By Brian Deutschmeister and Alex Favreau
The 2011 NFL season has certainly been a memorable season. Whether it was the Packers chasing perfection, or Tim Tebow leading the Broncos to crazy fourth quarter comebacks, there have been many exciting stories this year. We will look back at these great storylines and memorable moments from plenty of the NFL games this season as we give you all you need to know on who will end up victorious in the Super Bowl this Sunday.
One of the biggest surprises of this NFL season has been the impact that rookies have made on their teams, despite being unable to practice as much due to the lockout. Some notable rookies this year were Carolina Panthers quarterback, Cam Newton, Arizona Cardinals cornerback/punt return specialist, Patrick Peterson, San Francisco 49ers linebacker, Aldon Smith, and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver, AJ Green. During the regular season, Cam Newton broke the all-time single-season record for most rushing touchdowns by any quarterback, rookie or non-rookie, with 14 scores on the ground. Patrick Peterson also climbed his way into the record book with his four punt return touchdowns, tying the rookie record, including one 99-yard game-winning punt return touchdown against the Rams. With 14 sacks two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery, Aldon Smith nearly broke Javon Kearse’s sack record by a rookie of 14.5 sacks. Finally, AJ Green gave his team a major boost with his seven receiving touchdowns, eclipsing the 1,000-yard milestone with 1,057 yards receiving.
At one point in the season, the Denver Broncos were staring at a 1-4 record, last place in their division, and were arguably one of the worst teams in the league. They needed to make a change fast because their slim play-off hopes were quickly fading. Eight games later, the Broncos held an 8-5 record, climbing to first place in their division. This miraculous turnaround was credited to the inspirational play of Tim Tebow. Even though Tebow faced harsh criticism for his unorthodox passing mechanics from many professional NFL analysts, Tebow was able to silence those critics by winning. It started Week 7 versus the Miami Dolphins when Tebow erased a 15-0 deficit with less than three minutes to play to complete the improbable comeback. And it didn’t stop there. With Tebow under center, the Broncos went 7-1 at one point in the season, and five of those victories came in dramatic fourth quarter comeback fashion. However, three straight losses nearly cost the Broncos a play-off berth, as they entered the post-season with an 8-8 record, the worst record out of all 12 playoff teams. Most experts thought that “Tebowtime” was up due to the Broncos’ late-season skid, but they were proven wrong when Tebow led the Broncos to a 29-23 upset victory over the 12-4 defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. But the rollercoaster season would end the following week in New England when the Patriots, who ended the Broncos’ six-game winning streak, also ended the Broncos’ season and put “Tebowmania” away with a dominating 45-10 win over the Broncos. Whether you love him or criticize him, it’s hard not to agree that Tebow provided the NFL with some incredible games this season that will be remembered for many years to come.
Throughout most of the season, there was one clear, dominant team. That team was the Green Bay Packers. The defending “Super Champions” got off to a very hot start with an undefeated 13-0 record. During that 13-game winning streak, the Packers never scored less than 24 points, never trailed in the fourth quarter, and quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, threw for at least two touchdowns in every game. Their pursuit of perfection surprisingly ended week 15 in Kansas City against the struggling Kansas City Chiefs who held a 5-8 record at the time. In that game the Packers were held to only 14 points as the Chiefs came away with the 19-14 upset victory. However, the Packers finished the regular season strong with two victories over the Bears and Lions to give them an NFL-best 15-1 record. Entering the post-season, the Packers had the inside track to returning to the Super Bowl, as they held the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, their pursuit toward a second consecutive championship was cut short by the red-hot New York Giants, as the Giants defeated the Packers in convincing fashion 37-20. With the loss, the Packers became the first 15-1 team to lose their first play-off game, as well as the fourth number one seed from the NFC in the last five years to lose their first play-off game.
This season, both New York teams swapped roles as the New York Jets missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, while the Giants made the playoffs for the first time since 2008. For the Jets, it was another disappointing end to a promising season. “The season was very hyped up,” said freshman Chris Turso. “I expected a Super Bowl after two straight AFC Championship game appearances, but the Jets had no chemistry, and they collapsed at the end because of it.” After starting the season 8-5, the Jets lost three straight to finish the season with an 8-8 record, their worst record since 2007.