Run it back: a look back at a historic 2021-22 NFL season

Tom+brady+walks+off+the+field+in+one+of+his+final+games%2C+before+calling+it+a+career.

Tom brady walks off the field in one of his final games, before calling it a career.

Lucas Quick, Assistant Sports Editor

At last, after 24 weeks of unexpected, shocking, historic, unbelievable football has come to an end. After the first expanded season of the NFL, with the first regular season with 18 weeks. We have seen some of the best games, performances, and breakouts in the last couple of years. We’ve seen a lot happen throughout the entire season, but there’s certainly a lot to look back on, so saying all of that, let’s take a dive into what we’ve witnessed in the 102nd NFL season. 

Right as the season kicked off, it was quickly off to a good start, as the opening kickoff between the Buccaneers and Cowboys, turned out to be an absolute thriller, as the Bucs would win off from a game winning field goal, but the Cowboys proved they’d become a dangerous team. 

The Cowboys were under the radar of being on the verge of breaking out, but as well as other teams who both made a statement and also made a disappointment. We open up with Dallas, who had the potential to become a breakout team heading into this season, but weren’t too fond on how well the Cowboys would actually be. But with the help of a star-studded offense, led by Dak Presscot and Ceedee Lamb, but along with a breakout of the Cowboys defense, who struggled heavily in the previous season. Trevon Diggs, who racked up interceptions all season long, and Micah Parsons, who made such an amazing first impression in his rookie debut, to the fact he was a runner up for defensive player of the year. 

With the help of a young talented roster, the Cowboys went from being third in the division, to taking the division title, and going 6-0 against all NFC east teams this season. Although they fell short to the 49ers, the Cowboys definitely can build onto this successful season. We can notice a drastic change in the league as of lately, as a couple of these younger teams are slowly becoming the dominant teams in the league, or are slowly beginning to rise up there. 

The New England Patriots are one of these teams, yet again, after missing the playoffs last year for the first time in a very long time. The Patriots would decide to move away from Cam Newton during the very end of the off season, and would put the starting quarterback role on Mac Jones, the Patriots rookie quarterback taken with their first round pick. The Patriots were able to show a lot of promise with their rookie quarterback, who held the one seed for a couple weeks in the AFC, but did fall apart a bit in the very end. 

But Mac Jones showed that he could be a very reliable quarterback for the rest of his career, being able to lead that offense, in which needs a little bit of fixing in the offseason, but to a double digit win season in the first year, it surely seems like the Patriots and the immortal Bill Belichick will stay here for a fight for the coming future. 

You wouldn’t think I’d leave this segment without talking about the Bengals, wouldn’t you? The Bengals this season was the clear definition of the perfect rebuild. After falling to a bottom five team in almost every aspect in the previous two seasons, the Bengals were able to exceed all expectations and had a massive blowout season. With the help of the young trio in Joe Burrow, Ja’marr Chase, Joe Mixon, as well as other key players, the Bengals went from being a bottom five team in odds of going to the super bowl, to actually making it to the big stage. 

Although the Bengals fell short of holding their first ever Lombardi trophy, the Bengals are in better shape than any other team heading into the off-season, with Burrow and Chase both on rookie contracts. But the Bengals, unlike other playoff teams, have more than enough cap space to play with, as well as to hold onto in the future, with around 57.3 million dollars still on their hands. Although the Bengals fell short this year, this could be just the beginning of the “Joe Cool” era.

Not only did we witness some turnaround seasons for teams, but we also saw huge leaps taken by players alone, including some seasons that were historic, and record breaking. A good player to open with is Jonathan Taylor, who although had a strong ending in the second half of his rookie season, the second-year Colts running back took a big step in his career, putting his name already as one of the best running backs in the league. 

This definitely isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Taylor’s success in previous stories, but it has to be acknowledged for one last time this season. Taylor had video game numbers, with over 1800 scrimmage yards, and getting into the end one 18 times, it is very arguably to simply say that Taylor was almost the entire Colts offense, but it’s best to not get into that topic, and save it for another time.

For the second straight season, we’ve seen rookies have amazing debuts in the NFL, and yet again, they did not let us down again. It’s safe to say that rookies are simply just more NFL ready than they’ve ever been, I don’t know exactly how they’re doing it, but it’s working out. However, it wasn’t the top picks exactly, as Trevor Lawrence didn’t have a all too impressive rookie season, but it wasn’t all his fault, but a top pick that did have a more than just a successful season, Ja’marr Chase let the league know that he’s here for the long run. 

There was a lot of controversy on whether Chase was the right decision for the Bengals, as they decided to take a risk on Chase, rather than taking an offensive lineman to help the protection of Joe Burrow. Along with a disappointing training camp and pre season, there were a lot of questions on whether Ja’marr Chase will succeed in the NFL. It’s safe to say he just was,breaking the rookie record for receiving yards, while Justin Jefferson had only held that record for just one season, as Chase racked up over 1400 receiving yards. Can we say that Ja’marr Chase has already solidified himself as one of the elite receivers in the league just yet? Not quite but Chase had more than just an elite rookie season, he should be in that conversation in just a few years. 

