- The biggest shock was Redskins head coach Steve Spurrier resigning to back to the college ranks at South Carolina. Even bigger was the announcement that Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs would return to his old job in DC.
- On the other hand, it was not as shocking when the Raiders decided to turn over their head coaching position, sending Paul Hackett packing and bringing in another former Redskins head coach in Norv Turner.
- After a long run as the Falcons’ head coach, Dan Reeves was finally let go, and replaced by Jim Mora, Jr., son of the former Saints and Colts head coach.
- Tom Coughlin, too, saw his long tenure end as the Jaguars fired him, replacing him with Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
- But Coughlin would not stay unemployed long, as he was quickly snapped up by the Giants after they fired Jim Fassel.
- The Bears fired Dick Jauron, and replaced him with Patriots defensive coordinator Lovie Smith.
- The Bills fired Gregg Williams, and replaced him with Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
In a league where blockbuster trades are rare, two of them happened that greatly altered the order of the 2004 NFL Draft. It started loud enough when the Vikings, fed up with Randy Moss’s antics in a frustrating season that saw them lose Daunte Culpepper for almost the whole year, shipped him off to the Raiders for the 3rd overall pick.
But that would amazingly be dwarfed by a monster three-way trade between the Broncos, Redskins, and Jaguars. In a sign that the Broncos could see Tony Romo similar as the 49ers did with Tom Brady, they gave up previous starting quarterback Jake Plummer, along with star running back Clinton Portis (who wanted a lucrative contract extension), in exchange for the 6th overall pick from the Jaguars, and All Pro cornerback Champ Bailey from the Redskins. As part of acquiring Plummer, the Jaguars also sent longtime starter Mark Brunell to Washington, and Jacksonville acquired the Redskins’ 2nd round pick (34th overall).
The top two picks of the draft were entirely expected and uncontroversial: the Giants took Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning, while the Steelers took Miami of Ohio quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. 3rd overall was hardly a surprise either: to replace Randy Moss, the Vikings selected Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald of Pitt. Most also thought that two Miami stars, Kellen Winslow II and Sean Taylor, would be in play for the Lions’ back to back picks at 4th and 5th overall, one acquired via the Rex Grossman trade with the Redskins. But while the Lions did use the 5th overall pick on Taylor, they traded the 4th overall pick to the Browns so they could get Winslow. This was followed by the Broncos’ selection of Oklahoma’s Tommie Harris to finish off their role in the three-way megatrade.
But while Manning and Roethlisberger were routine selections, the rest of the rookie quarterback market got chaotic. At 8th overall, the Chargers surprised everyone by taking NC State’s Philip Rivers, despite using a first round pick just two years ago on Patrick Ramsey. It especially shocked the Falcons at 9th overall, who many thought were the main target for Rivers. Many then felt that the Falcons got desperate after the Bills traded back into the first round for Tulane’s JP Losman, which Atlanta followed up by also trading up for Virginia’s Matt Schaub, a quarterback many thought would be a 2nd or 3rd round pick.
- Seahawks 22, Buccaneers 17
- Jets 27, Ravens 6
- Broncos 35, Chargers 28
- Vikings 31, Packers 17
The Buccaneers returned to the playoffs by transitioning from a defense-dominated team to an offensive juggernaut behind quarterback Drew Brees and rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton; however, this was not enough to stop the defending champions even in Tampa. The Chargers emerged with an even more surprising offense behind rookies Philip Rivers and Michael Turner, as well as second year tight end Antonio Gates; but as with the Buccaneers, it wasn’t enough to outlast their division rival Broncos.
- Broncos 34, Steelers 17
- 49ers 26, Seahawks 13
- Eagles 27, Vikings 14
- Jets 20, Colts 3
The Broncos took down another rookie quarterback sensation in Ben Roethlisberger, losing the first start of his career. The 49ers got revenge on the Seahawks for last year, led by the passing tandem of Tom Brady to Terrell Owens that led the league in total combined yards during the regular season. Also getting revenge for a playoff elimination from last year were the Jets, as an emerging dominating defense shut down Kurt Warner and one of the best total offenses in the league.
- Eagles 27, 49ers 10
- Broncos 14, Jets 13
Things turned sour for the 49ers, as Lito Sheppard and Brian Dawkins worked hard to shut down Terrell Owens, leading to the brash wide receiver to get in a fiery argument with Tom Brady on the sideline. Donovan McNabb, on the other hand, was flawless with two TD passes to Todd Pinkston. On the AFC side, while the Jets’ defense made things difficult for Tony Romo, so too, did the Broncos’ defense do the same to Peyton Manning, with Ed Reed and Champ Bailey each picking him off. Unheralded backup running back Mike Anderson led the way with two TDs to punch the Broncos’ tickets to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXXIX
- Broncos 34, Eagles 30
This was one of the more entertaining Super Bowls in recent memory, with five lead changes and both quarterbacks dueling against talented defensive backfields. A tip-toe touchdown catch by Shannon Sharpe late in the 4th quarter decided the game, earning him MVP honors in what many thought could be the last game of his career. The Broncos became the first 6th seed to win the Super Bowl, ending criticism that Mike Shanahan endured in the regular season for trading away his starting quarterback and running back.