Gators in the NFL: Bryan Cox Jr. goes from practice squad to playoffs

Damiere Byrd, Bryan Cox Jr
Carolina Panthers' Damiere Byrd (18) returns a kickoff for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL game in Charlotte, N.C. Carolina Panthers' Bryan Cox Jr (91) leads the play. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Panthers defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. touched the football for the first time in his NFL career as he recovered a Jameis Winston fumble and returned it 15 yards as Carolina beat Tampa Bay 22-19 on Sunday to secure a playoff spot.
The undrafted rookie also showed his versatility and value on special teams, as he led the wedge block that sprung teammate Damiere Byrd on a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the closing minutes of the second quarter.
Cox Jr. is part of a rookie class of nine Gators that was ranked No. 5 overall by NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah last week. Cox Jr. was the only player of the nine to go undrafted but made Carolina’s practice squad initially and earned his way onto the field and made an impact this week.
Carolina can clinch the NFC South championship with a win over Atlanta and a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay next week.

Around the NFL, Patriots running back Mike Gillislee saw the field for the first time in nearly two months and scored a touchdown in his return. Gillislee caught his first pass as a Patriot on a screen pass that gained 15 yards and also carried six times for 28 yards as New England pulled away from Buffalo 37-16. Teammate Dion Lewis got the bulk of the carries and an injury last week to Rex Burkhead (knee) opened the door for Gillislee to play against his former team. On the other side, Bills wide receiver Deonte Thompson made some explosive plays for Buffalo’s offense catching four passes for 91 yards with a long of 46 yards.

Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap had a sack, a pass deflection and four tackles for Cincinnati as they eliminated Detroit from playoff contention 26-17. Dunlap has had a solid season with one game left but currently has the third-lowest sack total (6.5) of his eight-year NFL career. Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis made five tackles for Detroit in the loss while teammate Teez Tabor also had five tackles.
Raiders safety Reggie Nelson forced a fumble and made his first interception of the year, after going 14 games this season without forcing a single turnover as Oakland lost 20-10 to Philadelphia.
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden returned from the injured list and recorded two tackles and a pass deflection as he squared off with one of the best receivers in the league, DeAndre Hopkins, in Pittsburgh’s 34-6 Christmas Day win over Houston.
Falcons safety Keanu Neal recorded ten total tackles and one pass deflection as Atlanta lost to New Orleans 23-13. Teammate Brian Poole added seven tackles for Atlanta who is still in the NFC Wildcard race and can clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win next week against Carolina.
49ers wide receiver Louis Murphy caught one pass for 17 yards as San Francisco moves to 4-0 with Jimmy Garappolo as starting quarterback.
Colts linebacker Antonio Morrison tallied nine total tackles and cornerback Quincy Wilson added three tackles in Indianapolis’ 23-16 loss to Baltimore on Saturday.
Jets safety Marcus Maye made six tackles as New York fell 14-7 to the L.A. Chargers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


This Gators in The NFL list only includes the players who finished their college careers at UF and didn’t transfer to finish up elsewhere.

Arizona Cardinals 
D.J. Humphries (T) — Injured reserve
Earl Okine (DE) — Practice Squad
Atlanta Falcons 
Keanu Neal (SS)
Brian Poole (DB)
Joey Ivie (DE) — Practice Squad
Buffalo Bills
Deonte Thompson (WR)
Carolina Panthers 
Bryan Cox Jr. (DE)
Chicago Bears 
Jonathan Bullard (DT)
Cincinnati Bengals 
Carlos Dunlap (DE)
Cleveland Browns 
Caleb Brantley (DT)
Dallas Cowboys 
Chaz Green (T)
Denver Broncos 
Max Garcia (G)
Detroit Lions 
Jarrad Davis (LB)
Teez Tabor (CB)
Houston Texans 
Chris Thompson (WR)
Indianapolis Colts
Jon Bostic (LB) — Injured reserve
Quincy Wilson (CB)
Antonio Morrison (ILB)
Matt Jones (RB)
Jacksonville Jaguars 
Dante Fowler Jr. (DE)
Lerentee McCray (DE)
Kansas City Chiefs 
Demarcus Robinson (WR)
Los Angeles Rams 
Dominique Easley (DT) — Injured reserve
Miami Dolphins
Mike Pouncey (C)
Minnesota Vikings
Mack Brown (RB)
Sharrif Floyd (DT) — Injured Reserve
New England Patriots
Mike Gillislee (RB)
New Orleans Saints 
Alex Anzalone (LB) — Injured Reserve
New York Giants 
Jon Halapio (OT)
New York Jets
Jonotthan Harrison (C)
Marcus Maye (S)
Oakland Raiders 
Reggie Nelson (DB)
David Sharpe (OT)
Philadelphia Eagles 
Trey Burton (TE)
Jaylen Watkins (DB)
Caleb Sturgis (K) — Injured Reserve
Pittsburgh Steelers 
Marcus Gilbert (T) — On suspended list
Maurkice Pouncey (C)
Joe Haden (CB)
Jake McGee (TE) — Practice Squad
San Francisco 49ers
Trent Brown (T)
Louis Murphy (WR)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Vernon Hargreaves (CB) — Injured reserve
Justin Trattou (DE) — Injured reserve
Washington Redskins 
Quinton Dunbar (CB)
Alex McCalister (DE)
Jordan Reed (TE) — Injured reserve