Perhaps we should have realized that this season would be a little off when the Texans passed on arguably the best college running back in history for a defensive end from NC State. As it turned out, the season ended just as unexpectedly as it began, with Peyton Manning leading his team down the field late in the AFC championship game and onto a Super Bowl victory while Tom Brady shook his head on the sideline, wondering what could have been.
Although the Super Bowl was anticlimactic at best, the season as a whole took fans on an emotional rollercoaster ride worth remembering. It would be fitting to start at the very top with Peyton Manning and the Colts, Super Bowl XLI champions. It just doesn’t feel natural to type that phrase, just like it feels weird to type that the 2004 Red Sox were the World Series champions. Manning finally achieved his ultimate goal to win the big game, prove the critics wrong and not end up like Dan Marino, sitting awkwardly on a CBS set as his fellow panelists argue that quarterbacks need a Super Bowl victory to validate their careers. The Colts victory, however, was truly a team effort. The defense came up huge in the playoffs and the running back tandem of Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes was outstanding. Peyton Manning simply delivered when he needed to. I could just picture Edgerrin James during the Super Bowl, wiping his tears with the wads of cash he was given to play in the desert as Addai and Rhodes gashed the Bears defense behind a stellar offensive line.
One would think that the Super Bowl runner-up should be the second-best team in the league; however, this was far from the case. While Rex Grossman, arguably the worst quarterback in the NFL, ended up in the Super Bowl, the Chargers, who boasted both the best offensive and defensive players in the league in LaDainian Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman, could not manage to win one game in the playoffs. San Diego was ousted by the Patriots despite touting a 14-2 regular season record. Meanwhile, in the NFC, the Bears limped passed the Seahawks, routed a sleeping Saints team, and miraculously ended up in Miami where they put forth one of the worst Super Bowl performances in recent NFL history. It is by no means a stretch to say that any of the top four AFC teams would have decisively beaten the Bears in the Super Bowl. Actually, that’s too generous. Any AFC team but the Browns and Texans would have had a legitimate shot against the Bears in the Super Bowl.
There were several notable surprises throughout the season, most notably Tony Romo and Marques Colston, as well as the Jets’ remarkable year. Tony Romo took over for Drew Bledsoe in Week eight and never looked back until he literally did so at the very worst time and muffed the potentially game-winning hold on a Martin Gramatica field goal attempt against the Seahawks in the playoffs. Marques Colston was the surprise of this year’s rookie class as he led all rookie wide receivers in touchdowns, yards, and receptions. What was not surprising was Reggie Bush’s great rookie season. Mario Williams and his paltry four-and-a-half sacks were not a shock. The surprise team of the year was undoubtedly the Jets, as Head Coach Eric Mangini, a Bill Belichick disciple, proved once again that in the NFL, true teams succeed over individual talents.
The story of the year, however, belongs to the New Orleans Saints. The Saints unexepectedly rose to the top of the NFC South due to their number one ranked offense in the league. Free agent acquisition Drew Brees led the offensive attack while serving as a model of class and dignity both on and off the field. He finished runner-up in the MVP race behind LaDainian Tomlinson. Much of the Saints success can also be attributed to Deuce Mcallister, who put forth a Pro Bowl caliber season and was willing to take a back seat to rookie phenom Reggie Bush. Overall, it was the mutual, steadfast loyalty of both the fans and players that lifted the team and the city to unforeseen heights.