Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, another NFL season leaves with it. No more football until the beginning of August. It’s a sad day for NFL fans everywhere. Personally, I look forward to March Madness and the 2012 Summer Olympics to occupy my time until the preseason rolls around. But there’s no reason that we can’t take a look back at what was an extraordinary NFL season. Here are the top story lines of the 2011-2012 NFL season:
Leaving out Tim Tebow when looking back at the 2011 regular season would be like leaving out turkey on Thanksgiving. For me, the infinitely polarizing figure of Tim Tebow was the biggest story of 2011. We all know his story of his rookie year; he played in four games, two wins, two losses, varying numbers, etc. But this year, the wishes of Broncos fans would be granted, as Tebow took over the 1-4 Broncos in week 7 as the new starting QB. He faced Miami as his first test and for three and a half quarters, he failed that test. But then, down 15 with less than three minutes remaining in the game, he started what would turn out to be a huge story line in 2011. Inconceivably, he threw for two touchdowns and ran for one two-point conversion to send the game to overtime. One 52-yard field goal later, and Tebow was a hero. The Tebow experiment lived on for at least one more game.
Next he faced the Lions, a team a bit more challenging than Miami. To sum up, it didn’t go well at all. Tebow managed to put up 10 points against the rabid Lions defense in a 45-10 loss. By the end of this one, Tebow critics everywhere declared the experiment laughable and a failure. But John Fox kept Tebow in, putting his reputation and job on the line. How would Tebow fare?
He won his next six games.
Not only did he win the next six, but he did it in incredible fashion. Tebow assembled four fourth-quarter comebacks, two of those wins coming in overtime. Tebow was 7-1 in 2011 and playoff hopes were alive when just eight weeks before, playoff talk for Denver was blasphemous. But of course, Tebow couldn’t just quiet his critics once and for all. No, he had to lose his next three games. As the regular season came to a close, the jury was very much still out on Tebow. Even so, Tebow had sent his team to the playoffs with a (not so) stellar record of 8-8.
If the Broncos wanted to even dream of getting to the AFC Championship, they had to get past the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers first. The Steelers had arguably one of the best defenses in the league and were one of the favorites to get to the Super Bowl. Preliminary predictions had the Steelers embarrassing Tebow. But as we saw last year with the 7-9 Seahawks, just about anything can happen in the NFL playoffs. Anything.
Without getting into too much detail, Tebow shockingly jumped out to a 20-6 lead at the half. But as expected, the Steelers roared back to tie the game up at 23-23 with 3:48 remaining. However, the story of this game wouldn’t be the lead or the comeback, it would be what happened in overtime. It was the first NFL playoff game to go to overtime under the new OT rules. How would the new rules affect strategy? Will it change anything? NFL fans didn’t have a lot of time to ponder these questions as it would turn out. But why tell you what happened when I can show you? Here is what happened on the first play from scrimmage in overtime:
This play will be remembered as one of the most famous plays in NFL playoff history, right next to Marshawn Lynch’s run.
Tebow’s magical ride ended when he suffered a bad 45-10 loss to the Pats. But the debate on Tebow rages on. He saved the Broncos season as well as John Fox’s job (who was thrown into Coach of the Year discussions). He finished 7-4 with a resume chock-full of comebacks. But his average stats and bad losses will still be brought up in debate. And deservedly so. Both sides have an argument and that’s what makes this such a big story. The jury is still out. Just about everything one person can say about a guy has been said, from Jesus-references and atheist insults to Jimmy Fallon singing “Tebowie”.
Like him or hate him, Tim Tebow took the football world by storm. Don’t believe me? Check this out.
New York Giants win Super Bowl XLVI
The Super Bowl is why every player pours his heart out in the regular season. It’s the biggest sporting event of the year. The Giants won it in 2012. And they did it in the same fashion as in 2007. At 7-7, they were just coming off a mediocre loss to the Redskins. It just wasn’t their season. Then suddenly, it was.
