- The expansion Houston Texans named Dom Capers as their first ever head coach, an honor he achieved for the second time after being the same for the Panthers in 1995.
- After only one season in Washington, high profile hire Marty Schottenheimer was fired by the Redskins. Owner Dan Snyder would make an even bigger splash by replacing him with Florida head coach Steve Spurrier.
- Schottenheimer would not stay unemployed for long, as he was quickly scooped up by the Chargers to replace the fired Mike Riley.
- After an embarrassing 1-15 campaign, George Seifert was fired by the Panthers, and replaced with Giants defensive coordinator John Fox.
- But Seifert, too, would find a new home as the head coach of the Detroit Lions, after they had fired Marty Mornhinweg after an equally disappointing 1-15 season. Seifert’s hire came after controversy, in which Lions GM Matt Millen first attempted to pry away 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci, fresh off a Super Bowl championship. Mariucci ultimately won a power struggle with former 49ers GM Terry Donahue to stay in San Francisco, and Millen was fined $100,000 and the Lions forfeited a 3rd round pick to the 49ers as punishment for tampering with Mariucci.
- Finally, the Vikings parted ways with longtime head coach Dennis Green, being the only team to give the Lions and Panthers their solitary wins. The team stayed in house by promoting offensive line coach Mike Tice.
As is common, quarterbacks were taken high this year, with Fresno State’s David Carr and Oregon’s Joey Harrington going first and third overall to the Texans and Lions, sandwiching North Carolina’s Julius Peppers being taken by the hometown Panthers. Despite winning the Super Bowl, the 49ers selected 4th overall after trading Jeff Garcia and the 32nd overall pick to the Bills. San Francisco started a run on defensive backs when they selected Quentin Jammer of Texas; this was followed by Oklahoma safety Roy Williams going to the Chargers, and the Raiders shocking many (but not those who know Al Davis’s penchant for speed) by taking Miami’s Philip Buchanan 6th overall.
A third quarterback went in the 1st round when the Chargers, reeling after losing Brian Griese in free agency to the Falcons, turned around and acquired the Ravens’ pick in the 1st round to find his possible replacement, Patrick Ramsey of Tulane.
A controversial moment took place at pick #18, in which the clock ran out on the Seahawks as they were in the middle of conducting a trade with the Packers. The Broncos, at #19, argued that they had submitted a card for Florida State’s Javon Walker before the trade had been completed, but the league instead accepted the Packers’ submission for Walker, who will compete to replace longtime receiver Antonio Freeman, who departed to Philadelphia. The Broncos, who saw Walker slip out of their grasp after Hawaii’s Ashley Lelie and Tennessee’s Donte Stallworth went to the Patriots and Saints, settled for Miami safety Ed Reed at #19, a pick that was overshadowed by a potentially bigger selection in the 2nd round, one of Reed’s Hurricane teammates in running back Clinton Portis. This selection further clouded the uncertain future of longtime running back Terrell Davis, who had repeated knee problems in a subpar 2001 season that ultimately resulted in microfracture surgery.
- Cardinals 25, 49ers 24
- Colts 41, Steelers 21
- Patriots 38, Broncos 17
- Cowboys 20, Eagles 10
The first season after the eight division realignment also saw the first time in NFL history in which all four wild cards as lower seeds won, all in big upsets. Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis made the bold move to go for two after tying the game late, running quarterback Michael Vick on a bootleg to end the 49ers’ repeat bid. The Colts’ Kurt Warner shredded the Steelers’ defenders at Heinz Field for over 400 yards. Patriots running back LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 203 yards and Tony Dungy’s defense confounded Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer into three interceptions. And despite getting swept by the Eagles in the regular season, Bill Parcells and the Cowboys put together a brilliant plan to shut down Donovan McNabb and the Eagles.
- Patriots 27, Titans 23
- Cowboys 24, Packers 7
- Buccaneers 34, Cardinals 0
- Jets 33, Colts 27
The most surprising score of the weekend by far was the Cowboys’ decisive win over the Packers, the first home playoff loss in Green Bay history. Dallas quarterback Chad Pennington had the best game of his young career, throwing for over 400 yards and three touchdowns.
- Buccaneers 37, Cowboys 10
- Patriots 37, Jets 34
A shootout emerged in the Meadowlands due to injuries sustained by Jets defenders Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel, causing LaDainian Tomlinson to run roughshed on the Jets’ defensive front. Peyton Manning’s 4 TDs weren’t enough to prevent the Jets from falling victim to their hated division rival. This would set up the so-called “Dungy Bowl” in San Diego, as the Patriots head coach would face his old team for the biggest stakes of them all.
Super Bowl XXXVII
- Buccaneers 30, Patriots 3
Tony Dungy couldn’t find a way to crack the tough defense he had built in Tampa Bay, as the Buccaneers limited LaDainian Tomlinson to less than 50 yards rushing, and forced Drew Bledsoe into two interceptions. Combined with Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees throwing for over 300 yards, the Buccaneers ended the champagne party for another NFL team in the state of Florida as they became the first team in NFL history to go 19-0, a fitting turnaround for a team that lost their first 26 games in franchise history.