A thriller!

A thriller!

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The National Football League completed its 92nd season with the New York Giants winning their fourth Super Bowl. The thrilling 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. capped a most memorable year for the NFL that included many record-setting and milestone moments.

Made for TV

A huge television audience tuned in to the action during the season. The NFL’s regular season reached more than 200 million unique viewers according to the Nielson Company. NFL games were watched by an average audience of 17.5 million viewers and 23 of the 25 most watched television programs this fall were NFL games.

Kickoff in style

The NFL’s season kicked off with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers hosting the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Packers’ rookie Randall Cobb made a memorable debut with a record-tying kickoff return in the third quarter of Green Bay’s win. He retrieved the kickoff deep in his own end zone and raced 108 yards for a touchdown to tie the record for the longest kickoff return set by Ellis Hobbs of the New England Patriots in 2007. The jersey he wore on the return was soon sent to Canton.

Lighting up the scoreboard

The NFL had not experienced scoring like in 2011 for nearly a half-century. The scoring in 2011 marked the highest in 46 years as teams combined to amass 11,356 points for an average of 44.4 points scored per NFL game this season. And, for the first time in league annals, three different clubs racked up more than 500 points. Leading the way were the Green Bay Packers with 560 points followed by the New Orleans Saints (547), and New England Patriots (513).

NFL record for most points scored in a season
589 – Patriots (2007)
560 – Packers (2011
556 – Vikings (1998)
547 – Saints (2011)
541 – Redskins (1983)

Division crowns

Seven of the eight NFL division titles were claimed by new teams in 2011. That number marked the most such clubs since the NFL realigned in 2002. The only repeat division winner this past season was New England who finished 13-3. In doing so, the Patriots won the top seed in the AFC and also made Bill Belichick the first coach ever to win at least 13 games in a season five different times.

Team Division Last Division Title
Baltimore Ravens AFC North 2006
Denver Broncos AFC West 2005
Green Bay Packers NFC North 2007
Houston Texans AFC South -
New Orleans Saints NFC South 2009
New York Giants NFC East 2008
San Francisco 49ers NFC West 2002


Air miles

The New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees shattered the long-standing mark held by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. Brees finished the year with 5,476 yards which put him well past the 5,084 yards that Marino logged in 1984.

Brees set the mark in spectacular fashion in the second-to-last week of the season when he led the Saints to a 45-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. The uniform he wore on the historic night was sent immediately to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (see photo).

He also set numerous other single-season passing records in ’11: completions (468), completion percentage (71.2), most 300-yard games (13) and most consecutive 300-yard games (seven).



Aaron Rodgers was a big reason why the 2011 Green Bay Packers became just the sixth team to win 15 regular season games in a season. The star quarterback efficiently tore up the record book as he finished the year with a passer rating of 122.5 points. That bested the 121.1 rating that Peyton Manning recorded for the Indianapolis Colts in 2004.

Rodgers had an incredible string of 12 straight games in which his passer rating topped 100 points. In all, he completed 343 of 502 passes for 4,643 yard, 45 TDs and just 6 interceptions.

Comebacks and more comebacks

There was no shortage of comebacks in 2011. In fact, there was a record 18 games in which a NFL team overcame at least a 14-point deficit. Six of those games, a team rallied from at least 20 points down to win. Leading the way were the Detroit Lions who, on back-to-back weeks (Weeks 3 and 4) staged such comebacks.

Combining it all for the record book

The New Orleans Saints’ Darren Sproles established a new single-season NFL record for most combined net yards. He totaled 2,696 yards via kick returns (1,089), receiving (710), rushing (603), and punt returns (294). The jersey he wore in the season finale when setting the mark is now in the Hall of Fame’s collection.

Lineage of the NFL record for combined net yards in a single season
2,696 – Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints, 2011
2,690 – Derrick Mason, Tennessee Titans, 2000
2,535 – Lionel James, San Diego Chargers, 1985
2,333 – Mack Herron, New England Patriots, 1974
2440 – GALE SAYERS, Chicago Bears, 1966
2,428 – Timmy Brown, Philadelphia Eagles, 1963
2,306 – Timmy Brown, Philadelphia Eagles, 1962
2,147 – Dick Christy, New York Titans, 1961
2,100 – *Abner Haynes, Dallas Texans, 1960
1,896 – Billy Grimes, Green Bay Packers, 1950
1,846 – Eddie Saenz, Washington Redskins, 1947
1,620 – BILL DUDLEY, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1946
1,603 – Henry Clark, Chicago Bears, 1943
1,349 – *BILL DUDLEY, Detroit Lions, 1942
1,236 – Marshall Goldberg, Chicago Cardinals, 1941
1,181 – *Beattie Feathers, Chicago Bears, 1934
922 – CLIFF BATTLES, Boston Braves, 1933
709 – *CLIFF BATTLES, Boston Braves, 1932



Throw the ball

To call the 2011 NFL season a “pass happy” year is an understatement. The quarterbacks around the league combined for a record 121 individual 300-yard passing performances. In addition, there were 18 different 400-yard games that topped the previous mark by five.

