Cover 9@9: Pitts’ 17-game ‘record’ won’t hold same weight as Ditka’s 14-game mark

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Top 10 NFL rookie tight ends .Kyle Pitts is only the second rookie tight end in NFL history to record 1,000 yards receiving.The other is former Bears TE Mike Ditka.Pitts needed just 58 yards to break Ditka's 1961 record for most yards receiving by a rookie tight end.However he made only 2 catches for 8 yards in the last regular season game against the Saints on Jan. 9, 2022.The following are the top 10 rookie tight ends in NFL history:.10. Russ Francis (49ers) — 1975, 35 catches, 636 yards, 4 TDs.9. Bob Trumpy (Bengals) — 1968, 37 catches, 639 yards, 3 TDs.8. Cam Cleeland (Saints) — 1998, 54 catches, 684 yards, 6 TDs.7. Evan Engram (Giants) — 2017, 64 catches, 722 yards, 6 TDs.6. John Mackey (Colts) — 1963, 35 catches, 726 yards, 7 TDs.5. Charle Young (Eagles) — 1973, 55 catches, 854 yards, 6 TDs.4. Keith Jackson (Eagles) — 1988, 81 catches, 869 yards, 6 TDs.3. Jeremy Shockey (Giants) — 2002, 74 catches, 894 yards, 2 TDs.2. Kyle Pitts (Falcons) — 2021, 68 catches, 1,027 yards, 1 TD.1. Mike Ditka (Bears) — 1961, 56 catches, 1,076 yards, 12 TDs

(Here’s our weekly nine items at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the Atlanta Falcons, otherwise known as the Cover 9@9 blog!)

1. The no-spin zone: Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts’ status for the season finale Sunday against the Saints is murky.

He suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter of the loss to the Bills on Sunday and didn’t play in the second half.

“Probably not going to get a lot of clarity,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We’ll just see how the week goes. We’re not ruling him out (on Monday).”

Pitts has 66 catches for 1,019 yards and one touchdown in 16 games. He moved past Julio Jones for the most yards receiving in a rookies season. Jones had 959 yards in 13 games back in 2011. He had 95 catches and 12 touchdowns.

Pitts needs 58 yards to move past Mike Ditka for most yards receiving by a rookie tight end.

In the 14-game 1961 season, Ditka caught 56 passes for 1,076 yards and had 12 touchdowns.

Some, including Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp believes the 17-game season deserves its own category. Kupp has a shot at two receiving records, but doesn’t want to compare 17-game season stats with 16-game season stats. He could set marks for catches and receiving yards in one season.

Kupp has 138 catches and 1,829 yards. He is 135 yards shy of Calvin Johnson’s single season record for most receiving yards and 11 catches short of Michael Thomas for the most in one season.

“What the guys did that set those records – Mike Thomas, Randy Moss for the touchdowns, what Calvin Johnson did with the yards,” Kupp told reporters in L.A. on Monday. “What those guys did in 16 games, it wouldn’t seem right to, I don’t know, for those to be broken in 17 games. It wouldn’t hold the same weight to me as it does for guys that have done that in a 16-game season and the accomplishments that those guys had and the seasons those guys put together.”

Smith won’t let the Ditka mark cloud his decision.

“He’s going to come in and say how would he help us win,” Smith said. “Those things are nice. I’m not disregarding those things, those stats, but the only stat that matters is can we go out there and beat the Saints.”

It wouldn’t make much sense for the Falcons to have Pitts risk further damage to his hamstring to chase Ditka’s mark.

“He’s just scratching the surface,” Smith said. “But he wants to help the team win. That’s your goal as a football player and a football coach.”

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Bears coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan are carried around the field after they defeated New England 46-10 to win Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.

Credit: Ed Wagner Jr. / Chicago Tribune

Bears coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan are carried around the field after they defeated New England 46-10 to win Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.

Credit: Ed Wagner Jr. / Chicago Tribune

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Bears coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan are carried around the field after they defeated New England 46-10 to win Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.

Credit: Ed Wagner Jr. / Chicago Tribune

Credit: Ed Wagner Jr. / Chicago Tribune

2. On motivating an eliminated team: With the Falcons eliminated from the playoffs, Smith will have to motivate a team that has nothing to play for but pride.

“Yeah, if we don’t, we got the wrong people,” Smith said. “Because you find out about a lot of people through adversity. I think we’ve found out a lot about this team throughout the year. We answered, you know, some of it.”

The Falcons have battled and are 7-2 in one-score games this season.

“You put yourself in certain holes as the season goes on,” Smith said. “For the most part, we answered that. Like I said, we came up short. We would think we had the wrong guys if we had to sit there and trick them and motivate them. That’s absurd.”