We also saw a historic season for a defensive rooke, who turned around the identity of his team’s defense. Linebacker, Micah Parsons, arguably might’ve been the best selection the Dallas Cowboys have made in their drafting history. After finishing as one of the worst defenses in the NFL, Micah Parsons made a huge impact in improving that defense. He broke the Cowboys rookie record for most sacks in a season, with 13, but Micah Parsons was a big reason why the Cowboys had a successful season. Parsons ability to play as a normal linebacker, yet also bring the pass rush to the opposing quarterback is an unreal talent to have in this league. Unlike Chase, Parsons has already put himself in the conversation as one of best defensive players in the league already, and without question, Parsons finished his golden rookie season by winning the defensive rookie of the year. 

Last but not least, he wasn’t a rookie, but what a season this player had, and certainly wasn’t highly expected. We all know what a historic season Rams receiver Cooper Kupp had, as his chemistry with Matthew Stafford clicked immediately, and it held throughout the whole season, putting his performance this season, one of the best of all time by any wide receiver. Putting up over 1900 receiving yards in the regular season, on top of 450 receiving yards in the postseason, Cooper Kupp was simply amazing. Oh, and not to mention, he helped the Rams in their game-winning drive in the super bowl, winning offensive player of the year, as well as the super bowl MVP. 

Kupp’s success this season should forever be remembered in the NFL, as Kupp was always a good reliable receiver, yet his blowup this season was highly unexpected. Isn’t it also ironic that Matthew Stafford was the quarterback for both Calvin “megatron” Johnson and Kupp, during both of their historic seasons. Once Stafford has a solid connection with his best receiver, they can be unstoppable. 

The last thing to look back at this season was the playoffs. This year’s playoffs were arguably the most exciting, and best playoffs in a very long time. Sure, the wild card round was pretty normal, but from the divisional round, had each game determined by a field goal except for one, and the only one that wasn’t determined was the walk off touchdown in the Chiefs Bills game. 

But my goodness, these handful of games were arguably some of the most entertaining games I’ve seen in a while, full of expected outcomes, and games coming down to just the final seconds. From the blocked punt returned for a touchdown, to pull the upset over the Packers, to the shootout Mahomes and Josh Allen had late in that fourth quarter, with a combined 24 points just in the final moments of the game. 

Game after game, after game was always a memorable game, it’s obvious that this will go down as one of the best playoffs of all time solemnly for that reason, but as well with a lot of upsets spewing during the games as well. Is it shocking that we didn’t see Aaron Rodgers in the super bowl? At the end of the day, not really. But for the first time in nearly a decade, Tom Brady did not come out victorious in the divisional round, as he had won the previous eight, before just falling short to the Rams, despite the Bucs being able to rally back from being down 27-3 in the game.

We also witnessed both number one seeds eliminated in the divisional round, as the Titans lost to the Bengals off a game winning field goal, and a crucial interception thrown by Ryan Tannehill, giving the Bengals the golden opportunity. The Packers would yet again, throw their super bowl hopes away, in a highly well defended game in the frozen tundra, but mentioned from earlier, the special teams was the key takeaway from this game, as a blocked punt returned for the touchdown gave the Niners hope late in that fourth quarter. And the one time the 49ers needed Jimmy Garropollo to play clutch in a big time moment, he delivered, and set Robbie Gould to hit the game winning field goal to punch a ticket in the NFC championship, in a low scoring yet a thrilling ball game. 

Without a single one seed in the conference championships, it gave the games a little extra spice, except the fact the Chiefs yet again where in the AFC championship, but the cinderella story of the Bengals would knock them out of the hopes of making it to the superbowl for the third straight consecutive year, rallying back after being down 21-3. And this time in overtime, it wasn’t the team who got the ball first that would win! With a crucial interception by Mahomes, and a nice drive lead by Joe Burrow, we would see another game winning field goal that would send the Bengals to Inglewood. 

The NFC championship was quite a treat as well, two NFC west rivals dueling it off, but the 49ers have dominated the Rams in recent time, winning each game since 2018. However, although the Niners played great defense for majority of the game, that Niners offense couldn’t get anything going late in the game, blowing their 17-7 lead, as the Rams would get a win over the Niners in the most important time as well. 

The super bowl was highly anticipated, as it was a rare matchup without Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes, and it was the lowest seeded super bowl ever. The game was filled with both offense and defense, but the key takeaway in the game was the Rams frontline. If you read my super bowl preview, this was probably my top takeaway heading into this game was how well that Bengals offensive line can hold up against Aaron Donald and the rest of that defensive end. They held up pretty well in the first half, only allowing one sack, but they crumbled in the second half, the defensive line would have a field day out here, as well as Aaron Donald putting the cherry on their super season, getting to Joe Burrow, forcing an incompletion which would seal the Lombardi trophy in Los Angeles. 

This season truly was unlike any other, and will be so hard to have next season be as elite of competition and games there were. But that marks this 2021-22 NFL season to an end, as now we head into the off-season and draft stage. But there’s a lot of potential going into next season, but the true question is; who’s next?