If P.J. Fleck needed a little pick-me-up after the Gophers’ 49-24 loss to Michigan in Saturday night’s season opener, he received it Sunday from a trio of stars from Minnesota’s 2019 team.
Antoine Winfield Jr., Tyler Johnson and Kamal Martin all had impactful games for their NFL teams.
Winfield, a safety who’s making a case to be defensive rookie of the year, intercepted his first NFL pass in the fourth quarter as Tampa Bay defeated the Raiders 45-20 in Las Vegas. Winfield scooped up a tipped pass by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, then returned the pick 16 yards to the Las Vegas 24-yard line. That set up a touchdown that put the Buccaneers up 38-20.
“It’s a great feeling to get my first interception,” Winfield told the Tampa Bay Times. “I felt like I should’ve had it last week [when he dropped a would-be interception against Green Bay], but you know, it was great finally actually catching the ball and it actually felt amazing.”
Winfield ranks third on the team with 37 tackles (25 solo) and has two sacks.
Johnson was part of NFL history late in the fourth quarter when he caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady, who moved ahead of New Orleans’ Drew Brees for the NFL record with his 559th career TD pass. The wide receiver also had a 3-yard reception and has seven catches for 72 yards and two TDs this season.
Martin, making his NFL debut for the Packers after missing the first five games because of a training camp knee injury, started at inside linebacker and made six tackles, one for loss, in Green Bay’s 35-20 win at Houston.
“They’re having a phenomenal year right now, and it’s so fun for our team right now to see those guys that they just played with have a ton of success in the NFL,” Fleck said.
Three ex-Gophers who are NFL veterans had strong games on Sunday.
Arizona linebacker De’Vondre Campbell made nine tackles in a 37-34 overtime win over Seattle; Kansas City linebacker Damien Wilson had eight tackles in a 43-16 rout of Denver; and Houston safety Eric Murray has six tackles in the loss to Green Bay.
Two other Gophers, Giants rookie linebacker Carter Coughlin and Jets second-year linebacker Blake Cashman, saw action but did not register a statistic.
“Just so proud of all of our alumni who are in the NFL,” Fleck added.
Backing up Ibrahim
Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim had the bulk of the workload against Michigan, but a pair of redshirt freshmen chipped in, too. Treyson Potts rushed five times for 18 yards, including a 9-yard gain to the Michigan 13-yard line in the first quarter. Cam Wiley rushed three times for 10 yards.
“It was really good to watch both those young guys run, whether it was Cam Wiley, whether it was Trey Potts,” Fleck said. “Those are two freshmen that we’re really excited about. I thought they ran really hard, made some really nice runs.”
Tight ends are targets
During the 2018 and ’19 seasons, Gophers tight ends had a combined 16 receptions. If the two receptions by Ko Kieft on Saturday are any indication, the Gophers under new offensive co-coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. will work that position into the mix more often.
“I’m really proud of the progress they’re making,” Fleck said, mentioning Kieft, Brevyn Spann-Ford, Bryce Witham and Jake Paulson. “They’re a big part of the offense in what we do in the run game and developing into part of what we do in the pass game as well.’’