- 2008 saw two legendary coaches retire. The first was Tony Dungy of the Patriots, who had a lackluster 2007 season after finally winning the Super Bowl. As widely expected, defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin was promoted to head coach.
- Joe Gibbs reentered retirement after four seasons with the Redskins in which he was unable to get the team back to its lofty heights in the 1980s. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a favorite of the Redskins’ players, was promoted to the head coaching job.
- The Panthers finally ran out of patience with John Fox, firing him after four straight years of missing the playoffs. He was replaced with Chargers defensive coordinator, and former Broncos and Bills head coach, Wade Phillips.
- The Cardinals fired Dave McGinnis after a disastrous 2007 campaign that left them without quarterback Michael Vick due to being imprisoned for running a dogfighting ring. He was replaced by Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
- Years removed from his Super Bowl winning team, Brian Billick was fired as head coach of the Ravens, and he was replaced with longtime Eagles special teams coordinator John Harbaugh.
- Finally, the Dolphins fired Cam Cameron after just one season, but it was the worst in the league at 1-15. Miami was able to lure Bill Parcells out of retirement once again, but this time only as GM. Parcells would hire Tony Sparano as the new head coach.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was seen as the top prize of the draft, and while many observers thought the Dolphins, in need of an upgrade of the position, would take him first overall, they instead traded out of the pick, reportedly due to disagreements between Ryan and the Dolphins over possible contract negotiations. The beneficiary of the dispute were the Ravens, who moved up from third overall to secure the rights to Ryan, ahead of the Cardinals who were also very interested in him. The Dolphins ended up taking Michigan’s Jake Long at #3.
Unable to get Ryan, the Cardinals traded down twice in the draft, all the way to #29, where they believed they could get one of the second-tier quarterbacks after Ryan. The first move was to 5th overall, so the Saints could select home state hero Glenn Dorsey of LSU at #2, and the second move catapulted the Jaguars very high in the draft so they could take pass rushing sensation Vernon Gholston of Ohio State.
While most observers felt that no other quarterback would go until late in the first round, the Cowboys shocked everyone when they took Delaware’s Joe Flacco at 12th overall, with the pick they had acquired from the Browns last year in order for Cleveland to get Brady Quinn. This caused the Cardinals, now worried they were going to get shut out of the quarterback race altogether, to give up the 29th and 34th overall selections to the Redskins at #16 so they could get Michigan’s Chad Henne. This, in turn, caused the Dolphins, who very much wanted Henne in the second round, to trade the 33rd overall pick to the Cowboys for Chad Pennington, the same quarterback Bill Parcells coached in Dallas. The Cowboys ended up with three first round picks; in addition to Flacco, they selected Arkansas running back Felix Jones (who shares an alma mater with Jerry Jones), and then traded up with the Colts to get South Florida’s Mike Jenkins.
Amid all the craziness in trading for quarterbacks, many praised the Green Bay Packers for calmly staying put and selecting an heir apparent to the ageless Brett Favre in Louisville’s Brian Brohm at pick #30.
- 49ers 34, Falcons 27
- Ravens 30, Jets 23
- Broncos 41, Patriots 37
- Eagles 26, Panthers 13
A valiant effort by Falcons Offensive Rookie of the Year runner up Ray Rice in rushing for over 150 yards wasn’t enough to stop the 49ers’ own dominant rushing performance by Frank Gore. The winner of Offensive Rookie of the Year, Ravens quarterback Matt Ryan, on the other hand, was able to persevere in another big upset suffered by the Jets. Despite badly losing the time of possession battle due to yet another outstanding rushing day by LaDainian Tomlinson, Tony Romo was able to throw for four TDs, two each to Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson, in a Broncos shootout win. And despite a quick turnaround of the Panthers by Coach of the Year Wade Phillips in his first season, Andy Reid still held the advantage in an Eagles victory.
- Colts 44, Broncos 27
- Packers 20, 49ers 16
- Eagles 23, Giants 11
- Steelers 23, Ravens 14
Despite the defensive talent the Broncos poised, the unit as a whole was unprepared as Kurt Warner exploited them several times in Indianapolis. Tom Brady had a bad day at bitter cold Lambeau Field, picked off twice by Charles Woodson and once by Al Harris in a Packers victory. The longtime Eagles/Giants rivalry reached a new high in bitterness with Philadelphia marching into the Meadowlands to decisively topple the NFC’s #1 seed, while the Steelers and Ravens were emerging as one of the league’s newer great rivalries in a penalty-filled Pittsburgh win.
- Packers 37, Eagles 10
- Steelers 27, Colts 23
The Packers’ defensive backfield had another stellar day in making things miserable for Donovan McNabb with 2 interceptions, while Brett Favre broke out to have another wondrous performance even at age 39. Meanwhile, a late touchdown grab from Marvin Harrison was not enough for the Colts to stop the Steelers, as Ben Roethlisberger countered with his own late touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.
Super Bowl XLIII
- Steelers 34, Packers 13
Brett Favre’s luck run out in Tampa as he was sacked 6 times, lost two fumbles and threw an interception in a dominating performance by the Steelers that finally saw longtime head coach Bill Cowher get the Super Bowl ring that had eluded him for so long. Ben Roethlisberger earned Super Bowl MVP honors with three touchdown passes.