mills will hope to follow in these footsteps. 

Speaking of the Browns, tight end Austin Hooper ‘16 caught both of his targets for 14 yards in their 41-16 win over the Bengals. 

Fellow tight end alumnus Dalton Schultz ‘18 led the Cowboys with four receptions for 54 yards, but the Cowboys fell to the Denver Broncos, 30-16.

Zach Ertz ‘13 had three receptions for 27 yards for the Cardinals in their 31-17 win over the 49ers. However, Ertz’s most significant contribution this week was made off of the football field. Ertz was named the NFL Players’ Association Community MVP for Week 9 after he launched a program which will provide meals to Arizona food banks and broke ground on his foundation’s House of Hope project to create a safe space for Philadelphia children. Just weeks after arriving in Arizona, Ertz is already making a positive contribution to the community while still doing work in his previous home of Philadelphia.

Jake Bailey ‘19 highlighted special teams once again, punting three times for 152 yards and pinning two of them inside the 20. 

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Drew Silva is a writer for the sports section. He is a sophomore from Pawtucket, Rhode Island studying computer science and symbolic systems. His favorite teams include the New England Patriots and Boston Celtics. You can find him watching NFL Redzone on Sundays.