The NFL was fine in 2009!
Passing records broken…historic rushing milestones reached… the Colts and Saints flirting with perfection…new teams making the playoffs… the Chargers streaking to the finish with 11 consecutive wins…CHRIS JOHNSON putting on a weekly show… impact rookies… and it all came down to Week 17 with 17 teams still in Super Bowl XLIV contention!
“Any time you get a win in this league, it’s big,” says Indianapolis Colts head coach JIM CALDWELL, whose club opened the season with a 14-game winning streak.
Wins came in bunches for the Colts and New Orleans Saints. They became the first pair of teams to go 13-0 in the same season, part of an NFL-record 23 consecutive regular-season wins for Indianapolis and a franchise-best 13-game winning streak for New Orleans.
Both teams were among the five new division winners in 2009 and their first losses came at the hands of two of the six new playoff participants, the New York Jets (Indianapolis) and Dallas Cowboys (New Orleans).
“It’s so funny how things can change in a week in this league,” says THOMAS JONES of the Jets.
The NFL is always full of surprises, and that leads to the excitement we witnessed in the fine 2009:
· For the 14th consecutive season, at least five teams made the playoffs that were not in them the year before. Six clubs – Cincinnati, Dallas, Green Bay, New England, New Orleans and the New York Jets – accomplished the feat this year.
· New Orleans rebounded to win the NFC South after a last-place finish in 2008. This marked the NFL-record seventh consecutive season that a team went from “worst-to-first” in its division. Of the 32 teams to go from “worst-to-first” in NFL annals, 15 of them have done so in this decade (2000-2009).
· There were five new division winners – Cincinnati, Dallas, Indianapolis, New England, and New Orleans – on the heels of the recording-tying six from last season (since realignment in 2002).
· “You only get 16 games and you never know what can happen in the National Football League,” says Monday Night Football analyst JON GRUDEN. Nothing exhibits that more than the tightness of NFL games. In 2009, 34 percent were decided in the last two minutes or overtime. In 14 percent of the games, a potential game-winning/tying drive or actual game-winning drive reached the red zone with two minutes to go.
Games continued to be thisclose. Nearly 65% were within one score in the fourth quarter:
· 2009 was most certainly the Year of the Quarterback. Net passing yards were the highest they have ever been (111,853) league-wide. Games averaged 436.9 passing yards per game, the second-most in NFL history (441.6 in 1995). For just the third time in NFL history, more than 700 passing touchdowns were thrown (710; 732 in 2004, 720 in 2007).
· A record 10 quarterbacks passed for over 4,000 yards – MATT SCHAUB (4,770), PEYTON MANNING (4,500), TONY ROMO (4,483), AARON RODGERS (4,434), TOM BRADY (4,398), DREW BREES (4,388), BEN ROETHLISBERGER (4,328), PHILIP RIVERS (4,254), BRETT FAVRE (4,202) and ELI MANNING (4,021) – in 2009, surpassing the previous best of seven in 2007.
· A record 12 quarterbacks threw for 25+ passing touchdowns – Brees (34), Favre (33), P. Manning (33), Rodgers (30), Schaub (29), Brady (28), Rivers (28), JAY CUTLER (27), E. Manning (27), Roethlisberger (26), Romo (26) and KURT WARNER (26) – topping 2007’s 10.
· A record five quarterbacks had a passer rating over 100.0. The five quarterbacks to do so – Brees (109.6), Favre (107.2), Rivers (104.4), Rodgers (103.2) and Roethlisberger (100.5) – surpassed the previous record of four set in 1998 and equaled in 2004.
· Tennessee Titans RB CHRIS JOHNSON became the sixth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards (2,006). He broke the scrimmage yards record (2,509) previously held by MARSHALL FAULK (2,429 in 1999). Johnson rushed for 100+ yards in 11 consecutive games to end the season, tying MARCUS ALLEN for the second-longest streak in NFL history (BARRY SANDERS, 14 in 1997).
