Reggie Bush's Revival and 10 NFL Stories We Didn't See Coming
The 2011 NFL season has been as crazy as any other—and it's not even over yet.
Let's face it, some things have just become the norm in today's NFL—Tom Brady picking apart defenses, the Steelers having a great defense and the Raiders leading the league in penalties.
But in a season filled with breakout players, disappointing teams, comebacks and surprise contenders, some stories have stood out above the rest.
Here's a look at 10 of the most surprising stories of the 2011 NFL season to date.
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Denver Broncos (8-6) fans wanted Tim Tebow and in Week 5, they got him.
So did the rest of the nation.
Tebow entered the game for Kyle Orton and never looked back, even despite the loss to the San Diego Chargers that day. Tebow kept the starting job and despite his bad mechanics and lack of passing plays in the Broncos offense, he started to find a way to win—largely thanks to an emerging defense.
The next week, Tebow took down the Miami Dolphins in overtime. Then, after losing to the Detroit Lions, the Broncos started a seven-game win streak before finally losing to the New England Patriots in Week 15.
But they weren't just normal wins. The Broncos always found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter. But regardless of the time left on the clock, Tebow and running back Willis McGahee led the Broncos back to victory and eventually, into first place in the AFC West.
Tebow became an icon, the talk of the league and a very hot-button topic in the sports world. For seven straight weeks, the fourth quarter of every Broncos game became Tebow Time.
But now, after the Patriots have broken the streak, does Tebow still have what it takes to lead the Broncos? We'll just have to wait and see.
Eagles' Clipped Wings
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The Philadelphia Eagles (6-8) had the most exciting offseason in team history in 2011.
They picked up big-name players like defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, defensive end Jason Babin, running back Ronnie Brown, quarterback Vince Young and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. They also traded backup quarterback Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Vince Young-dubbed "Dream Team" was most experts' pick to win the Super Bowl before the season started.
But once the season began, it became clear that while all those high-profile names may look great on paper, they didn't have time to mesh on the field in a shortened training camp and the lack of a stud linebacker really hurt the defense.
The Eagles rattled off four straight losses after a victory to start the season and have been clawing their way past injuries to star quarterback Michael Vick and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
Surprisingly, the Eagles still have an outside shot to make the playoffs.
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We all know that sports can be unpredictable. But no one saw this one coming.
On December 14, 2011, former Chicago Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd was arrested on a drug bust in North Texas. Hurd was allegedly trying to buy five to 10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana to distribute in Chicago.
It turns out that the now-released wide receiver has been involved with drug trafficking for a while now. His first run-in with the authorities came in July when a man tried to buy four kilograms of cocaine in a car and with money that was Hurd's.
When everything in this case is sorted out, it will be a long time before Sam Hurd sees the world from outside prison walls.
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When Carson Palmer told the Cincinnati Bengals that he would like to be traded, no one knew if they would ever see the former Heisman Trophy winner play again. When denied of a trade, it became widely known that he had retired from the NFL, at least until he got traded.
Bengals owner Mike Brown refused to trade his disgruntled quarterback on the grounds that he had signed a contract and had to stick with it.
But when Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone against the Cleveland Browns, the Raiders showed Brown and the Bengals an irresistible offer of one first-round pick and a conditional second-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
A few days later, Palmer was suited up for the Raiders, reunited with his former offensive coordinator at USC and with the Bengals, current Raider head coach Hue Jackson.
Palmer threw three interceptions in the second half of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The rest of the season has been up and down for Palmer and the Raiders thanks to inconsistency in the lineup around him because of injuries.
But regardless of his play on the field, the fact that he is on an NFL field in 2011 is a bit of a surprise.
No More (Im)Perfection
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The Green Bay Packers walked to a 13-0 record to start 2011. Sure there were a few scares along the way, but for the most part, quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the team calmly to each win. When including the end of the 2010 season, the defending Super Bowl champions have second most consecutive wins in NFL history with 19. And they looked like very strong candidates to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only undefeated teams in NFL history.