Three QBs topped the 5,000-yard milestone which is more than the previous combined total in NFL history. Aside from Drew Brees’ record-setting 5,476 yards for the Saints (see above), the New England Patriots' Tom Brady (5,235) and Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions (5,038) reached the 5,000-yard mark in 2011.

The ones who catch the ball

The quarterbacks throw the ball but the receivers are the ones who catch it. So, not surprisingly, since there were so many passing marks set in 2011, there were some significant receiving milestones made during the year.

For just the second time in NFL history, the league featured three players with at least 1,500 receiving yards in the same season. The Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson led the way with 1,681 yards followed by Wes Welker of the New England Patriots (1,569) and Victor Cruz of the New York Giants (1,536).

Welker also joined Cris Carter as the only players to have at least 120 receptions in two different seasons. He led the NFL in ’11 with 122 catches.


Tight ends can catch too

Not one but two tight ends surpassed the record for most yards in a season by a tight end established by Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow in 1980. The San Diego Chargers' great had 1,290 yards that year. In 2011, the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and the Saints' Jimmy Graham became the first tight ends ever to have more than 1,300 yards receiving in a season. Gronkowsi finished with 1,327 yards followed by Graham with 1,310 yards.

“Gronk” also set the single-season TD mark for a tight end with his 17 touchdown grabs this season. The jersey he wore on Dec. 4, 2011 when he tied the record for TDs in a season by a tight end was sent to the Hall of Fame.

The Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez added 80 catches to his impressive career total in 2011. In doing so, he became the first player ever to have 13 straight seasons with more than 60 receptions.


No solution

NFL teams have not yet figured out how to defend the Chicago Bears’ Devin Hester. The exciting return man added three more TDs to his combined kick-return touchdown total via two punts and one kickoff run back for scores this past season. Hester’s two punt returns for scores allowed him to take sole possession of that career record. He now has 12 punt returns for TDs and six on kickoff returns. He needs just two more return TDs to break the mark held by Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

Photo: Hester’s uniform worn and football returned for a 69-yard punt return TD in Week 4 when he set the NFL record for career punt return touchdowns.


Record not sacked

The Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen came within an arm’s length of making history in 2011. He finished the year with 22.0 sacks which fell a half sack shy of the single-season mark set by Michael Strahan of the New York Giants in 2001. Allen’s sack total tied him for second most in a season since the sack became an official NFL statistic in 1982. Allen matched the number of sacks recorded by Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets in 1984.



The San Francisco 49ers great turnaround was led by a stingy defense. The 49ers became the first team in NFL history to not allow a rushing touchdown in 14 straight games to start a season. More on this story>>>


Unmarked territory

Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis sacked Houston Texans' quarterback Matt Schaub on the eighth play of their game during Week 6 of the 2011 NFL season. The sack marked the 40th of his 16-year career. Lewis, by reaching that sack total, became the first player in league history to record 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career. The shoes and gloves the All-Pro wore during the Ravens’ 29-14 home win over Houston at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 16 were quickly shipped to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for permanent preservation.


Hanson’s historic numbers

Detroit Lions' kicker Jason Hanson set the NFL record for most career games played with one team during Week 2 of this season. He appeared in his 297th game for the Lions during his team's 48-3 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Sept. 18. It broke the mark held by Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews who appeared in 296 games for the Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans. Hanson passed another milestone when he kicked this football for an extra point following Detroit's first touchdown of the game. The conversion marked the 1,900th point of his career and made him just the seventh player in league history to reach that point total.

By season’s end, Hanson’s career point total was 2,016. He is the first player in NFL history to score 2,000 points with the same franchise.


