2021-22 NFL season recap

Zach King

The 102nd season of the National Football League (NFL) began on Sept. 9, 2021 in Tampa Bay, Fla. and ended on Feb. 13 in Inglewood, Calif. This iteration of the league’s famed history was full of rookie sensations, controversial calls, questionable decisions and nail-biting games throughout the season. 

The NFL was one of the few professional sports leagues to come out of the first year of COVID-19 relatively unscathed albeit a couple of rescheduled games. The league did not implement a vaccine mandate for its players but instead required daily testing for those who were unvaccinated and weekly testing for vaccinated players.

Many eyes were on the leagues’ incoming rookie class, particularly the five quarterbacks (QBs) picked during the first round of the NFL draft. This included Mac Jones who was picked 15th overall by the New England Patriots. Jones was the only rookie QB who made an impact on the league as he led his team to the playoffs and appeared in the Pro Bowl.

On the offensive side of this year’s rookie class, wide receivers (WRs) Ja’Marr Chase (Cincinnati Bengals) and Jaylen Waddle (Miami Dolphins) and tight end Kyle Pitts (Atlanta Falcons) immediately found connections with their QBs protected by the offensive line of rookies such as Rashawn Slater (Los Angeles Chargers) and Creed Humphrey (Kansas City Chiefs). This year’s rookie class had a ton of outstanding defensive talent as well. Linebackers Micah Parsons (Dallas Cowboys) and Nick Bolton (Kansas City Chiefs), as well as Defensive Backs Patrick Surtain II (Denver Broncos) and Jevon Holland (Miami Dolphins) all had fantastic seasons.

The 2021-2022 NFL season will be hard to forget due to its ​​abundance of fantastic games and intriguing storylines.

The NFL’s new round of head coaches, for the most part, stayed focused on rebuilding their organizations with hopes of making the playoffs in the future. Arthur Smith of the Atlanta Falcons, Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions, David Culley of the Houston Texans and Robert Saleh of the New York Jets were all focused more on developing their newcomers this season. The Jacksonville Jaguars hired former University of Florida and Ohio State head coach, Urban Meyer, hoping he would bring his prior successes to the NFL. However, he was fired after only 13 games after reportedly abusing his own kicker. He was replaced by the team’s offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and the team finished the season 3-14 with first overall pick QB Trevor Lawrence at the helm. 

In the National Football Conference (NFC), teams battled through competitive divisions and even more cutthroat games. The NFC West, in particular, saw the most success out of any division this year, going a combined 40-28 record and sending three teams to the playoffs. The Los Angeles Rams (12-5), fresh off their blockbuster trade with the Lions for QB Matthew Stafford, continued to bolster up their squad throughout the year with additions such as WR Odell Beckham Jr. and veteran Linebacker Von Miller. The Rams lost their last game of the regular season to the red-hot and playoff-bound San Francisco 49ers (10-7), but they still won the division over the Arizona Cardinals (11-6).

Elsewhere in the conference, the Green Bay Packers (13-4) and Dallas Cowboys (12-5) both won their divisions with ease. The Packers, in particular, gained the number one seed. The NFC South’s only playoff representative was the division-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4), while the up-and-coming Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) nabbed the conference’s 7th seed.

The American Football Conference (AFC) had no shortage of league-shaking events this year either. The AFC North saw mainly the seasoned Buffalo Bills (11-6) and the young Patriots (10-7) challenge for the division title. Both made the playoffs, but the Bills took the division title. The Tennessee Titans (12-5) won the AFC South and nabbed the top seed in the conference, even after losing star running back Derrick Henry to a foot injury mid-season.

The AFC West was must-watch television throughout the entire season, best personified in the last game of the league’s regular season. After numerous locker room shakeups, the Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) squeaked out a Sunday Night Football victory against the Los Angeles Chargers (9-8) after a wild back-and-forth overtime. The victory allowed the Raiders to join the division-winning Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) in the AFC playoffs.

The AFC North saw its share of controversy this year as well. The Baltimore Ravens (8-9) played in 12 one-score games, before narrowly missing the playoffs, primarily due to injuries. The Cleveland Browns (8-9) broke at the seams midway through the year due to locker room drama, yet their rival Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) made it as the AFC’s 7th seed. No team was more surprising this year than the Cincinnati Bengals (10-7), who, led by second-year QB Joe Burrow, his college teammate and rookie WR Ja’Marr Chase and a surprisingly effective defensive squad, pushed their way to the AFC North title.

The first round of the playoffs, known as Wild Card Weekend, did not see much action besides the 49ers-Cowboys matchup where QB Dak Prescott inexplicably ran a QB draw play with 13 seconds left and no timeouts, losing the Cowboys the game. However, the divisional round was a different story, as the first three games all saw unrelenting back and forth play that would end in walk-off field goals. The fourth matchup, between the Bills and Chiefs, saw a quarterback duel like no other, as Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes both had nearly flawless games. After the Bills scored the presumed go-ahead touchdown, with only 13 seconds left, Mahomes got his team into field goal position to send it to overtime, where the Chiefs won it.

Buffalo Bills Quarterback Josh Allen hurdles a Kansas City Chiefs Defender during the AFC Championship Game, a game dubbed “the duel of the century.”

The championship games were almost equally as riveting. The Rams, at home in Los Angeles, withstood everything the 49ers threw at them, winning by only a field goal. The Bengals, still red-hot, came back from down 18 in the first half against the Chiefs and won the game in overtime. 

Super Bowl LVI, played in the Rams’ newly-built home stadium, Sofi Stadium, was competitive as well. In a game that contained two great defenses, Stafford and Burrow were a bit restricted in their ability to stimulate their teams’ passing games. Regardless, the Rams’ defense overpowered the Bengals’ offensive line, and the Rams took the game, winning the Lombardi trophy with a final score of 23-20.

As far as awards go, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers received his fourth Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, and Rams WR Cooper Kupp won Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP. Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans received the Coach of the Year Award, Ja’Marr Chase won both the Offensive Rookie and Rookie of the Year award and Joe Burrow won the Comeback Player of the Year Award. On the defensive side, T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers received the Defensive Player of the Year award, and Micah Parsons won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

The 2021-2022 NFL season will be remembered for a long time, due to its unique narratives, great games and outstanding play. As we head into an offseason full of free agency, trades and the 2022 NFL Draft, the league will continue to evolve as teams prepare for Super Bowl LVII in Arizona.