The NFL season is over and Tom Brady is again a Super Bowl champion. While it’s a familiar ending to another season for football fans, this year has been anything but normal.
There were times when it felt like we would never get to Super Bowl LV as the ever-present threat of Covid hung over the world. Players and coaches got sick, games were postponed, and the Denver Broncos even played a game without any quarterbacks. It never felt like a good idea to power through a season in the midst of a global pandemic, but the NFL was able to finish the year.
It’s time to look back at an NFL season unlike any other. While Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended the year as Super Bowl champions, there were plenty of other players and teams worth celebrating. Meanwhile, there’s also a group of people who can’t wait until next year and a chance at redemption after a trying season.
Here are the winners and losers of the 2020-2021 NFL season.
Was Brady nuts to leave the New England Patriots after two decades and six Super Bowl titles? Obviously not. In his first year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and away from New England, Brady added his seventh Super Bowl title and his fifth Super Bowl MVP. Per NFL.com, only Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Bill Russell have seven championships and three or more MVPs in the major North American sports.
Thing is, at the advanced age for an NFL quarterback of 43, Brady doesn’t look even close to being done. He looks like he can play as long as doing so interests him.
The NFL itself
Nobody thought the NFL, with so many people and so many moving parts involved, could get through an entire season relatively uninterrupted during a devastating pandemic. The NFL did just that. Sure, there were unfortunate circumstances like the Denver Broncos playing a game without a quarterback and some games moved around. The league, though, played every game every week and the Super Bowl was played Sunday as originally scheduled.
Congratulations to everyone involved. I know the rest of us can’t get the daily Covid-19 testing that was administered to to NFL players and associated personnel, but the league’s success is proof that the protocols — mask-wearing, social distancing, quarantining when necessary — work.
Simply setting foot for a cameo made Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith an extraordinary story. Actually playing a lot, and playing well enough to win five of his six regular-season starts, made what Smith accomplished something beyond extraordinary. Whatever that is. I don’t have the word for it.
Smith won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. The league should probably rename it in his honor. After the gruesome 2018 broken leg and the subsequent infections that nearly resulted in amputation playing football — subjecting that leg to being hit by angry 300-pound people — shouldn’t have even been a consideration. Yet, Smith did it. And did it well.
The Washington coach didn’t let a little thing like cancer, squamous cell carcinoma to be exact, stop him from coaching. He coached through treatment for the disease, led the Football Team to an unlikely NFC East title and eventually — and most importantly — emerged with a clean bill of health.
What a year for Washington, by the way. Smith’s comeback. Rivera’s courage. You can even toss in Chase Young winning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
The Packers selected quarterback Jordan Love near the end of the first round in the 2020 NFL Draft, telling Rodgers and the rest of the NFL world they thought the 37-year-old quarterback’s career was winding down. Well, Rodgers spent 2020 shooting that idea to smithereens!
Rodgers led the Packers to a 13-3 record, winning his third MVP award in what arguably might have been the finest season of his Hall of Fame career. His passer rating (121.5) was second-highest of his career, his QBR of 84.3 was a career-best and his completion percentage (70.1), touchdown percentage (9.1) and number of touchdown passes (48) were also career-bests.
So, umm, Rodgers’ career isn’t done. And if Love is going to have one it might need to be someplace else.
The NFL got in a full season, and as indicated above deserves to be congratulated for it. Fans, though, mostly had the game taken away from them by the pandemic. The NFL proved it could get through a season during a pandemic, but the game just isn’t the same without full stadiums. Thirteen teams played all their home games in empty stadiums in 2020. Total attendance, per ESPN, was 1,233,654. That’s down from 16,894,856 in 2019.
Everybody wants full stadiums, tailgates and the full fan experience to return in the fall. Wear your mask and get a vaccine when you are eligible for it and we might get there.
The Texans just kept making a bid situation worse First, they give a middling coach in Bill O’Brien the GM job and complete control of the roster. O’Brien made a mess of that and got himself fired early in the season. Right move by the Texans! So, that makes them potential winners, right?
Well, it should have. But, then they went and coddled an over-his-head executive in Jack Easterby, made a mess out of their process of hiring a new head coach, and alienated a young franchise quarterback in DeShaun Watson who is now trying to get out of town.
What the heck was Nick Caserio thinking, leaving the New England Patriots to become GM of this hot mess? Maybe Caserio, who has had multiple overtures from teams the past few years, should be on this ‘loser’s’ list, too.
The greatest coach of all time either couldn’t or wouldn’t give the greatest quarterback of all time the playmakers he needed on offense. Then, Belichick wouldn’t make nice with Brady. So, Brady ended his incredible 20-year run with the New England Patriots to find those playmakers with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Belichick has won with and without any number of star players over the years, and with many different types of teams. Brady was the constant. It’s clear who found more success after their divorce.
Brady just won his seventh Super Bowl. Belichick? Without quality quarterback play, New England went 7-9, finished third in the AFC East, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and had its first losing season since Belichick’s first season with the Patriots, way back in 2000.
So, yeah, maybe Bill needed Tom more than Tom needed Bill.
New York Jets
For 13 weeks, the New York Jets had the quarterback they had been dreaming of since Joe Namath in their grasp. They were 0-13, were going to get the No. 1 overall pick, and Trevor Lawrence was going to be theirs.
Then, disaster! They went and won two of their last three games to finish 2-14. They will pick No. 2 in the draft, with the 1-15 Jacksonville Jaguars going first and getting Lawrence.
Things may still work out fantastically for the Jets. Justin Fields or Zach Wilson might be great quarterbacks, should the Jets choose one with the No. 2 pick. Maybe they can trade out of the No. 2 spot and get a bunch of picks.
Still, all they had to do was lose a couple more games and this would have been much simpler.