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NFL notes: Sherman, former Cardinal players making early impacts

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Sunday was a big day for Stanford’s big guys around the NFL.

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Cornerback Richard Sherman ’10 had a big day for the Seattle Seahawks against former Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers with a big hit and an interception of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

Coby Fleener ’11 caught four passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, Zach Ertz ’13 snagged two passes for 58 yards, Jim Dray ’10 grabbed five passes for 31 yards and Levine Toilolo ’13 recorded his first NFL reception for a 4-yard gain in an eventful week for former Stanford tight ends.

Fleener’s touchdown reception came with 13 minutes left in the second quarter as he caught a 3-yard pass from fellow Cardinal alum Andrew Luck ’12. The touchdown pulled the Colts within four points of the Dolphins as they trailed 14-10, eventually falling 24-20.

Ertz was only targeted twice by Eagles quarterback Michael Vick but made the most of his opportunities with a 31-yard reception and a 27-yard reception, the two longest of his young career. His productive day even earned him a few snaps in the red zone, although he was never targeted inside of the 20-yard line.

In addition, Dray led the Arizona Cardinals with five receptions in the Cardinals’ 25-21 win over the Detroit Lions. Luck, however, fell just short.

Looking for yet another fourth-quarter comeback, Colts quarterback Luck drove the team to the Dolphins 23-yard line before the rally came up short as Luck was sacked on fourth down and the Colts turned the ball over.

“I guess I’m a little angry at myself,” Luck told ESPN. “Again, credit to [the Dolphins], they put us in all these situations, but I feel like we are a better team than what we showed out there.”

A year ago, Luck and the Colts defeated the Dolphins and their quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was selected in the same draft (and same round) as Luck, 23-20 in another down-to-the-wire finish in which Tannehill couldn’t deliver for the Dolphins on their final drive. In that game, Luck broke the rookie passing record with 433 yards. The up-and-coming Dolphins and their young quarterback may be forming a budding rivalry with Luck and the Colts.

In Sunday’s contest, Luck finished 25-for-43 with 321 yards with a touchdown and an interception. After posting a league-leading 95.1 QBR in Week 1, Luck managed a 51.5 QBR in Week 2, still a respectable performance coming from a quarterback who received as little protection from his offensive line as Luck did.

Even after Colts owner Jim Irsay called out Indianapolis’ protection of Luck after Week 1, the Colts’ offensive line continued to struggle in supplying sufficient time for Luck to work. The lack of protection was never more apparent than on the Colts’ final play of the game as Luck was sacked by a four-man rush after only a couple seconds. Luck was sacked three times and was pressured on several other plays, perhaps contributing to this week’s drop in QBR.

Possibly the most anticipated matchup between those with Stanford connections in the NFL, and certainly the matchup causing the most Stanford mentions by the broadcasting crew, was the 49ers and the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. The year’s first showdown between the Seahawks, led by Richard Sherman ’10, and Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers ended in a 29-3 victory for Sherman and the Seahawks as they cruised at home.

Despite playing four years under Harbaugh at Stanford, Sherman stirred up controversy this past offseason, saying that Harbaugh is “not [his] coach.” The NBC Sunday Night Football crew hyped up the rivalry between the two by continually referencing their Stanford connections and even suggesting that Sherman would be looking at Harbaugh, not any of the players, on the 49ers sideline when things were going Sherman’s way.

Sherman intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass in the fourth quarter and laid a big hit on 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams later in the quarter on a screen pass.

After the game, Sherman chased down Harbaugh and gave him a pat on the butt before being interviewed on NBC. During the interview, Sherman called out the “ignorant idiots” who picked the 49ers to win the game.

Doug Baldwin ’10 had only one catch but took it for 51 yards on a third-and-12 play on a drive that resulted in a Marshawn Lynch touchdown.

Other significant happenings of the week included the signing of former Stanford defensive tackle Sione Fua by the Carolina Panthers to provide depth on the defensive line. Fua was drafted by the Panthers and played for them in 2011 and 2012 but was cut during training camp this year.

Also, Stepfan Taylor ’13, Stanford’s all-time leading rusher, earned his first regular season carry for the Arizona Cardinals this week, taking it for a gain of 2 yards.

Update, 9/17/13 (11 a.m.): On Tuesday morning, Chase Thomas ’12 was signed to the practice squad by his hometown Atlanta Falcons. Thomas had participated in training camp with the Saints and Raiders, but was cut by both teams.

Update, 9/17/13 (12 p.m.): The San Francisco 49ers just signed former Cardinal fullback Owen Marecic after their poor rushing performance against the Seattle Seahawks. The signing had been rumored before the season, but the deal was finally closed on Tuesday morning. When he was at Stanford, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh called Marecic his favorite player.

Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Michael Peterson is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. He has served as a beat reporter for football, baseball and men’s soccer and also does play-by-play broadcasting of football and baseball for KZSU. Michael is a senior from Rancho Santa Margarita, California majoring in computer science. To contact him, please email him at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.