Peyton Manning Declares Early: 2011 Season

Coaching/Management Changes

  • Declaring mission accomplished, Steve Mariucci decided to follow Bill Cowher’s steps in retiring to go into broadcasting. The 49ers had hoped for director of player personnel Scot McCloughan to assume a full GM role with Mariucci retired, but personal problems forced him to step down before the 49ers’ successful 2010 season began.  Area scout Trent Baalke instead quickly ascended to GM, and staying in that area, he only went south a few miles to find Mariucci’s replacement: Stanford head coach and former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
  • After suffering a league worst 2-14 record, the Panthers fired Wade Phillips, and replaced him with Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.
  • A 4-12 record would also do in Gary Kubiak in Houston after five years. He would be replaced by longtime Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
  • But neither Kubiak nor Phillips would be unemployed long, due to extraordinary events in Denver. Almost everything that could go wrong did for the Broncos in 2010; after signing both Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson to contract extensions, both would be suspended multiple games for off-field infractions.  Adding insult to injury was losing Tony Romo for the year in preseason, forcing the Broncos to make do with an aging Donovan McNabb after being cut by the Eagles.  The final blow was Mike Shanahan, the longest tenured head coach in the NFL, abruptly resigning with four games left in the season to take the head coaching job at Florida after Urban Meyer stepped down in Gainesville.  In a move that many saw as panicked, the Broncos hired former quarterback John Elway as GM, who then promptly brought back familiar faces in Kubiak as head coach and Phillips as defensive coordinator.
  • Drama also engulfed the Colts after an ugly 5-11 season in the wake of life after Kurt Warner’s retirement. In a very unexpected move, owner Jim Irsay fired both head coach Mike Martz and longtime GM Bill Polian.  Polian was replaced by Eagles director of player personnel Ryan Grigson, who then controversially hired Ravens defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano just weeks after he had been promised an elevation to defensive coordinator in Baltimore.
  • Yet more drama took place in Dallas, as head coach Sean Payton resigned midseason amid rumors that Jerry Jones was taking power away from him in favor of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, long a Jones favorite. Many felt those rumors were confirmed when Garrett was named the interim and then permanent head coach for 2011.
  • Payton’s resignation, in turn, set off a feeding frenzy in Washington, as the division rival Redskins quickly fired Gregg Williams in order to get Payton as head coach. Owner Dan Snyder was quite blunt in declaring that he believed Payton was wrongly pushed out in Dallas, and that the Redskins would be benefactors of that move.
  • A 4-12 season saw Ken Whisenhunt fired by the Cardinals, who then turned to former Panthers head coach John Fox.
  • Eric Mangini got his walking papers from new Browns GM Mike Holmgren (coming out of retirement), and was replaced by longtime Eagles quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur.
  • Tom Cable was the latest Raiders head coach to be fired, to be replaced with Bills offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
  • The Dolphins also fired Tony Sparano midseason, and GM Jeff Ireland, now fully in charge with Bill Parcells retiring for good, promoted interim head coach Todd Bowles to the position on a permanent basis.

NFL Draft

For the first time since the famed draft of 1983, six quarterbacks were taken in the first round.  The first one, Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton of Auburn, went to the Panthers at first overall as expected, but trades helped to define the other five.  After the Titans took Washington’s Jake Locker 9th overall, the Jaguars aggressively moved up from #21 to secure Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert at #10 in a swap with Dallas.  (The Cowboys, meanwhile, were devastated that they just missed out on USC tackle Tyron Smith, going to the Jets at #8 in a pick they acquired from the Raiders for Richard Seymour.)  The Texans made a move up from the second round (sending the Falcons a first round pick in 2012) all the way to #19 to secure TCU’s Andy Dalton in a Texas-sized first round for Houston that also saw them take Texas A&M’s Von Miller 3rd overall.  Having given up on Chad Henne, the Cardinals moved up to #22 to get Florida State’s Christian Ponder.  And after seeing how few QBs were left, and without their own first rounder, the Raiders traded up into the Patriots’ spot at #27 to secure Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.

Regular Season

1 Jets 12 4 3 Giants 11 5
6 Patriots 10 6 Cowboys 8 8
Bills 6 10 Eagles 8 8
Dolphins 5 11 Redskins 6 10
2 Ravens 12 4 4 Lions 10 6
5 Steelers 12 4 Bears 8 8
Bengals 9 7 Vikings 7 9
Browns 4 12 Packers 2 14
4 Texans 10 6 1 Falcons 12 4
Titans 8 8 5 Buccaneers 9 7
Jaguars 6 10 6 Saints 8 8
Colts 4 12 Panthers 7 9
3 Broncos 10 6 2 49ers 12 4
Chargers 8 8 Rams 8 8
Chiefs 7 9 Seahawks 6 10
Raiders 6 10 Cardinals 5 11


Wild Card

  • Steelers 42, Texans 7
  • Giants 17, Saints 3
  • Buccaneers 44, Lions 28
  • Broncos 23, Patriots 19

Rookie Andy Dalton helped lead the Texans to their first ever playoff berth with a steady hand, but he and the Texans defense were clearly outmatched by the veteran Ben Roethlisberger and an assortment of old (Hines Ward, Heath Miller) and new (Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown) weapons.  Adrian Peterson also got to play in his first career playoff game, but a Giants defensive box devoted to stopping him and making life miserable for Mark Sanchez ended the Saints’ bid.  So, too, did Matt Stafford suffer a rough inaugural playoff berth as Drew Brees had a typical impeccable game.  And the Broncos got back to their winning ways, more so on the running game and a suddenly resurgent defense that shut down Aaron Rodgers effectively.


  • Buccaneers 30, Falcons 6
  • Steelers 38, Jets 34
  • Ravens 19, Broncos 13
  • Giants 20, 49ers 17 (OT)

Matt Schaub had one of the worst games of his career, throwing a mind boggling three pick sixes in another loss to their hated rival.  A battle of stellar QB play between Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger led to yet another bitter early playoff defeat for the former.  Defense ruled the other AFC game as neither Tony Romo nor Matt Ryan had a good day, but there was one less mistake by the latter.

Conference Championships

  • Ravens 30, Steelers 24 (OT)
  • Giants 33, Buccaneers 23

Longtime veteran receiver Lee Evans was the hero in this game, as he caught an endzone TD from Matt Ryan at the end of regulation, and then hauled in a 50 yard pass to flip the field in overtime, setting up a game winning TD catch from Dennis Pitta to sweep the hated Steelers in all three games that season.  Eli Manning, meanwhile, continued to make his argument for belonging in the elite tier of NFL quarterbacks with a 3 TD performance against the Buccaneers, and the chance to amazingly match his brother with two Super Bowl rings.

Super Bowl XLVI

  • Ravens 34, Giants 20

It was not to be, however, as Super Bowl MVP Matt Ryan made it very clear that he also had a legitimate argument to belong in that elite tier, as the Ravens defeated the Giants for the second time in a Super Bowl.  It was also a particularly sweet moment for lifetime Raven Ray Lewis, who announced his retirement on the stage of the postgame celebration.