On the other hand, without Peyton Manning, quarterbacks Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky stumbled their way to an 0-13 record with the Indianapolis Colts. With all-time great Peyton Manning out for the season, the Colts were left without an identity for 2011 and didn't find one until it became clear that they could finish the season winless.
But then December 18th came around.
The Packers traveled to Kansas City to face a Chiefs team that just fired their head coach Todd Haley days before. The Colts faced the Tennessee Titans, a team still finding their identity.
That's when the unthinkable happened.
The Chiefs played better offensively and their defense contained Rodgers. Indy dominated Tennessee on the ground and capitalized on turnovers.
One loss and one win.
13-1 and 1-13.
CJ2K? More Like CJ1K
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After the NFL lockout finally ended, Tennessee Titans (7-7) running back Chris Johnson began his holdout.
Johnson was due $1.065 million for the 2011 season but felt he deserved more for being the league's top rusher since 2008. He agreed to a monster contract $53.5 million over four years on September 1st but proceeded to play the worst games of his career.
Through 14 games, Johnson has only rushed for over 100 yards in five games and only has four touchdowns.
With only 930 yards on his 2011 season, the player once known by the nickname "CJ2K" for his ability to rush for 2,000 yards will be lucky to eclipse 1,200 yards on the season.
Red and Green Make Nice Tiger Stripes Too
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Before the 2011 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) were actively looking for a new quarterback after Carson Palmer told the team he would retire unless traded.
They found their new slinger in the draft in Andy Dalton, a quarterback who thanks to his red hair, fell under some scrutiny before the draft.
Cincinnati was also in need of a wide receiver because of the departures of both Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. With the fourth pick in the draft, the Bengals took former Georgia wideout A.J. Green.
With low expectations for the rookie duo, not much of a spotlight was put on the Bengals.
But that quickly changed. By Week 9, Dalton and Green had led the team to a 6-2 record. Though they have gone 2-4 since, they are still in a position to make the playoffs, currently the seventh seed in the playoff picture.
49ers Gold Rush
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The NFC West is arguably the weakest division in all of the NFL.
But suddenly, they have a legitimate contender.
Last year's 6-10 San Francisco 49ers team is currently 11-3, fresh off of a 20-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
New head coach Jim Harbaugh has created a change of culture while quarterback Alex Smith is finally a serviceable NFL quarterback and is doing just enough to lead the Niners to victory. Frank Gore is currently the sixth-best running back in the league.
But most of all, the Niners are led by their defense. Inside linebacker Patrick Willis, although injured right now, has been the rock of the San Francisco defense that is currently the third-best defense in the league.
The Niners are looking to lock up a first-round bye and the way that they're playing, they should do just that.
Sinking Pirate Ship
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After a 10-6 season in 2010 in which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) barely missed the playoffs, expectations were very high for the young team in 2011.
Third-year quarterback Josh Freeman played great last year in a breakout season alongside a surprise showing by undrafted running back LeGarrette Blount.
Blount has very similar stats as he did last year but Freeman began to start turning the ball over more with 18 interceptions. In addition to that, his touchdowns went down to only 13.
On top of that, a defense that overachieved in 2010 is now ranked 30th in the league.
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Running back Reggie Bush was one of the most highly anticipated draft picks in recent memory after winning a Heisman Trophy at USC and being the most electric player in the nation.
But after being drafted with the second overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, he never lived up to the expectations in The Big Easy.
As a running back, the most he ever rushed for was for 581 yards in 2007. He was also heavily used as a slot receiver and had 721 receiving yards his rookie season. But his stats dropped each season he spent in New Orleans because of a decrease in playing time.
This offseason, he was traded to the Miami Dolphins (5-9). Even in Miami, he struggled but showed some glimpses of his old college self.
In Week 8, he scored his first rushing touchdown since 2009. And while his receiving numbers dropped, Bush has now rushed for 973 yards—by far the most of his career.
The Dolphins aren't very good, but Reggie Bush has given their fans something to smile about.