There’s a saying in journalism, at least I think there is (I don’t really know because I’m not a journalist, I didn’t take any classes or listen to any talented writers so whatever), that you should never bury the lede. So as much as I am tempted to make you all read through the gory details of every former Hawkeye in the NFL from this week, I suppose we should dive right in with the story you’re all here for.
Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island for the last few months (and frankly, that doesn’t sound terrible with Midwest weather) you’ve probably heard former Hawkeye tight end George Kittle has been having himself a year for the San Francisco 49ers. Well, not really a year, it’s more like the year. As in, the best year ever. Literally the best year EVER for a tight end in the NFL.
Kittle hauled in 9 catches for 149 yards, capped by this 43-yard TD to break the record.
Break the record, might as well score too. Congrats @gkittle46 #GoNiners pic.twitter.com/kD4H2SQj1Y— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 31, 2018
The Niners won’t be making the playoffs, so Kittle finishes the year with 88 catches for 1,377 yards and 5 TDs. Those 1,377 are 41 more than the 1,336 of Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, which had been been good enough to break the record previously held by Rob Gronkowski at 1,327 only an hour before Kittle capped off his day.
In addition to leading tight ends in receiving yards, Kittle also led the league - all players, not just tight ends - in yards after catch this season with 898. That’s an astounding 10.2 yards after catch per reception.
Congratulations to George Kittle on an incredible season.
The @NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season by a tight end belongs to @gkittle46 pic.twitter.com/rOr9WUyEAd— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 31, 2018
With a number of former Hawkeyes battling injuries, the highlights were fairly limited for guys not named Kittle. Though unlike Kittle, there will be several former Hawkeyes in the post season.
That includes linebacker Anthony Hitchens. Hitchens helped the Kansas City Chiefs secure a first round bye and home field throughout the playoffs Sunday. He finished with 9 tackles including 5 solo as the Chiefs defeated the Oakland Raiders 35-3.
Offensive guard Austin Blythe and the Los Angeles Rams also cruised to an easy win, defeating Kittle’s 49ers 48-32. Blythe helped lead the way up front for - checks notes - C.J. Anderson, who topped 100 yards rushing for the second straight week filling in for Todd Gurley. The win secured a first round bye for the Rams, though their earlier loss to the New Orleans Saints will keep them from home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Elsewhere on the offensive line, former Iowa center and current Chicago Bears guard James Daniels got his tenth start of the season Sunday. It came in a 24-10 win over the amonnesota Vikings. The win did little for the Bears given the Rams win, but it did keep the division rival Vikings out of the playoffs.
Staying in the NFC North, a pair of Hawkeyes saw their seasons come to an end in Green Bay Sunday. Tackle offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga was back in action for the second week in a row, but the Packers’ offense struggled to do much of anything against the Detroit Lions with Aaron Rodgers sidelined early. The defense didn’t do much better for the Pack. While cornerback Josh Jackson did have a solo tackle and a pass defended (he also had a punt return for 0 yards) he got beat on a glorious fake FG from the Lions that cost Green Bay a touchdown.
That was so much fun.. Thank you @NFLonFOX for the opportunity. I hope I made the game just a little bit more enjoyable for the folks at home.. I’ll never ever forget this. Grateful is an understatement. pic.twitter.com/DED7IMAm7I— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) December 30, 2018
Fellow defensive back Micah Hyde had a solid game for the Buffalo Bills as they cruised to a 42-17 win over the Miami Dolphins. Hyde finished with 4 tackles, including 2 solo, and a pass defended. Despite ending the year on a high note, the Bills finished the season 6-10, marking the first time in Hyde’s career he won’t be playing in the playoffs.
And finally, in the AFC West, it was a showdown between a pair of former Hawkeye greats as Joseph Jewel and the Denver Broncos played host to Desmond King and the Los Angeles Chargers. Both players had solid performances. King finished with 6 tackles, including 5 solo and a hit on the QB. Newell, meanwhile, finished with 5 tackles, including 4 solo and 1 tackle for loss.
The Chargers came away victorious, defeating the Broncos 23-9. The loss ends the Broncos’ season. The Chargers, however, will be the fifth seed in the AFC. They travel to Baltimore next Sunday.
In total, four former Hawkeyes who were healthy this week will be in the playoffs. King’s Chargers and Daniels’ Bears will both be in action next week while Blythe’s Rams and Hitchens’ Chiefs both enjoy first round byes.