2011 was a phenomenal year for professional sports. After the best NBA season I've ever seen, we had a fantastic NBA playoffs that was capped off by an amazing Finals. If baseball wasn't to be overshadowed, it would need to have the craziest night in MLB history and one of the best World Series of all-time. Check and check. How would football follow those up? How about with some amazing achievements of its own?
We witnessed the near-perfection of Aaron Rodgers (he had only three games with a passer rating lower than 111 and none lower than 80) as the Packers marched to a measly 15-1 record, the resurgence of the Lions and Niners (behind the emergence of Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith), the surprisingly good rookie year of Andy Dalton, Aldon Smith finishing one sack shy of having the rookie record, Patrick Peterson's historic return game, David Akers breaking the record for most points scored in a season, the usual brilliance of Brady, Gronkowski's record-breaking year for a tight end, and the best season of Eli Manning's career. But I think the biggest takeaways from this season are Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees.
I found the run of Tim Tebow and the Broncos to be extremely fun this year. Why? Because it can't be explained. Here's what Bill Simmons wrote about Tebow in October, "Can't Tim Tebow just be a super-athletic QB with an erratic arm and possibly mystical powers who bugs the hell out of hardcore football analysts and stat guys because not EVERYTHING about sports has to have a concrete answer?" I couldn't agree more. I loved that it couldn't be explained in a box score or an algorithm. All I know is that if the Broncos were losing, and time was running out, a win somehow seemed improbable yet simultaneously inevitable. And after they pulled it off, there was nothing you could do but shake your head and laugh. Then to top it all off, after a full season of winning by running the ball, it was incredible to see them beat the Steelers in the playoffs by Tebow throwing deep ball after deep ball.
It's been brought up that the Broncos season would feel unrealistic as the plot of a movie. And it's true. No team could believably pull off those types of comebacks. That's what made it so incredible. If something is so inexplicable that you couldn't script it, it shouldn't be irritating or angering. It should be celebrated and marveled at. When "great comeback" and "2011" are brought up together, am I going to immediately think of the ending to the Packers-Giants week 13 game (as good as it was)? No. I'm going to think of the Broncos' comebacks against the Jets and the Bears. Why? Because the Giants and Packers exchanging comeback drives made sense. The Broncos' comebacks didn't. That's what made them so fun.
Remember when there was never a hint of doubt that Cam Newton should be the number one pick? Remember when there was never a hint of doubt that he should start right away? Remember when everyone thought he would have the best rookie season of any quarterback in history? Yeah, me neither. Turns out that he probably did though. Let's see: He finished 10th in passing yards (4,051- most by a rookie in history), he finished tied for 11th in passing TDs (21- 3rd most by a rookie in history) and he finished 15th in passer rating (84.5). Not to mention that he also finished 26th in rushing yards (706) and 2nd in rushing TDs (14- most by a QB in history and 5th most by any rookie in history). That's a total of 4,757 yards and 35 TDs (most total touchdowns by a rookie in history). Incredible.
If that wasn't enough, this year also saw Drew Brees break Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season. But as impressive as it was, I also think it underscored how impressive Marino's season really was. When you think of the difference in era, it's quite astonishing what Marino pulled off. It's even more incredible when you think about the fact that Marino's records for yards in a season and touchdowns in a season were achieved in one year, but broken separately. So while I think Brees breaking the record was an impressive accomplishment, I also think it was a testament to what Marino accomplished.
The fact that so many records were broken this year was fitting, considering the way the season started (here's what I wrote in September):
"On a positive football related note, the NFL had a very strong opening weekend. Not just in quality, but record breaking as well. Rodgers and Brees set a record for each having 300+ yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions during the same game on opening weekend. Ted Ginn Jr. became the first player to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the first game of the year. Cam Newton threw for 400+ yards, the most by a rookie in his first game. Sebastian Janikowski tied the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal. Dallas lost for the first time in history when leading by 14+ points in the 4th quarter, bringing their overall record to 241-1-1. And Brady threw for 500+ yards, which is a team record. There's definitely worse ways to kick off a new season than with half a dozen historic happenings. Should be a good year."
The record-breaking began in week 1 and continued through the entire season. Not bad. While there were some unfortunate happenigs this season (the injuries to Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, and Jay Cutler), I'd say this was a pretty amazing year of football. At least the record books will say so.