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Was this the best week ever for Utahns in the NFL?

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Indianapolis Colts safety Julian Blackmon (32) and Indianapolis Colts safety George Odum (30) celebrate a turnover during an NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Indianapolis.

Zach Bolinger, Associated Press

Editor’s note: This story was updated following the Monday Night Football matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When a quarterback winning his first game in two years following a devastating injury doesn’t crack the top two or three storylines of Utahns in the NFL, that tells you just how good of a week it was for locals in the pros.

The headliner was Taysom Hill’s first NFL start at quarterback culminating in a victory, and Alex Smith earning his first win as a starter since 2018 was also a key moment, while other players came up in the clutch during an excellent week 11 of the NFL season for Utahns.

First, there were several players who made plays in critical moments:

Indianapolis Colts safety Julian Blackmon (Utah and Layton High)

Blackmon continues to show playmaking ability as a rookie. On the second play of overtime against Green Bay, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers threw to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a screen, and Blackmon fought through a pair of defenders before stripping the ball from Valdes-Scantling. Indianapolis recovered, then won the game four plays later on a short field goal.   

It’s the latest momentum-changing play for Blackmon, who also had five tackles in the Colts’ 34-31 win, and one that intensified talk that he should be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion. “Julian is explosive and he does have that knack and he is fearless,” Indianapolis coach Frank Reich told reporters of Blackmon. “He continues to make those kind of plays. He’s consistent, but he also has that playmaking ability.”

Cleveland Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki (BYU)

Takitaki, meanwhile, had a career-first, taking an interception 50 yards for a touchdown in the Browns’ 22-17 win over Philadelphia. Early in the second quarter with the Eagles facing a second-and-7, Browns cornerback Denzel Ward hit Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz as he released a pass, and Takitaki snagged the fluttering throw. From there, Takitaki outraced a Philadelphia player to the end zone for his first career pick-six.

“When I get out there on the field,” Takitaki told reporters, “I feel like I am out there trying to make a play and not worrying about what is my assignment.” Takitaki also had three tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass deflection in the win. 

Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz (Bingham High)

Like Blackmon, Schultz came up with a critical late-game play as the Cowboys outlasted the Minnesota Vikings, 31-28. With Dallas trailing 28-24 with less than two minutes to play and facing a third-and-goal from the 2, Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton hit an open Schultz across the middle for an easy go-ahead touchdown, and the Dallas defense did the rest for the win. 

 “At that point, it comes down to execution, and that’s exactly what we did. Great play design and got Dalton wide open in the end zone,” the QB Dalton said of Schultz’s touchdown. Schultz finished with four receptions for 25 yards in the win.

Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen (BYU)

The veteran Sorensen is a reliable, playmaking defender for the defending Super Bowl champions, and that was again the case Sunday in the Chiefs’ 35-31 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Moments after Kansas City took the lead on a 22-yard Travis Kelce touchdown with 28 seconds to play, Sorensen ended any hopes of a Raiders rally, intercepting Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr at the Kansas City 43 to seal the win.

It’s Sorensen’s third interception of the season. He also had four tackles and a pass deflection in the win.

Los Angeles Rams kicker Matt Gay (Utah and Orem High)

Last week, the Rams signed Gay off the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad. By Monday night, he was the team’s starting kicker, and the second-year pro delivered in his first action this season in the Rams’ 27-24 road win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After Tampa Bay tied the game at 24-all with 3:59 to play, Los Angeles went on a quick eight-play, 53-yard drive that stalled at the Buccaneers 22. Gay, though, drilled a 40-yard field goal that proved to be the game-winner with 2:36 to play.

Gay made 2 of 3 field goals in the game and hit all three of his field-goal attempts, as he helped take down his former team. “It’s definitely a little bit more for me to come back and play in this stadium and obviously hit that kick,” Gay said of beating Tampa Bay, which used a fifth-round draft pick on him in 2019, then waived Gay prior to this season.


Los Angeles Rams’ Matt Gay (1) kicks a field goal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla.

Jason Behnken, Associated Press

Then, there was the performances of Hill and Smith:

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (BYU)

Hill was filling in for injured starter Drew Brees, and he made the most of his first start as a quarterback in the NFL, as the Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons 24-9. Hill completed 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards while also rushing for a team-high 51 yards on 10 carries and two second-half touchdowns — his only blemish came when he lost a fumble at the end of a 20-yard carry.

“I was happy with the way that I played. I was happy with the way that my teammates played. And man, it was a collective effort to get this win,” Hill told reporters.

Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (Utah)

Smith, who’s played the past several weeks now after a devastating leg injury in 2018 looked like it might end his playing career, finally got his first win since the injury as Washington beat the Cincinnati Bengals 20-9. Smith completed 17 of 25 passes for 166 yards and a third-quarter touchdown to go with an interception, and he helped the Football Team rally with the final 13 points of the game, his first win as starter in 742 days.

“It felt really good. Another step, another thing I never thought I’d be doing again. It’s one thing to obviously come out and then even to get playing time and a whole other deal playing football as a starter,” Smith said.

Here’s a look at how each of the Utah ties on active rosters performed during the 11th week of the 2020 season:

Seahawks 28, Cardinals 21


  • Cody Barton, LB, Utah and Brighton High: 1 special teams tackle
  • Bobby Wagner, LB, Utah State: Started at middle linebacker, 9 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback hurry


  • Kylie Fitts, LB, Utah: Played as a reserve

Titans 30, Ravens 24


  • No locals on roster


  • No locals on active roster

Panthers 20, Lions 0


  • Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State and Jordan High: Played as a reserve


  • Miles Killebrew, S, SUU: 1 special teams tackle
  • John Penisini, DL, Utah, Snow College and West Jordan High: Started at defensive tackle, 4 tackles, 1 sack

Browns 22, Eagles 17


  • Porter Gustin, DE, Salem Hills High: Started at defensive end, 3 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry
  • Sione Takitaki, LB, BYU: Started at linebacker, 2 tackles (1 on special teams), 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception returned for a touchdown, 1 pass deflection


  • Sua Opeta, OG, Weber State and Stansbury High: Played as a reserve

Texans 27, Patriots 20


  • No locals on roster

New England

  • No locals on roster

Steelers 27, Jaguars 3


  • No locals on roster


  • No locals on active roster

Saints 24, Falcons 9

New Orleans

  • Kaden Elliss, LB, Judge Memorial High: Played as a reserve
  • Chase Hansen, LB, Utah and Lone Peak High: Not active for game
  • Taysom Hill, QB, BYU: Started at quarterback, 18 of 23 passing, 233 yards, 10 carries, 51 yards, 2 rushing touchdowns, 1 fumble
  • Marcus Williams, FS, Utah: Started at free safety, 3 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 1 interception


  • No locals on roster

Football Team 20, Bengals 9


  • Jared Norris, LB, Utah: Not active for game
  • Nate Orchard, DE, Utah and Highland High: Did not play
  • Alex Smith, QB, Utah: 17 of 25 passing, 166 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 3 carries, minus-3 yards


  • LeShaun Sims, CB, SUU: Started at cornerback, 6 tackles

Broncos 20, Dolphins 13


  • Garett Bolles, OT, Utah, Snow College and Westlake High: Started at left tackle
  • Tim Patrick, WR, Utah: 5 receptions, game-high 119 receiving yards


  • Eric Rowe, DB, Utah: Started at safety, game-high 10 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
  • Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU: Started at linebacker, 4 tackles, 2 quarterback hurries

Chargers 34, Jets 28

Los Angeles

  • Michael Davis, CB, BYU: Started at cornerback, 2 tackles, 1 pass breakup
  • Alohi Gilman, S, Orem: Played as a reserve
  • Sam Tevi, OT, Utah: Started at left tackle
  • Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State and Fremont High: 1 tackle

New York

  • Javelin Guidry, DB, Utah: Played as a reserve
  • Harvey Langi, LB, BYU, Utah and Bingham High: Started at linebacker, 11 tackles

Colts 34, Packers 31


  • Julian Blackmon, S, Utah and Layton High: Started at free safety, 5 tackles, 1 forced fumble
  • Noah Togiai, TE, Hunter High: Not active for game

Green Bay

  • Jordan Love, QB, Utah State: Not active for game
  • Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU: 5 carries, 12 yards, 1 reception, 4 yards for a touchdown

Cowboys 31, Vikings 28


  • Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah: Not active for game
  • Francis Bernard, LB, Utah, BYU and Herriman High: Played as a reserve
  • Dalton Schultz, TE, Bingham High: Started at tight end, 4 receptions, 25 yards, 1 touchdown


  • No locals on roster

Chiefs 35, Raiders 31

Kansas City

  • Daniel Sorensen, S, BYU: Started at strong safety, 4 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 1 interception
  • Darwin Thompson, RB, Utah State: Played as a reserve

Las Vegas

  • Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: 5 carries, 16 yards
  • Andre James, OT, Herriman High: Played as a reserve
  • Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State: Started at cornerback, 7 tackles (1 on special teams)
  • Dallin Leavitt, S, Utah State: Played as a reserve