The Green Bay Packers had one of their best years in franchise history on their way to a league-best 15-1 record. A brilliant offense led by Aaron Rodgers, a defense that prides itself on turnovers and a special teams that has greatly improved from last year is all due its credit for such a successful season.
Even with a 15-1 record, the Packers had their low points, with a defense that gave up too many yards and their first loss of the season to lowly Kansas City after starting 13-0.
Here are my awards for some of the best and worst moments, the best and worst performances and the best and worst players of the 2011 season.
This should be no surprise. Aaron Rodgers threw for 45 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions in 15 games and is the favorite for the NFL MVP, or at the very least, NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Rodgers played the majority of this season lights out, making spectacular throws to help this explosive Packer offense move the chains.
While Rodgers has had a deep wide receiving corps to throw to, he has led this offense without a solid running game and with a beat-up offensive line for the majority of the season.
Rodgers is not only a tremendous player, but also a tremendous leader. He has turned into the face of the franchise and the leader of this Packers offense, and he has done it with class and grace. Hopefully, he can continue to keep this Packers offense rolling in the playoffs.
This Packers defense has certainly had some rough games, but Charles Woodson has been a steady anchor in the backfield. Woodson has tallied seven interceptions this year, tied for first in the NFL, one of which was returned for a touchdown, where he became closer to tying defensive great Rod Woodson in this category.
Like Rodgers is to the offense, Woodson is the leader of the defense and helps hold the defense accountable when they perform poorly. Woodson is one of the most respected veterans on this Packers defense, and as he reaches his mid-30s, is showing little signs of slowing down.
Mason Crosby not only broke the Packers' franchise longest field goal, but he broke it twice this season. In addition, Crosby didn't miss a kick until Week 11 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And just a couple weeks later, he kicked his first game-winning field goal since his rookie season in 2007.
While Crosby has missed a few kicks, he has still been one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL and possibly one of the best kickers in Packers history. He has certainly been the best special teams player this year, although punter Tim Masthay is certainly a respectable second.
In 2010, Jermichael Finley was on his way to having a career year, until he suffered a serious injury and was taken out for the season against the Washington Redskins in Week 5.
Finley has returned this year picking up where he left off, tallying 768 yards and eight touchdowns on the year, which is very impressive for a tight end, and even more impressive considering the arsenal of weapons the Packers have on offense.
Finley has certainly come back this year after his injury and is ready to prove himself and play a bigger role in another Super Bowl run for the Pack.
Jordy Nelson has had tremendous chemistry with Aaron Rodgers this year, and after being quite underestimated throughout the league, he has tallied 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns in an absolutely spectacular season.
Nelson has proved that he can play ball in the NFL, and while he has put up respectable numbers in the past, he has forced his opponents to take him seriously and give him the attention that they would normally give to Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley, making it even harder for this offense to be stopped.
Cobb, the second-round pick for the Packers in 2011, has already started proving himself to be a playmaker in the NFL. He started in Week 1 against the Saints when he scored his first NFL touchdown, and then returned a kickoff for a touchdown in spectacular fashion.
While other players drafted by the Packers have been injured, including Derek Sherrod and Alex Green, and others have been a disappointment, including Ricky Elmore and Caleb Schlauderaff, some players haven't gotten time to shine. Cobb has been given his opportunity, and has stepped up beautifully.
With Cullen Jenkins having signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Packers were counting on defensive end Mike Neal to take over and be Jenkins' replacement. So far, Neal has been a disappointment, having been injured for half of the season, and on his return, not being very effective on the field.
Neal is certainly a talented player with potential, but this year, he didn't show that he could start at the position long term. Perhaps next year he will get another shot to prove himself a starter in the NFL.
There were so many great offensive performances to choose from this season, but I am going with the game against the San Diego Chargers. In this game, the Packers offense never really sputtered as Aaron Rodgers completed 80 percent of his passes on the road against a good San Diego team.
