Jan 16, 2011; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by New York Jets linebacker Calvin Pace (97) during the third quarter of the 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
Shot heard 'round the world
The NFL universe took notice back in January when the New York Jets went into Foxborough for a playoff game and took down the team with the best regular-season record. The win sent Gang Green to the AFC title game in Pittsburgh — about which Jets LB Bart Scott gushed, "Can't wait!'' Maybe he should have: The Steelers won that one, 24-19.
Pack it up
Green Bay completed an epic playoff run when Aaron Rodgers and Co. outlasted the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. It was the fourth Super Bowl trophy for the Packers.
March 11 was a day that lived in infamy for the NFL, as the owners locked out the players after several failed attempts to reach a collective-bargaining agreement. At the time, the 2011 season appeared in peril.
Show went on
Despite the lockout, the NFL Draft went on as scheduled on April 29. Taking the stage as the No. 1 overall pick was QB Cam Newton out of Auburn, selected by the Carolina Panthers. Newton's trademark smile was on full display.
July 25 is the day the football-loving world rejoiced, as a collective-bargaining agreement between owners and players was reached, effectively ending the NFL lockout. Fans, players and coaches started drooling as discussions shifted from legal matters to X's and O's.
Back to work
The first training camps opened on July 27, and despite the cancellation of the traditional Hall of Fame Game, things got back to normal soon. The only issue was the shortened time frame, which led to a wild period of free agency.
Bust a move
Deion Sanders in the Hall of Fame? You better believe it. The legendary CB joined distinguished names such as Richard Dent and Marshall Faulk in Canton on Aug. 6.
What's the holdup?
Chris Johnson, the NFL's leading rusher since 2008, refused to report to Titans camp because he wanted to rework his contract. After several days missed and much hand-wringing from Tennessee fans, Johnson finally ended his holdout on Sept. 1, agreeing to a four-year, $53.5 million extension.
What a start to 2011 for Tom Brady. With a Monday night audience tuning in, the Patriots QB lit up the Miami Dolphins for a dazzling 517-yard passing performance, with four touchdowns. New England went on to win 38-24.
End of the world?
The Colts without Peyton Manning? Say it ain't so. Sorry, Indianapolis, it is so. The future Hall of Famer wasn't able to recover from offseason neck surgery. Not only was Manning unavailable for the Colts' season opener, he has yet to take the field in 2011 — and is likely to miss the whole season.
Any doubters left?
Sure, he ran a simplified offense in college and looked shaky in the preseason. But Cam Newton silenced all the haters right from Week 1, when he threw for 422 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his NFL debut. He hasn't stopped rolling since.
How is this possible?
Two weeks after Brady's outstanding season debut, he wilted in Buffalo. The Bills harassed and pressured Brady into throwing a career-high four interceptions as the Patriots fell 34-31.
It really happened
All eyes were on Detroit early in the season as the Lions — the Lions! — jumped out to a 5-0 start. The team cooled off since, but there could be something special being built in the Motor City.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz (right) made waves in Week 6 when his team suffered its first loss, a 25-19 setback to the visiting 49ers. It wasn't the game that people remember — it was the almost comedic confrontation Schwartz had with San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh after a bit-too-forceful handshake at midfield. Classic.
The NFL lost a legend when Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis died Oct. 8. Davis was a maverick who helped shape the modern game, and his influence will be felt for generations to come.
For you, Al
One day after losing their owner, the Raiders went out and played an inspired game on the road. Head coach Hue Jackson was overcome with emotion after Oakland held off the Houston Texans on the game's final play.
Mark down Oct. 23. That's the day the Broncos turned over their offense to QB Tim Tebow — and the fun hasn't stopped since. Sorry, haters ... you'll be dealing with the lefty superstar for years to come.
Stomp the yard
And on Thanksgiving, too! Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh earned an ejection and a two-game suspension after he stomped on the arm of a Green Bay Packers defender. What made it worse was Suh's feeble attempt to explain his actions afterward. Nice try.
Well, that didn't last long. Donovan McNabb signed with the Minnesota Vikings before the season, but went just 1-5 as a starter before being benched for rookie QB Christian Ponder. McNabb requested and was granted a release from the team on December 1. Have we seen the last of him?
End of an era
Since 2003, Jack Del Rio patrolled the sidelines as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. But that all came to an end on Nov. 29, when the Jags fired him after the team limped to a 3-8 start. He left with a 68-71 record.
Gronk it up
In a season dominated by tight ends, New England's Rob Gronkowski stood a bit taller. He broke the single-season touchdown record for the position when he hauled in his 14th, on Dec. 11.
Houston fans will never forget it. The Texans clinched their first playoff berth in franchise history on Dec. 11 with a dramatic last-second victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. With the win, Houston also clinched the AFC South.