Brotherly Love

The 2011 Thanksgiving night game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens featured a first in NFL history. Ravens' coach John Harbaugh and the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh faced off in the first-ever meeting between head coach brothers. Older brother John bested his younger sibling when the Ravens defeated the 49ers 16-6. The family affair was commemorated after the game when the brothers hugged at midfield. Later each coach signed a game used ball from the holiday matchup.


The San Francisco 49ers' Ted Ginn, Jr. became the first player in NFL history to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game on Kickoff Weekend and just the 12th player overall to achieve the feat in the same game. His returns were the fastest ever of the group. He ran back a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and then just 59 seconds later took a punt and ran it back 55 yards for a score.



Newton’s law

Carolina Panthers' rookie Cam Newton made history not only by passing the football but also running with it.

The NFL’s first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft adjusted well to the NFL. By season’s end he had thrown for a rookie record 4,051 yards to set the all-time rookie passing record previously held by Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts (3,739 yards in 1998).

He also managed to show a never before seen knack for finding the end zone as he set a new NFL record for most rushing touchdowns by a QB in a single season. He carried this football (left) into the end zone for his third TD of the day against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 13 to break the mark held by the New England Patriots' Steve Grogan in 1976. He added one more rushing TD three weeks later and finished his rookie season with 14 rushing TDs.

WK Game Date Opp Result Att Yds Avg TD
1 Sept. 12 Baltimore Colts L 13-27 2 14 7.0 0
2 Sept. 19 Miami Dolphins W 30-14 9 76 8.4 1
3 Sept. 26 at Pittsburgh Steelers W 30-27 4 33 8.3 1
4 Oct. 3 Oakland Raiders W 48-17 5 56 11.2 2
5 Oct. 10 at Detroit Lions L 10-30 1 3 3.0 0
6 Oct. 18 New York Jets W 41-7 7 103 14.7 1
7 Oct. 24 at Buffalo Bills W 26-22 6 29 4.8 1
8 Oct. 31 at Miami Dolphins L 3-10 6 15 2.5 0
9 Nov. 7 Buffalo Bills W 20-10 3 19 6.3 0
10 Nov. 14 at Baltimore Colts W 21-14 4 3 0.8 2
11 Nov. 21 at New York Jets W 38-24 2 -2 -1.0 0
12 Nov. 28 Denver Broncos W 38-14 4 19 4.8 1
13 Dec. 5 New Orleans Saints W 27-6 4 27 6.8 2
14 Dec. 12 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers W 31-14 3 2 0.7 1
TOTAL: 60 397 6.6 12
WK Game Date Opp Result Att Yds Avg TD
1 Sept. 11 at Arizona Cardinals L 21-28 8 18 2.3 1
2 Sept. 18 Green Bay Packers L 23-30 10 53 5.3 1
3 Sept. 25 Jacksonville Jaguars W 16-10 7 27 3.9 0
4 Oct. 2 at Chicago Bears L 29-34 8 35 4.4 2
5 Oct. 9 New Orleans Saints L 27-30 7 27 3.9 1
6 Oct. 16 at Atlanta Falcons L 17-31 7 47 6.7 1
7 Oct. 23 Washington Redskins W 33-20 10 59 5.9 1
8 Oct. 30 Minnesota Vikings L 21-24 6 53 8.8 0
10 Nov. 13 Tennessee Titans L 3-30 7 55 7.9 0
11 Nov. 20 at Detroit Lions L 35-49 7 37 5.3 2
12 Nov. 27 at Indianapolis Colts W 27-19 9 53 5.9 1
13 Dec. 4 atTampa Bay Buccaneers W 38-19 14 54 3.9 3
14 Dec. 11 Atlanta Falcons L 23-31 7 36 5.1 0
15 Dec. 18 at Houston Texans W 28-13 7 55 7.9 0
16 Dec. 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers W 48-16 6 65 10.8 1
17 Jan. 1 at New Orleans Saints L 17-45 6 32 5.3 0
TOTAL: 126 706 5.6 14

Scrambling man

The Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick now owns all the rushing yardage records for a QB after he surpassed Randall Cunningham’s career total (4,928) in 2011. Vick finished the year with a career total of 5,219 yards to go with the records he had already established for rushing yards by a QB (single game = 173; and season = 1,039).


He could go all the way …

Arizona Cardinals' rookie Patrick Peterson made history with these shoes (see photo) during his team’s Week 9 game versus the St. Louis Rams. In that division match-up Peterson had a game-winning 99-yard punt-return touchdown in overtime to lift the Cardinals to a thrilling 19-13 victory. Not only did Back to news