With the NFL regular season come and gone, it’s a great time to look back on what was an eventful season, from stellar performances on the field to drama off the field. Read on for some of the top trending moments from this year.
10. Jason Witten: Back from the Booth
Witten, a mainstay with the Dallas Cowboys at tight end since 2003, retired after the 2017 season for a job as the lead color analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football team. The results were…mixed at best.
And so Witten returned to the Cowboys, reliable as ever. The 37-year-old has 57 catches for 491 yards and four touchdowns, a step down from where he was in his prime, but enough to help Dallas fight for the NFC East title.
9. Jameis Winston’s 30-30 Pursuit
The term “30-30” season is generally reserved for baseball, when a player hits 30 homers and steals 30 bases in a single season.
But Winston, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, has been able to adopt that phrase for himself, as he threw 33 touchdown passes AND 30 interceptions in the same season. Though Tampa Bay unfortunately did not make the playoffs this year, Winston can find solace in his personal successes.
8. Eli Manning’s Swan Song
Benched after two lackluster starts in favor of rookie Daniel Jones, it appeared as though Eli Manning’s career – which included a pair of Super Bowl MVP awards – was over.
Peyton’s little brother was thrust back into the lineup for the New York Giants after Jones suffered a high ankle sprain, returning for two starts. The younger Manning, who was 116-116 as a starter upon being benched, went 1-1 for the Giants in December, earning a win over the Miami Dolphins to get back to .500 as a starter. After the Giants finished the regular season at 4-12, Manning confirmed he would be retiring on January 24.
Is Eli a Hall of Famer? Only two quarterbacks in the modern era have gotten there without a winning record (Joe Namath, Sonny Jurgensen). Those two Super Bowls will help, of course.
7. Spygate II: The Saga Continues
Everyone remembers when the Patriots were caught taping the New York Jets’ sideline back in 2007, an incident which became known as “Spygate” that ultimately cost the organization a first-round draft pick and $500,000 in fines.
Fast forward 12 years later, and the Patriots were at it again. Or were they? An independent contractor working for Kraft Sports Productions, working on the “Do Your Job” web series for Patriots.com, was caught filming the Cincinnati Bengals sideline for 8 minutes in Cleveland on Dec. 8. Did the cameraman simply need more b-roll…or was it another nefarious New England act?
Bill Belichick and the Patriots have vehemently denied any wrongdoing this time around. Per league sources, the team is expected to be disciplined sometime this winter for the incident.
6. Raiders Bid Adieu to Oakland, Again
Since their founding in 1960 as part of the eight-team American Football League, the Raiders have taken on an anti-establishment identity thanks in large part to their original owner, Al Davis.
The Raiders left Oakland for the first time in 1982, moving down the California coast to Los Angeles before returning to the Bay Area in 1995. But after years of failing to secure a new stadium in Oakland, the Raiders are taking their outlaw act to Las Vegas beginning next season.
In their home finale on Dec. 15, Oakland lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 20-16. Emblematic of just how far the Raiders have fallen, it was Jacksonville’s first win on the west coast since 2005 – also in Oakland.
5. Seahawks, 49ers Battle for NFC West
When the teams first met in Week 10, the Seahawks handed the 49ers their first loss of the season in a 27-24 contest that came down to a Jason Meyers 42-yard field goal at the end of overtime – an extra session in which Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson nearly blew it with an interception, only for San Francisco’s Chase McLaughlin to miss a 47-yard kick to win the game.
When the teams faced off in Week 17, San Francisco won a close battle between the teams, sending the Seahawks to the wild-card round. Wilson and the Seahawks were able to sail past the Philadelphia Eagles, only to then fall to the Packers in the divisional round.
4. Myles Garrett Suspended Indefinitely
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns have long enjoyed one of the fiercest rivalries in sports, but things turned uglier than usual when the teams met in Week 11.
The Browns led, 21-7, late in the fourth quarter, when defensive end Myles Garrett ripped off the helmet of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and swung it back at him, hitting Rudolph in the head.
Garrett was suspended for the remainder of the 2019 season; how far his ban may continue into the 2020 campaign remains to be seen.
3. Andrew Luck Retires
It’s virtually unprecedented in sports for a player to walk away from a contract which guaranteed them $58.1 million, but that’s exactly what the franchise quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts did during the preseason.
Luck, who missed the entire 2017 season due to injuries, returned in 2018 to play like an MVP candidate. But with more nagging injuries putting his 2019 season in doubt, the 29-year-old Stanford graduated decided to walk away with roughly $97 million in career earnings.
Luck’s retirement, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, became public knowledge during Indy’s preseason contest on Aug. 24 when fans at Lucas Oil Stadium saw the news on Twitter. Luck, who was talking with teammates, exited the sideline to a chorus of boos from his hometown fans.
2. Antonio Brown Saga
Brown belonged to three NFL teams in 2019: first the Pittsburgh Steelers, who dealt him amidst a bitter divorce to the Oakland Raiders, for whom he never played a snap in the regular season.
He landed with the New England Patriots, seemingly a match made in football heaven with Tom Brady. But Brown lasted just 11 days in Foxborough, unable to stay out of his own way with a string of lawsuits following him around.
No team has signed Brown since he was released on Sept. 20, and despite his immense talent, it’s fair to wonder if his Hall of Fame-caliber career is over.
1. Drew Brees Breaks Peyton Manning’s Touchdown Pass Record
Peyton Manning retired in 2015 with 539 touchdown passes, a mark which was bound to fall with Tom Brady and Drew Brees showing no signs of slowing down.
Turns out, it came right down to the wire. Brady threw his 538th touchdown pass against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 15 to move within one of Manning before Brees and the New Orleans Saints took on the Colts on Monday Night Football the next night.
Sitting at 537 touchdowns entering the game, Brees threw a 15-yard pass to Michael Thomas to match Brady and a 21-yard pass to Tre’Quan Smith to match Manning. Brees appeared to break the record on a 5-yard pass to Smith in the final minute of the first half before an offensive pass interference penalty wiped it out, but a 5-yard pass to Josh Hill in the third quarter put off the inevitable.
What’s amazing is that Brees, who missed five games due to injury this season, caught Manning before Brady.