2020 was a disaster of course, and we are all glad to see it go. But we got a couple pleasant surprises in the NFL that brightened the year for a few fans. Here are some good things that happened in 2020.
Justin Herbert Silences the Doubters
I’ll admit I was a Herbert Hater. There were questions about Herbert going into the draft. He wasn’t seen as this can’t miss prospect like Burrows, not even close. His numbers were good, but not really on the level of his contemporaries, and he was playing in a weaker conference. Along with the fact that he couldn’t get his team to the college football playoffs and his sometimes questionable play when up against the best teams in the CFP, there was a lot of reason to doubt him. If you search up “Justin Herbert scouting report” on YouTube you’ll see video after video talking about his issues, his bust potential, comparing him to Mitchell Trubisky (another person regarded as a bust.) One scout even said that Herbert would cost a GM his job. But Herbert quickly put all of that to bed.
Thrust into the starting role because Tyrod Taylor was accidentally punctured in the lung (one of the NFL’s worst surprises), Herbert filled in admirably in just his second week as an NFL player. Going up against the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, he threw for 300 yards and nearly won, losing just 23-20. All of that with a truncated offseason. He proceeded to seize the job with his own two hands, playing better and better each week and breaking the rookie QB touchdown record along the way.
Of course, how a QB responds to his sophomore year and beyond really matters. After all Baker Mayfield, the previous owner of the record, had a rough sophomore slump. And Herbert will be facing a coaching change early in his career. Which can be good or bad. But regardless of how Herbert’s career turns out, no one can take the best rookie QB season of all time from him.
The Browns Break Their Streak
It was maybe a year late for the Browns hype train, but it finally arrived at Playoff Station. The Browns will finish 11-5 and in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. It wasn’t always pretty, including this last game where they eked out a win against the Steelers led by Mason Rudolph, but hey, they are in. There have been worse champions. Most importantly, the Browns may have finally found a QB and a head coach, two things that have eluded them since coming back in 1999.
Stefanski is a near shoe-in for the Coach of the Year, and while Mayfield still has questions he does what he needs to win. More importantly, he isn’t losing games. After a rough sophomore year with a 22-21 TD-INT ratio, he’s at 25-8 this year. He’s not making game losing plays, and every once in a while shows his game-winning potential, like in week seven against the Bengals and week 13 against the Titans. Under Stefanski the Browns finally have an identity, they’re winning games and having a lot of fun. When was the last time you had that in Cleveland?
The Dolphins Exceed Expectations
Rewind time to week four of 2019. The Dolphins are losing to the Chargers, giving up another 30 point game. Their fourth in a row. They have set records for most points given up and worst margin of victory in that time frame. There are rumblings. Are the Dolphins the worst team of all time?
Now, the Dolphins have hope. They are relatively young and they have a top five draft pick (hello Texans). Not only that, but they just won ten games and were in the playoff hunt up until the final week! Brian Flores looks legit, the only flowering branch of the Bill Belichick coaching tree. The team has young, talented playmakers on defense and offense. Xavien Howard led the league in interceptions, and Myles Gaskin showed promise as a rookie running back drafted in the seventh round.
Sure the last game didn’t go well. And Tua is much farther behind his rookie QB brethren then they had hoped. But they went from potentially the worst team of all time to winning ten games in just one year. Preseason predictions had the Dolphins staring down the barrel of another losing season. The most positive prediction had them 8-8. But look at them now, one of the NFL’s biggest surprises. A team with one of the brightest futures in the league.
Alex Smith Makes Miraculous Comeback
Matthew Berry says it the best. This is a man that we didn’t think would walk again. Playing football was a pipe dream. Yet here he is. Leading the Washington Football Team to a playoff berth in one of the years best surprises. It’s an unbelievable achievement, a real testament to human will. Is it pretty? No. Is it in the worst division of all time? Yes. Is Alex Smith playing amazing? Also no. But heck, he’s winning ball games and isn’t that all that matters? Forget the numbers, (even though he’s 5-1 as a starter, technicality it may be) and just think about the absurd journey this man has made. And now he’s in the playoffs. In the inaugural season for the Washington Football Team. A miracle story in the NFL if there ever was one.
It wasn’t all bad in 2020 for these folks. But just like us they are all hoping for bigger and better things in 2021. Sometimes a dark year can make the nice surprises all the better. Have a Happy New Year everyone!
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