Where did the 2013 NFL regular season go?
Football season is always over way too fast, and this year was no exception. NFL fans start thinking about the draft the instant their team drops out of contention the year before, and even year-round 24-hour news coverage of eight months of NFL offseason can't satisfy our hunger for the real deal.
After eight months of feverish anticipation, though, the season feels like just a few weeks of the high-octane action we crave before it's right back to waiting for next year.
Whether your favorite team is gearing up for the postseason, getting ready for free agency or going through its Rolodex calling potential new head coaches, let's take a break to savor some of the most indelible moments of the NFL this season.
We couldn't hope to encapsulate every team's year in one article—but the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, the moments we'll cherish forever and the moments we wish we could forget? The best and worst of the 2013 NFL season? It's all right here.
The whole NFL world was on tenterhooks all summer, waiting to see if new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense would work in the NFL.
Once Washington kicker Kai Forbath's toe met leather at the start of Week 1, they didn't have to wait long. Quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy drove the Eagles 76 yards in just two minutes and 46 seconds. A Vick fumble cost the Eagles points, but no matter—they'd have 24 of them by halftime, not counting a safety forced by the Eagles defense.
Vick went 15-of-25 for 203 yards and two touchdowns, including this effortless pitch-and-catch to Jackson. McCoy shredded Washington for 184 yards and a score on 31 carries; Vick added 54 yards and a rushing touchdown of his own.
Few saw this performance and projected the Eagles' run to 10-6 and the NFC East division crown, but it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kelly's Eagles were going to put bunches of points on the board.
The Eagles were electrifying in the first game of the season, but 2012's most electrifying player was on the other side of the field looking like his batteries were drained.
After a summer of speculation, little-to-no full-speed practice and zero preseason play, Griffin looked like a slow, tentative shadow of his Superman-socks-wearing rookie self. The trend would continue throughout the first half of the season, with Griffin looking sloppy on his dropbacks, slow making decisions and struggling to get away from the pass rush.
Griffin would finish the season with significant drop-offs in completion percentage (60.1 percent, down from 65.6), touchdown rate (3.5 percent, down from 5.1), interception rate (2.6 percent, double his NFL-best 1.3 percent 2012 mark), average yards per attempt (7.0, down from a NFL-best 8.1) and nearly every other passing statistic, per Pro Football Reference.
He seemed to get stronger as the year went on, but Washington sank further and further into the NFC East's basement. Now-fired head coach Mike Shanahan shut Griffin down for the remainder of the season to get his knee some rest.
Maybe Shanahan should have done that at the beginning of the season?
In the middle of the third week of the season, the Indianapolis Colts set the NFL world on its ear. They dealt a first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Trent Richardson—the Browns' franchise back, acquired with the No. 3 overall pick just a year before.
Reaction to the trade was immediate, vociferous and violently split, as characterized by Pro Football Talk.
Coming off of a surprise 29-3 beatdown at the hands of their bitter division rivals, the San Francisco 49ers were looking to reassert their status as Super Bowl favorites in the well-worn confines of Candlestick Park.
To everyone's shock, Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw and the Colts ran roughshod over the 49ers in their own home, combining for 130 bruising yards and two touchdowns. The Colts proved themselves contenders, and the 1-2 49ers would spend the rest of the season answering the lingering doubts raised by the back-to-back embarrassments.
As with the first two installments, "Manning Bowl III" came with plenty of anticipation and hype. The battle of the NFL's premier quarterbacking brothers, Peyton and Eli Manning, proved to be a microcosm of the two players' seasons.
Peyton was on cruise control, going 30-of-43 for 307 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. Eli threw a brutal quartet of interceptions and mustered just one passing touchdown of his own.
No surprise, the Broncos glided to a 41-23 victory.
It's a good thing this matchup happened early in the season; if we knew what seasons these two men were about to have, we'd never have tuned in.
Peyton, of course, would go on to throw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns—breaking the single-season NFL records for both—and the Broncos finished as the AFC's No. 1 seed with a 13-3 record.
Eli went on to throw a career-worst 27 interceptions, leading the NFL in picks for the third time in his career; the Giants lost their first six games and were lucky to rally to a respectability-saving 7-9.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints were 5-0 heading into this incredible game. The New England Patriots were somehow 4-1 after an offseason so mind-bogglingly awful I deemed the Patriots the biggest circus act in the NFL.
The two heavyweight offenses traded blows all game long, and it looked like the Saints had pulled away for good when a Garrett Hartley field goal put them up 27-23 inside of two minutes. As decried by Les Carpenter of Yahoo! Sports, things looked so bleak for the Patriots that much of the home crowd headed for the exits.
Brady had 70 yards to go, one minute and eight seconds on the clock, no timeouts to his name and...well, just watch the video.
Josh Freeman entered the season set to break several Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise records, and Bucs fans certainly hoped that his second season under head coach Greg Schiano would lead to great things—or at least pretty good things.
Instead, one of the most bizarre coach-quarterback power plays unfolded in the media, with Schiano leaking confidential information about Freeman, complaining about Freeman missing the team picture, Freeman allegedly questioning if Schiano rigged the secret ballot for the Bucs' captaincy, and finally the Bucs benching and releasing Freeman.
Freeman jumped from the frying pan into the fire. He signed with Leslie Frazier and the rudderless Minnesota Vikings—and was barely given time to park his rental car before being named the starter.
As Phil Simms discussed for Bleacher Report above, this wasn't ever going to work out for anybody.
Now, at the end of the season, Schiano and Frazier are both unemployed.
Freeman just might have the last laugh, though: He still managed to set the Buccaneers franchise records for completions and touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference.
After the fast start of Eagles head coach Chip Kelly's offense, Michael Vick's career-long bugaboos of injuries and inconsistencies again put him on the bench.