The 590 yards between Johnson (2,006) and the number two rusher in the NFL (STEVEN JACKSON, 1,416) is the largest since 1973 (859-yard difference; O.J. SIMPSON 2,003, JOHN BROCKINGTON 1,144).
· Speaking of rushing, the Carolina Panthers had two teammates become the first running back duo in history to each rush for 1,100 yards. JONATHAN STEWART totaled 1,133 yards and DE ANGELO WILLIAMS posted 1,117. The Panthers led the NFC in rushing with 156.1 yards per game.
And “All Day” just kept going. Minnesota Vikings running back ADRIAN “ALL DAY” PETERSON rushed for 1,383 yards and 18 touchdowns -- becoming only the third player in history to rush for 1,300+ yards and 10+ touchdowns in each of his first three seasons (EARL CAMPBELL, four seasons, 1978-81 and BARRY SANDERS, 1989-91).
· There were seven 200-yard rushing performances in 2009, tied for the second-most in a season in NFL history (1997). The record was set in 2000 (11).
· Wide receivers ANDRE JOHNSON, WES WELKER and BRANDON MARSHALL all had historic seasons. Johnson became the second player in NFL history to record back-to-back 1,500 receiving yard seasons (MARVIN HARRISON) and the second since 1970 to lead the NFL in receiving in consecutive seasons (JERRY RICE). Welker’s 123 receptions tied for second-most in a single-season (HERMAN MOORE) and marked his third consecutive 100-reception season. Along with Welker, Marshall (101 receptions) joined Harrison (four), Rice (three) and Moore (three) as the only players to record three consecutive 100-reception seasons.
· Three players totaled over 2,500 combined yards in 2009, matching the total that had accomplished the feat in the previous 89 seasons. Buffalo RB/KR FRED JACKSON (2,516) became the first player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 kick return yards in the same season. Cleveland WR/PR/KR JOSHUA CRIBBS (2,510) and Tennessee’s Johnson (2,509) also reached the milestone. Eight players totaled 2,000 combined yards, tied for the most such players in NFL history (2006).
· Through all the offense, defenses were heard from as well. The New York Jets led the NFL in total defense and scoring defense, the first time a rookie head coach has led his team to that feat (REX RYAN). The Jets also led the NFL in rushing offense, marking the eighth time since 1970 a team has led in rushing offense and total defense. All eight to do so made the playoffs.
The Green Bay Packers led the NFC in total defense and also led the league with an NFL-best 30 interceptions, including nine (including three INT-TDs) from CHARLES WOODSON, who has tied for the NFC lead in each of the past two seasons. Denver Broncos linebacker ELVIS DUMERVIL (17) set the franchise’s sack record…and the Washington Redskins placed two players in the top 10 in sacks (ANDRE CARTER, 11 and BRIAN ORAKPO, 11) – the only team with two in the top-10.
· It was a historic season for rookie head coaches. Two of them – JIM CALDWELL and JOSH MC DANIELS – started 6-0, making them the first pair of rookie head coaches to each start a season 6-0 since the 1970 merger. Caldwell proceeded to set the record at 14-0.
· And speaking of rookies: wow, did they do fine in ’09! Eleven rookie wide receivers topped 500 receiving yards, the most in NFL history. Defensively, two rookies recorded double-digit sacks (Orakpo, 11; CLAY MATTHEWS, 10) in a season for just the eighth time since 1982 and the first time since 2006. In addition, rookies led or tied for the team lead in interceptions (JAIRUS BYRD, Buffalo; DEREK COX, Jacksonville; BRIAN CUSHING, Houston and VONTAE DAVIS, Miami), sacks (Orakpo and Matthews, Green Bay), and tackles (Cushing and JAMES LAURINAITIS, St. Louis) in 2009.
· The outstanding competition on the field kept fans tuning in on TV. ESPN, FOX, NBC and NFL Network each had its most-viewed NFL season ever, while CBS had its most-watched season ever with the AFC package. In addition, NFL regular-season games rank as the 11 most-watched and 22 of the 25 most-watched sporting events since Super Bowl XLIII.