2011 Was undoubtedly the year of the quarterback. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady re-wrote the NFL record books with Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford not too far behind. Darren Sproles was the only running back to actually do something remarkable this year, Rob Gronkowski broke out, Patrick Peterson became THE premier NFL returner, Cam Newton had one hell of a rookie campaign and the bay area stood out as the best place for kickers.
The NFL MVP, making his second Pro Bowl and his first All-Pro team didn’t satisfy Aaron Rodgers. He led the Green Bay Packers to a 15-1 regular season following their Super Bowl victory, but couldn’t handle the eventual champions New York Giants. Rodgers did break a few records along the way in 2011 – He had 12 consecutive games of a +100 passer rating, and his 122.5 rating at the end of the season is the best in history. He also tied a record with 13 consecutive multiple touchdown games.
Drew Brees’ numbers probably signify more than anything else the shift the league has taken in the year of the quarterback. He set a new NFL record with 5476 passing yards this season, but Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford both topped 5000 yards this season. Eli Manning threw for 4933. That is the first time more than one quarterback has thrown for 5000 yards in a single season.
Brees also set a record with 13 games of throwing for over 300 yards, seven of them coming one after the other. His 71.2% completion rating is also a new NFL record. Brees won the AP offensive player of the year award for the second time in his career.
Arizona Cardinals rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson stationed himself as the premier return man in the league at the expense of the injured Devin Hester. Peterson tied a record with four punt return touchdowns, had 699 yards of punt returns (rookie record) and had a 99 yard punt return in overtime, getting the All-Pro nod for special teams.
Randall Cobb (GB) tied an NFL record by returning a kick 108 yards for a touchdown in the season opener between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers.
Cameron Newton showed Panthers fans he wasn’t the no.1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft for nothing. He led the Panthers to a 6-10 record, setting a new record for a rookie QB with 4051 yards. He threw for 422 on his debut, also an NFL record. His 854 yards in his first two rookie games are also an NFL record. His 14 rushing touchdowns are an NFL record for all quarterbacks, not just rookies. There was little surprise he won the offensive rookie of the year award.
No Running Backs?
This wasn’t the year for premier NFL backs. Adrian Peterson injured, Chris Johnson at half speed. Still, Darren Sproles set a new record for all purpose yards on a record setting New Orleans Saints offense. Sproles finished with 2696 yards, nearly 1400 of them from kick and punt returns.
More Passing Numbers
Tom Brady had everything going for him this year, until another disappointing end to the postseason against the Giants at the Super Bowl. He set a new NFL record for yards on the first two games of the season with 940. He threw for a 99 yard touchdown pass against the Miami Dolphins. Eli Manning also made that happen against the Jets in December. He also started his fifth Super Bowl, tying a record for QB’s. Rob Gronkowski enjoyed Brady’s passing, setting a new record for tight ends with 1327 yards. Jimmy Graham of the Saints has the second best mark, also set this season, with 1310.
Last and Least, the Kickers
Bay area kickers ruled the NFL in 2011, with David Akers getting the undeserving All-Pro status. Janikowski has been kicking for the Raiders since 2000, making his first Pro Bowl this year. He tied an NFL record with a 63 yard field goal and scored three 50+ yarders in a single game. Josh Scobee of the Jags also made himself known with that achievement. David Akers of the 49ers set two new records with 44 field goals and 166 points without a touchdown.