The 10 Memorable Moments of the 2011 NFL Season

Nader Ktait@@NaderKtaitCorrespondent IIApril 19, 2012

The 10 Memorable Moments of the 2011 NFL Season

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    The 2012-2013 NFL schedules were just released, and as we look at all the opponents—for our favorite teams—we might ask ourselves what to expect in this upcoming season, based on what we saw last season.

    A lot has happened during the free agency period. Significant players—like Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, Mario Williams, Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and many others—are no longer with their 2011 teams.  

    Some more significant changes perhaps are also on the way as we get closer to the 2012 NFL draft. The changes that'll take place after the draft will not just affect the roster, but also the way that we look at a particular team. For what was once considered an underdog may later be perceived as the team to beat in the next season. 

    In the 2012 draft, teams will not only acquire some new faces, but also they may make some last-minute surprising trades. Anything could happen in the NFL.

    As Alex Smith said, "This is the NFL. I guess nothing surprises me anymore."

    So, even though times have changed since the last season, that shouldn't stop us from looking back and reminiscing about our most recent NFL season and determining what the most memorable moments are.  

    These memorable moments might be moments that will definitely shape the way we look at the upcoming season.

    In addition, if there are any other moments that you guys think are worth noting, please feel free to share.

10) the Lockout

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    The NFL lockout lasted for 132 days. It started on March 11 and ended on July 25.  

    Throughout this time, NFL fans were not sure if they were going to get a football season. The whole lockout began to raise questions on who to blame—the owners, the players, Roger Goodell?

    This was also an interesting time for NFL fans but also for the rookies chosen in the 2011 NFL draft. Many of these players were not only unsure of what would happen to their first season in the NFL, but also unsure of what their contracts would look like.

    In addition, these new players were not even allowed to participate in offseason workouts or practices that might have taken place throughout the lockout period. 

    New coaches were also affected by the lockout. Coaches didn't have a chance to see what their teams would look like until after the July 25. This meant that whatever strengths and weaknesses their teams had would need to be identified in about two weeks before their first preseason games.

    The lockout was an unfortunate, but memorable moment for the NFL. The consequences of it, however, are what makes many other moments during the 2011-2012 so memorable.  

9) Post- Palmer

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    Even after Ochocinco and T.O. left the Cincinnati Bengals, Carson Palmer still didn’t want to play. So Palmer left his organization with a difficult decision: trade him or let him retire. It was only a matter of time before they chose the former and traded Palmer to the Oakland Raiders.

    What made the Bengals' decision about Palmer easier was two first-round picks and their amazing rookie quarterback from TCU. 

    Andy Dalton was the Bengals' 35th pick in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. He was the first player to play all 16 games who was not chosen in the first round of the draft.

    Dalton had a phenomenal year. He led the struggling Bengals into the playoffs, something Palmer had not done in quite a while.  

    The second game of Dalton's career was perhaps one of the most memorable moments. The Bengals lost to the Denver Broncos, 22-24. However, in the second half of that game, Dalton threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns as he tried to lead a comeback. It was in that game that the Bengals' coach, Marvin Lewis, seemed to have found his new quarterback.

    In the beginning of November, Dalton became the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month (of October). He threw for 909 yards and six touchdowns.

8) Peyton Manning-Less

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    Peyton Manning was unable to play a single game this season. After undergoing a reported four surgeries, Manning was ruled out for the entire 2011-2012 seasons.

    And as a result, the Colts almost lost every one of their games. The Colts went through three different quarterbacks last season (Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky). But by the end of the season, the Colts ranked 27th in passing yards, 26th in rushing yards and ended their season with a 2-14 record.

    The most reasonable excuse for why the Colts had such a bad season would be the loss of their No. 1 quarterback, Manning. In the prior season, the Colts were 10-6 and competing in the AFC playoffs.

    The Colts' 2011-2012 season perhaps showed us all their underlying weaknesses. Without Manning, the Colts appeared to be the worst team in the NFL.  

    No one will forget how the Colts looked in their first game against the Houston Texans. They lost the game, 34-7.

    The loss of Manning and the Colts performance would give Jim Irsay some good reasons to make some significant changes to his team. One of these changes, includes releasing Manning for a new quarterback—most likely, Andrew Luck.

7) Yes, We Cam!

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    In the 2011 draft, the Carolina Panthers selected Cam Newton as their No. 1 overall draft pick.  

    Newton seemed to have re-energized the Panthers organization. Despite losing many of their key players (Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and David Gettis) to season-ending injuries, Newton helped make the Panthers one of the most exciting teams to watch in 2011.  

    In his very first game, Newton threw for 422 yards and scored two touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals. The following game, Newton threw 432 yards and scored another two touchdowns against the defending Super Bowl champs, the Green Bay Packers.

    Newton finished his season with impressive numbers. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for over 700 yards and 15 touchdowns.  

    Despite his critics, Newton managed to break several rookie records (including the amount of passing yards by a rookie and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback). 

    What made him a memorable part of the 2011-2012 season was not only his success, but his ability to overcome all the pressure and skepticism that comes along with being the No. 1 draft pick and the Heisman trophy winner.

6) "Just Win, Baby!"

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    This was not only one of the most memorable, but also the saddest moments of the 2011-2012 season, especially for Oakland Raider fans.  

    On Oct. 8, 2011, the Raiders owner, Al Davis, died at the age of 82.