Backup Nick Foles stepped forward—and though many wondered if the not-so-mobile Foles could run Kelly's offense, it turned out Kelly's offense didn't require much running at all.
Foles had impressed as the Week 6 starter, throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns in a big win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—but nothing went right for Foles or the Eagles against the Cowboys in Week 7; he suffered a concussion and missed Week 8.
Then, in Week 9, Foles shredded the Raiders.
He hit receiver Riley Cooper for three touchdowns, receiver DeSean Jackson for another, tailback LeSean McCoy for another and both of his top tight ends, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, for another score apiece.
Yes, seven touchdowns, leading the Eagles to a 49-20 win and becoming just the seventh quarterback to throw so many touchdown passes in a single game, per the Associated Press (via NFL.com).
If you're reading this, you've likely read and heard everything you'd ever want to read or hear about Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, or how Incognito harassed and bullied Martin to the point that he didn't want to show up for work anymore.
Seemingly every NFL analyst and observer, player and coach, executive and fan put in their two cents (and change). Full disclosure: Yours truly was no exception; I penned my own explanation of why I think Incognito should be permanently banned from the NFL.
Ultimately, after all the ink was spilled and all the hot air was expelled, the incident served mostly to remind everyone involved in the NFL that what the league used to be can't be what it is.
The NFL is no longer a rough-and-ready manliness contest where bodies and minds are limitlessly abused, broken and sacrificed at the altar of Winning Isn't Everything, It's the Only Thing.
It's multi-billion dollar entertainment—and no media company can allow one of its multi-million-dollar entertainers to harass and intimidate a fellow employee.
Though some may mourn the passing of The Good Old Days, most fans prefer the family-friendly game, and for behavior like Incognito's to be a thing of the past.
Kansas City fans, before you throw your computer, laptop, tablet or phone at me, let me qualify this: The Chiefs finally losing after winning their first nine games wasn't one of the best stories of the season. The Chiefs winning their first nine games was one of the best stories of the season!
A 2-14 team that had just exercised the No. 1 overall pick in April took more games than any other team to finally lose one. New head coach Andy Reid did a spectacular job turning over the roster and getting the players ready to play.
Just the week before the seemingly unstoppable Denver Broncos stopped the Chiefs' win streak, though, the second-most notable NFL streak came to an end: the Jacksonville Jaguars' losing streak.
New head coach Gus Bradley didn't have much talent to work with on either side of the ball. Yet, after seven tries, he finally got his new team off the schneid—in fact, the Jags went on a 4-1 tear, playing .500 football in the back half of the season after going winless in the first eight games.
It's hard not to root for one of the most put-upon fanbases in the NFL to have a team to hope and cheer for.
The brutal Week 12 tie between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings was a perfect microcosm of the NFC North in 2013.
Just as all four teams spent all season long falling all over each other, seemingly in an effort to not win the division, the two mediocre squads fought to an ugly, sloppy draw across 60 minutes of slap-fight football.
Unconscionably, NFL fans then had a further 15 minutes of this inflicted on them, ending the only fitting way: with neither team winning.
Just as with the Packers, Bears, Vikings and Lions, injuries and inconsistencies marred the play of what were supposed to be two playoff teams. Just as the NFC North was supposed to be one of the most hotly contested divisions in football because of how good the teams were, instead the division came down to the slimmest of margins because none of the teams was competent enough to walk away with it.
It's only fitting, then, that this tie became the half-game edge that ultimately gave the Packers the division crown.
Was it football at its best? No. Was it poetry in motion? No. Did the offensive stars of the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles get to showcase their best stuff in what was a crucial game for both teams? No.
Was it awesome to watch a modern NFL game so exposed to the elements that viewers could barely distinguish one team from the other? Absolutely!
Kudos to the Fox Sports crew for coming up with an innovative yard-marker overlay that allowed viewers at home to at least tell where the yard lines were, and kudos to both teams for going all-out to play a fantastically entertaining back-and-forth game of football.
After perennial "dark horse" status, back-to-back double-digit-win seasons and a long-awaited playoff victory, the Houston Texans were supposed to take the next step in 2013.
They did; it just happened to be off a cliff.
After a stunning 11-game losing streak saw an overwhelmed (and physically ill) Gary Kubiak literally collapse along with his team, the Texans brass finally had enough. Kubiak, after returning to health, was let go, and the championship window slammed shut on a Texans team that had seemingly just opened it.
After an incredibly frustrating second half of the season spent mostly on the bench, medically prevented from playing, Aaron Rodgers got one game to salvage everything.
In a spectacular Week 17 full of tiebreakers, buzzer-beaters, jaw-dropping finishes and playoff fortunes made and lost in consecutive minutes, the story of Aaron Rodgers' comeback win, on the road, with an incredible 4th-and-8 scramble-and-touchdown connection to a wide-open Randall Cobb tops them all.
Who knows how deep Rodgers and the Packers will go in the upcoming playoffs, but even if they get bounced out in the first round, this incredible moment may just stand as the best memory of the 2013 NFL season.
NFL officials took more heat this season than ever.
From a controversial no-call that arguably gifted the Carolina Panthers a Week 11 Monday Night Football win over the New England Patriots, to an inexcusable down-and-distance goof-up that slammed the door shut on a potential Robert Griffin III game-tying comeback drive, to the jaw-droppingly ticky-tack field-goal formation call that gave the New York Jets the second chance they needed to beat the New England Patriots in overtime, NFL officials decided a lot of games with a lot of bad calls.
Whether it's enacting my plan to restore faith in the officials, my plan to streamline the rulebook, or taking any action that enhances officials' accountability and transparency, the NFL must make doing something about the state of officiating their top offseason priority.