He expects the players to be motivated and not be planning that postseason trip to Cabo San Lucas.

“That’s nobody that we want here, (general manager) Terry (Fontenot) and I, want to play here,” Smith said. “If we’d have an issue with that, they won’t be here.”

3. Thurman and Leonard: The Falcons had to reach deep into the roster against the Bills.

Defensive end Nick Thurman, who was signed to the practice squad Oct. 26, played 17 snaps, and Rick Leonard played three snaps on the three kicks. Thurman had a tackle an a quarterback hit.

When you got a development program, you need everybody here,” Smith said. “You get somebody in your program, and he showed improvement every week and the circumstances and there was an opportunity there … and he (Leonard) would have been ready if he had to go in there at tackle.”

Leonard was on the Falcons’ practice squad earlier this season. He went to Minnesota after being cut.

“Certain things came up that week, and so he was bouncing around,” Smith said. “He was up in Minnesota’s practice squad, but at least he had been here. We felt confident that if he had to play, at least he would know what to do.”

4. Kitchings to Virginia: Smith believes that Des Kitchings will make a fine offensive coordinator at the University of Virginia on Tony Elliott’s staff.

“He’s a smart coach,” Smith said. “Communicates well. Understands how to provide value every week, in terms of strategically you know, coming up with ideas and getting his guys ready to go. ... He’ll be missed around here, but it’s a heck of an opportunity for him.”

5. Spoiler role: Falcons coach Arthur Smith wants no parts of playing the spoiler role.

“Yeah, it’s about us,” Smith said. “You know, we need to go out and win this game, division game. We got to.”

The Falcon were eliminated from the playoffs after losing 29-15 to Buffalo.

“I’ve got a ton of respect for the Saints and what they’ve done in their program for a long time and Sean Payton,” Smith said. “Said it last time we played them. We understand any division game is huge. Certainly, this one being here in Atlanta in another home game against a really quality opponent. We need to go win this game.”

6. Taysom Hill, the Falcons’ killer: After Jameis Winston went down with a season-ending knee injury, Trevor Siemian took over at quarterback for the Saints . He was benched in favor of Taysom Hill after going 0-4.

The Falcons were defeated twice by the Saints with Hill at the controls last season.

In the 18-10 win over the Panthers, Hill completed 17 of 22 passes for 222 yards and he rushed for another 45 yards. Hill is completing only 56.9% of his passes after battling through a finger injury.

“He had two throws (against the Panthers) that he just missed,” Payton said. “I don’t know if it was grip-related, but he also made some really good throws. I imagine that he’s feeling more comfortable and getting healthier. ... I think (his finger) is feeling better.”

7. Falcons-quarterback killer: Saints defensive end Cam Jordan is coming on down the stretch for the Saints defense. He had 3.5 sacks against the Panthers and 7.5 over the last three games. He leads the Saints with 11.5 sacks.

Linebacker Demario Davis leads the Saints with 100 tackles.

8. Playoff record: Sean Payton has been the Saints coach since 2006 and is trying to take them to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. He’s been to the playoffs nine times, and the Saints won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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The tight end was forced into action Sunday against the Bills due to COVID, injuries

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

9. Depth chart: Here’s the official depth chart for the Saints’ game, with the three players still on the reserve/COVID-19 LIST removed:

OFFENSE

WR - Tajae Sharpe, Christian Blake, (Calvin Ridley on the NFI list), (Marvin Hall likely will be promoted)

TE - Kyle Pitts, Parker Hesse

LT - Jake Matthews, Rick Leonard

LG - Jaylen Mayfield, Josh Andrews

C - Matt Hennessy, Drew Dalman

RG - Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman

RT – Kaleb McGarry, Colby Gossett

TE – Hayden Hurst , Lee Smith, *Keith Smith (Has not lined up as traditional TE)

WR - Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby

RB - Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, Qadree Ollison

FB - Keith Smith

QB - Matt Ryan, Feleipe Franks or Josh Rosen

DEFENSE

DE - Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson

NT - Tyeler Davison, Ta’Quon Graham, Anthony Rush

DE - Mike Pennel, John Cominsky

OLB - Dante Fowler, Brandon Copeland, James Vaughters

ILB - Deion Jones, Mykal Walker

ILB - Foyesade Oluokun, Darren Bates

OLB – Steven Means, Adetokunbo Ogundeji

LCB - A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall

FS - Jaylinn Hawkins, Shawn Williams

SS - Duron Harmon, Richie Grant

RCB - Fabian Moreau, Kendall Sheffield, Avery Williams

SPECIAL TEAMS

K - Younghoe Koo

P – Thomas Morstead

LS - Josh Harris

H - Thomas Morstead

PR - Avery Williams, Olamide Zaccheaus

KOR - Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams

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