- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

A writer in another metropolis described the just-completed NFL regular season as “pretty ordinary.” Actually, every NFL regular season is pretty ordinary, when you stop and think about it. The league plays 256 games, and those games produce 256 winners and 256 losers. It doesn’t get any more ordinary than that — a .500 record, year in and year out.

Still, the 2004 season had much to recommend it, in my humble opinion. Granted, some “pretty ordinary” teams made the playoffs in the NFC, but the tradeoff is that we might get two killer semifinals in the AFC: Chargers at Steelers and Colts at Patriots. All four of those clubs, if the games come to pass, would have at least 13 victories. That’s never happened.

There was nothing “ordinary” either about Peyton Manning throwing 49 touchdown passes to break Dan Marino’s record. Or about Daunte Culpepper flirting with Marino’s mark for passing yards in a season (5,084), despite losing his best receiver, Randy Moss, for the better part of five games. Or about Curtis Martin becoming, at 31, the oldest rushing champ — and winning his title by the narrowest margin in 61 years (a mere yard).

Or about Jerome Bettis, a year older than Martin, bounding off the Steelers’ bench and rushing for 100 or more yards in all six games he started. Or about the Patriots following one 14-win regular season with another, just the third time that feat has been accomplished.

Anyway, you get the idea. There was plenty about this season that was pretty extraordinary — and we’re not done yet. Some other items of interest about the ‘04 regular season:

• It was a bad year for Rush Limbaugh. Rush’s favorite “overrated” quarterback, Donovan McNabb, topped all his previous passing highs with 3,875 yards, 31 touchdowns and a 104.7 rating in leading the Eagles to a conference-best 13-3 record.

• It was a great year for Andy Reid. Not only does his Philly team have the home-field advantage in the NFC, Reid avoided having to wear tights — which, given his circumference, would not have been a pretty sight — when Terrell Owens got hurt and failed to win their bet that he would catch 15 touchdown passes. (Of course, if T.O. makes a miraculous recovery and scores a TD in the Super Bowl, we may yet see Andy modeling Under Armour.)

• Tight ends ran amok. The Chiefs’ Tony Gonzalez set a record for tight ends with 102 receptions (which led the league). The Chargers’ Antonio Gates set a record with 13 touchdown grabs. The Cowboys’ Jason Witten (87 catches), the 49ers’ Eric Johnson (82), the Dolphins’ Randy McMichael (73) and the Vikings’ Jermaine Wiggins (71) all had breakout seasons. It was unbelievable, really. Gonzalez set another mark for tight ends with six 100-yard games.

To put this in perspective, Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome, who didn’t retire all that long ago, had nine 100-yard games in his entire career.

• Nobody got jobbed worse in Pro Bowl balloting than New England’s Corey Dillon. You could make the argument that Dillon was the best back in the NFL this year. He averaged 109 yards rushing a game, the most in the league, and on his worst day still gained 79. (Martin, the rushing leader, gained fewer than 79 yards five times, and Alexander, who finished No. 2, was held under that total six times.) Week in and week out, Dillon produced at a higher level than any other back — and he was operating behind a line that didn’t have a single Pro Bowl player. But he isn’t going to Hawaii because he … missed a game? (Just guessing.) Ridiculous.

• The Patriots’ record winning streaks are already in jeopardy. When the Pats ran their streaks to 18 (regular season) and 21 (postseason included) earlier this year — surpassing the ‘30s Bears, among others — you figured the marks might last awhile. But the surprising Steelers have reeled off 14 in a row, and if they win the Super Bowl they’ll have a shot at both records early next season. Who woulda thunk it? I mean, isn’t this supposed to be the Age of Parity?

• Ben Roethlisberger was hardly the only offensive rookie to make waves. Watch out for the Jones boys next year. In the second half of the season, Dallas’ Julius Jones and Detroit’s Kevin Jones (no relation) ran the ball about as well as anybody. Julius averaged 114.7 yards in the last seven games (after missing most of the first half of the season with an injury), and Kevin averaged 113.3 in the last eight. Heck, that’s more than Dillon averaged (for the full-season slate).

Yup, it was a “pretty ordinary” season, all right — or typically fascinating, depending on your point of view. Wonder what wonders await us in the next few weeks?

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