Sundays will no longer be brimming with improbable touchdowns, game-changing interceptions and season-altering injuries, suddenly leaving many UC Santa Barbara students, myself included, with a wealth of extra time on the weekend.
But while I welcome the upcoming months where NFL games cease to dominate my phone battery and distract me from my overdue Webwork assignments, before I can move on, I feel obligated to reflect on what was truly an action-packed, incredible year of professional football.
This NFL season possessed everything fans could have hoped for: a bevy of heartwarming underdogs, a collection of electrifying rookies and a fantastic season finale that featured the league’s two best teams. Drama, emotion and plain-good football dominated the league from September to February, creating a spectacle worth sacrificing Sundays for.
Trying to summarize every aspect of this year of football would be impossible, so I have selected five storylines that I believe made the 2022-23 season special.
- Mahomes, Reid execute an offensive masterclass in the Super Bowl
Hats off to Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles for largely keeping pace with Kansas City on the league’s biggest stage, creating one of the more exciting Super Bowls in recent history. But between quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ unbelievable playmaking and head coach Andy Reid’s elite play calling, the Chiefs were nearly unstoppable.
Mahomes completed 77% of his passes, threw for 182 yards and tossed 3 touchdowns, finishing the game with a 131.8 passer rating. He also carried the ball six times for 44 yards, including a crucial 26-yard scamper to put Kansas City in range to kick their game-winning field goal. These efforts earned him his second Super Bowl MVP award in four years.
On all three of Mahomes’ touchdown passes, his wide receivers were wide open, a result of Reid’s coaching intelligence. The Philadelphia defense was one of the best in the league this year, boasting playmakers at every level, but Reid knew exactly how to manipulate the unit to his and his quarterback’s liking.
I fully expect Reid and Mahomes, both future hall-of-famers, to return to the Super Bowl in the near future. By the end of their careers, they could very well rival Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as the best coach-quarterback duo in history.
- Pederson, Campbell turn around respective franchises
The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions finished the 2021-22 season with the two worst records, obtaining the top two selections in the 2022 NFL draft.
One year later, both teams are rife with youth, talent and potential, largely thanks to their head coaches.
Doug Pederson took on a franchise that had been severely wounded by Urban Meyer’s presence in 2021, and beautifully built an entirely new culture in Jacksonville based on winning and teamwork. He lifted up a team at rock bottom and helped them win a playoff game, earning him the third-most votes for the 2022 AP Coach of the Year award.
Similarly, in his second year as the Lions head coach, Dan Campbell used his energy and charisma to lead a franchise with a history of losing to a winning season. After being featured on “Hard Knocks,” the scrappy, underdog Lions were easy to root for in 2022, starting with Campbell’s passion and drive to win football games.
Campbell could easily bring Detroit its first playoff win since 1991 next season, while Pederson will look to compete with the other AFC powerhouses to send the Jaguars their first ever Super Bowl.
- Seattle thrives after trading Wilson
Sending their tenured quarterback to Denver on March 16, 2022, could not have gone better for the Seattle Seahawks.
Russell Wilson’s absence allowed longtime backup Geno Smith to breakout, leading the Seahawks to the playoffs, making his first pro bowl and earning the 2022 AP Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Smith unquestionably outperformed Wilson’s dreadful 2022 campaign, whose 4-11 record and 16-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio prompted the firing of head coach Nathaniel Hackett.
Quarterback play aside, the trade also gifted the Seahawks a package of high draft picks, allowing them to build for the future. The team’s 2022 rookie class shined this season, and the team holds the No. 5 and No. 20 overall picks in the 2023 draft.
Time will tell if the newly hired head coach Sean Payton can salvage the Wilson trade on Denver’s end, but Seattle’s general manager John Schneider has to feel pretty good about the state of his franchise after this season.
- Jets’ rookies headline strong 2022 draft class
While one season is not enough time to make any concrete judgements about a draft, there were a great deal of first-year players who took the league by storm in the 2022-23 season.
The New York Jets’ first two selections, cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson, won the AP Defensive and Offensive Rookie of the Year awards, respectively. Both played like seasoned veterans, with Wilson amassing over 1100 receiving yards and Gardner earning a pro-bowl selection and a roster spot on the AP 2022 All-Pro Team.
Two Seahawks rookies also warranted consideration for the rookie of the year awards, with running back Kenneth Walker III shining down the stretch and pro-bowl cornerback Tariq Woolen leading the league in interceptions.
Other standout rookie campaigns included New Orleans Saints’ wide receiver Chris Olave, Lions’ defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and the most surprising rookie sensation, San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Brock Purdy, who surpassed his status as “Mr. Irrelevant” by leading San Francisco to the NFC championship game.
Players from the 2022 draft will continue to emerge, but looking at just one year, the future of the NFL looks bright.
- NFL community comes together to support Damar Hamlin
The scariest sight on a football field is when a player goes down and doesn’t get back up.
But when Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed during the Bills’ Week 17 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, anyone watching could feel that this situation was different. Hamlin went into cardiac arrest, prompting nine minutes of CPR to resuscitate him and additional emergency medical care.
Hamlin has made miraculous progress in his recovery, delivering a heartwarming speech at the NFL Honors surrounded by the Bills’ athletic training staff. But when his condition was still unstable and unknown to the public, the entire NFL community — players, coaches, trainers, executives, journalists and fans, among others — assembled to share love and prayers for Hamlin.
There was no discussion of anything else football-related while Hamlin was fighting for his life in the hospital — no game picks, playoff talks or fantasy analysis — only messages of positivity and hope for Hamlin’s well being. Many donated to Hamlin’s charity, The Chasing M’s Foundation Community Toy Drive, which has now raised over $9 million.
The extensive love for Hamlin did not feel artificial or performative; it felt real. The circumstances, while frightening, were a powerful example of how the millions of people involved with the NFL in some way can rally around a cause to create positive change.
A version of this article appeared on p. 8 of the Feb. 16, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.