The Packers were on their way to routing the Chargers 45-24 before the defense let up and made things interesting for the Chargers. Still, the Packers offense was almost unstoppable in this game, and considering the fact that they played on the road against a solid San Diego squad, it was quite impressive to watch.
Unlike picking the best offensive performance, this one wasn't so hard. The Packers were lifeless on offense for the first time this season, failing to score any points in the first half. And while they made things interesting late in the game, the Chiefs defense did a great job of stopping the Packers offense.
The one loss for the Packers was certainly their worst offensive performance, but the defense was able to hold the Chiefs to four field goals before allowing a touchdown late in the game. Still, this performance was by far the Packers' weakest game of the season.
On Thanksgiving, the Packers faced the Detroit Lions, where many suspected the Packers would finally fall, as the Lions were a team with a hot offense and a stout defense.
While both offenses struggled in the first half, the Packers played brilliantly defensively for the first three quarters, holding the Lions until the fourth quarter, when the Packers offense was able to score 24 points and put the game out of reach.
In this game, the Packers picked off Matt Stafford three times, two of which were in spectacular fashion, with Robert Francois making an athletic interception as he reached high in the air to make the catch, and Charles Woodson literally stealing the ball from a Lions receiver moments later.
The Packers were able to stop this hot Lions offense, limiting one of the best receivers in the league, Calvin Johnson, to under 50 yards and a meaningless touchdown. To do this in the Lions' home stadium was quite impressive.
The Packers defense has struggled defensively in many games this season, struggling against the Saints in the season opener, letting the Chargers back in the game in Week 9 and allowing teams like Minnesota and Tampa Bay to stay in the game longer than they should.
However, in all of these games, the Green Bay defense made a great play at the end of the game to clinch the victory and give the Packers a win. Against the New York Giants, the Packers defense did no such thing, letting the Giants march down the field, down 35-27, to score a touchdown, and to add further insult to injury, allowed a 2-point conversion.
In this game, where the Giants put up 35 points, the Packers didn't make a lot of impressive plays defensively, with the exception of an easy interception by Clay Matthews that was returned for a touchdown. And because they forced the Packers offense to win the game for them, I consider this to be their weakest defensive performance.
There were so many great plays this year, but I still go back to Week 1 to reference the best play of the season, delivered by rookie Randall Cobb, with the help of John Kuhn.
In the third quarter, with the Saints surging, Randall Cobb took matters into his own hands, taking the ball out of the end zone and returning the Saints' kickoff a record 108 yards for a touchdown.
It wouldn't have happened without the help of John Kuhn though, who helped Cobb stay upright after tripping over a Saints defender. After rolling over a defender with the help of the cult hero, Cobb turned on the jets and was off to the races in one of the most spectacular plays of the NFL season.
And what makes it even sweeter for the Packers is that it was the first kickoff return for a TD in 11 years, signaling the improvement of special teams for the 2011 season.
Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount put together a spectacular play in Lambeau Field in Week 11, rumbling for a big score to keep his team in the game.
However, the Packers' horrible tackling turned this into a very embarrassing play for the defense, as Blount broke about eight tackles on his way to the end zone in a play that was reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch's run for a touchdown against the Saints in the 2010 Wild Card round of the playoffs.
While a good play for Tampa Bay, it was a bad play for the Packers, even though the Packers went on to win the game, as the play was an example of the Packers' poor tackling that was common in 2011.
Despite the terrible defensive performance, this was probably the most entertaining game of the Packers' season, as the game was a back-and-forth battle between the two NFC teams. The Giants took an early lead, but the Packers would retake the lead later in the first half on a Clay Matthews interception return for a touchdown.
The game would become the Giants chasing the Packers, but they would do it well, culminating in the Giants tying the game, 35-35, with one minute left in the game.
It was Aaron Rodgers' time to shine, and he performed beautifully, making several big completions to put the Packers in field goal range and setting up the game-winner by Mason Crosby.
Despite a poor job of stopping the Giants, the Packers' resilience in this game was astounding, and it culminated in one of the greatest drives of the season, late in the fourth quarter, to win the game.