    Davis was known for saying “just win, baby,” and that’s exactly what the Raiders did in an emotional game against the Houston Texans

    On the following day, after Davis died, Jason Campbell threw two touchdowns in that game, as he tried to keep up with Texans' Matt Schaub. Schaub was impressive in that game, as threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns. Though Campbell only threw for 190 yards, the Raiders still managed to find ways to win the game.  

    One might argue that the whole Raiders team stepped up, especially the defense. 

    On the final play, Michael Huff intercepted Schaub's pass to seal the victory. The Raiders beat the Texans, 25-20.

    Hopefully in the seasons to come, the Raiders organization will be able to carry on Davis’ legacy.

5) the "Dream Team"

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    Even after a postseason in which the Philadelphia Eagles not only offered Michael Vick a huge and controversial contract, but also signed players like Vince Young, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles' 2011-2012 season was a bit of a disaster.

    It was Young who told the press that his team could be called a "dream team." 

    Because the notable signings and Young’s statement, the Eagles became one of the most interesting teams to watch in the 2011-2012 season. The Eagles were expected to do some big things that season, but unfortunately that did not happen.

    As all sports analysts kept an eye on the Eagles, it became apparent the Eagles were not the dream team after all, as they started off their season 0-4. 

    The Eagles began to show some signs of life when they won four games in a row after their losing streak.  But still, they ended their season 8-8. And an 8-8 record is hardly a record that we’d attribute to a dream team.

    The Eagles did, however, go 5-1 in the NFC East, which is never easy to do in that division. Still, with the way that the season went for the Eagles, the moment that Young called his team the dream team made that moment a memorable one.

4) San Francisco @ Detroit

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    The Detroit Lions won five games straight to start their 2011-2012 season. The San Francisco 49ers were the first team to beat them in an exciting game. 

    On fourth down with only a 1:51 left on the clock, Alex Smith threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker. At that point, the 49ers led the game 29-25. The Lions had one at last opportunity to either tie or win the game, but couldn’t handle the 49ers’ top ranked defense.

    Smith’s numbers weren’t impressive in that game, at least in comparison to Matthew Stafford’s. Smith threw for only 125 yards and one touchdown, while Stafford threw over 290 yards and two touchdowns.  Initially, the 49ers success could be attributed to their run game. Frank Gore ran for 141 yards and one touchdown.

    It was an impressive game all around, actually. It’s too bad that it had to end the way that it did—with a bad handshake.

    Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh were great coaches last season. They both led their teams to the playoffs for the first time in ages. However, they managed take away the attention from a great game.

    The best memory I have of these coaches this season is not the fantastic game they played against each other, but the incredibly awkward handshake after the game ended. 

3) the Cheese Stands Alone

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    Things didn’t work out so well for Kyle Orton in Denver, but he did have some success playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.

    In addition to adding Orton to the roster, the Chiefs had made another significant change to their team. Not long before their game against the undefeated Green Bay Packers, the Chiefs fired their head coach, Todd Haley. 

    Under interim coach Romeo Crennel, we saw new life in the Chiefs as they beat the Packers, 19-15.

    The Packers were on a 19-game winning streak (including their games from the playoffs and Super Bowl from the prior season). They were on their way to beating a record set by the New England Patriots, who had won 21 games straight.

    Despite their season being cut short, the Packers still had an amazing season. There were arguably some moments during the season where Aaron Rodgers looked like the best quarterback in the NFL. Rodgers threw for over 4,600 yards and 45 touchdowns.

2) Tebow Time

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    Tim Tebow’s comeback wins last season are definitely ranked as one of the most memorable moments of the 2011 season. In a year where the Denver Broncos seemed to have a season that looked like it was going nowhere with Kyle Orton, coach John Fox finally decided to listen to the fans and put Tebow in as the starting quarterback.

    It wasn’t always pretty but Tebow managed to go 7-1 as the Broncos QB and win the AFC South. He pulled off some unexplainable fourth quarter comebacks against the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, Kansas City, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers and the Minnesota Vikings.

    Of course, we shouldn’t forget about the role kicker Matt Prater played in some of these games. Prater’s two 50-yard field goals are big reason why the Broncos won at least a couple of those games. 

    The Broncos defense was also great contribution to the Broncos' winning streak.

    However, it seems that most will remember the fact that Tebow had another comeback win rather than Prater kicked a 50-yard field goal or the way the Broncos defense began to play.

    But in all fairness, Tebow began to play a bigger role on the field, especially to help to his team get to the AFC championship by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 29-23. Tebow threw a pass to Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown in the very first play of overtime to win the game.

    Tebow's performance in every one of his games were great moments of the season, though the playoff game against the Steelers was definitely one of the most memorable ones. 

1) the Super Bowl Rematch

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    There should be no doubt that the Super Bowl immediately qualifies as one of the most memorable moments of any NFL season.  

    With that said, the second Super Bowl between New York Giants and the New England Patriots is one of the most memorable moments of the 2011-2012 season.

    What made this Super Bowl special was that some saw it as a rematch between the New York Giants and New England Patriots. In 2007, the Giants ruined what would have been a perfect season for the Patriots by handing them their only loss of the season.

    Eli Manning’s heroic performance in Super Bowl XLII only begged the question as to whether he could do it again and against the same team. 

    In Super Bowl XLVI, the game ended with Tom Brady throwing a Hail Mary pass into the end zone. An injured Rob Gronkowski dove for the ball, but was unable to make the catch. The Giants beat the Patriots, 21-17.  

    Many teams had struggled in showing that they could compete against the New England Patriots in a Super Bowl. And yet, after last season the Giants have officially proven that they can do it twice.