That’s the same reaction a whole lot NFL fans had when the Giants squeaked into the playoffs. I won’t go into the details of their entire season (that’ll be for another time). However inconsistent the Giants were in the regular season they made up with pure consistency in the playoffs. Their defense was lethal in the first two rounds. They shut out the Falcons offense and held Aaron Rodgers to a mere 20 points. Then came the grinding.
Their next two games were not easy by an stretch. They were beat up against the 49ers but managed to get away with a win after a couple key turnovers.
Then there was the Super Bowl. Tom Brady lit up the field with 16 straight completions at one point and had the lead late in the fourth. But, as he had done so many times before, Eli Manning served up another 4th quarter comeback. After an unbelievable catch, undesired touchdown, and failed hail mary, the Giants were World Champions. It was another magical season for the Giants.
Incredible QB Play
It’s so hard to summarize how well the quarterbacks of 2011 played, but I’ll do my best. Ever hear of analysts on TV describing the league becoming a “passing league?” Well, that’s because of the countless QBs lighting up the field. Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Manning, Stafford, Newton, Romo, Smith, Roethlisberger, Dalton, Schaub, Ryan, Cutler, etc.
Rodgers broke the NFL record of best passer rating in a single season (122.5). Brees set the record for most passing yards in a season (5,476). Newton set the record for most passing yards in a season by a rookie (4,051). I bet there were many more records broken, but those are the ones that stand out for me. Unbelievable scores were displayed on scoreboards around the league and point totals at the end of the season were staggering. The emergence of top-notch QB play this year is the start of something big in the future. A new era of QB-driven football.
Outstanding Rookie Play
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding play of this year’s rookie class. Some may have been expected, but others…not so much. It starts with Cam Newton. With many critics yelling “Bust,” Newton quickly responded with two 400+ passing yard games. He continued his hot success and ended the season among the NFL’s best in passing yards (4,051). He may not have won a whole lot of games, but he definitely gave hope to Panthers fans for seasons to come.
Another rookie QB worth mentioning is Andy Dalton. Just think about what this guy faced as he entered 2011; he took over the 4-12 Bengals, had the shadow of the Carson Palmer issue over him, lost one of his best wide receivers, and his division consisted of the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns. Good luck, kid. ESPN had the Bengals dead last in their preseason Power Rankings. It was a shock to just about everybody when he sent this team to the playoffs. It looks as if he has a bright future as well.
Now we turn to defense. Von Miller, JJ Watt, and Aldon Smith were all absolute nightmares for opposing QBs. Smith and Miller finished in the top 10 in sacks and Watt was a huge force all season. These guys were huge pickups for their respective teams and something tells me they’ll be there for a while.
Oh, and then there’s Patrick Peterson. I don’t really feel like elaborating on him, so he’ll just show you himself.
Four Peterson punt returns led the NFL this season.
Unprecedented TE play
Just kidding, they weren’t. In fact, they were the next-most talked about position in the NFL. There were great tight ends all around the league, but the two that stick out to me are Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, two former basketball players.
Gronk and Graham both landed in the top 10 for receiving yards this year. And they both finished in the top 5 for TDs. In fact, Gronk finished #1 in that department. Oh, and don’t forget top 5 in receptions as well. These guys are doing wide-receivers’ jobs. And better!
It doesn’t end at Gronk and Graham. Tony Gonzalez and Vernon Davis also had good years. Over the next few years, I think we will start to see the tight end position evolve into a primarily scoring position rather than a blocking one.
2011 NFL Lockout
Remember the lockout? It was that thing that threatened the upcoming season for the entire summer. Starting to come back to you?
It feels so long ago, but from March to July of 2011, players and owners sparred for a good deal in the new collective bargaining agreement. I’m lost on the rest of the details. All I knew then was that it threatened to cancel the 2011 NFL season. Luckily, everyone got everything all sorted out and the NFL season started on time. There’s not much more to say about it, but it was definitely worth mentioning.Thank god they figured it out.
Want to revisit this season’s best plays? Click here!