The NFL needs to better appreciate its history. Baseball fans are still talking about Roy Campanella and other bygone stars, while football fans are mostly talking about the best memes from last week. This needs to change. In 10 years, will we have forgotten that Gus Bradley got fired before the team plane took off, but still boarded? Or that Brock Osweiler got benched after signing a huge contract? Or everything about Jeff Fisher? Or, you know, about Tom Brady playing historically well, the Cowboys and Raiders returning to contention, and Aaron Rodgers delivering one of the weirdest seasons in recent memory? (But mostly about Jeff Fisher?) Forgetting would be a crime, and we’re here to do our part to prevent that. So, for posterity, here are the 25 greatest things we’ve seen so far in the NFL this season. It’s not an unscientific or unimpeachable list, but if it helps future generations remember just how bad Ryan Fitzpatrick was against the Chiefs, it’ll be enough.
25. Kirk Cousins Yelling at GM Scot McCloughan
Cousins is a dork who celebrates touchdowns in practice, quotes The Lord of the Rings in huddles, drives a conversion van that used to belong to his grandparents, and freaking loves puppies. So he was not particularly high on the list of NFL players most likely to publicly yell at management. And yet!
After destroying the Packers 42–24 in November, Cousins yelled, “How you like me now?” to McCloughan, the man who didn’t give him the long-term contract he wanted last offseason. McCloughan had zero clue how to react to Cousins’s outburst, putting the entire episode over the top. Cousins is playing on the franchise tag this season and will be very expensive to keep next year, so even if McCloughan likes him now, he’s going to have a harder time locking him down long-term this offseason than he would have last. Cousins found his own way to convey that message, and it was both unexpected and delightful.
24. Jeff Fisher Saying, “I’m Not Fucking Going 7–9”…
23. … Then Getting Fired After Going 4–9
To be clear, this whole list could be Jeff Fisher moments. He couldn’t find a challenge flag:
He was “unaware” that his general manager signed a contract extension. He thought the Patriots running backs were named “Danny” and “Brandon” (they aren’t). But nothing is funnier than Fisher’s extension, signed in the summer, somehow first being reported on December 4 only for him to be fired on December 12.
22. Someone Throwing a Dildo on the Field in Buffalo
Name a better Bills moment in the last few years. You can’t.
21. Jim Caldwell Getting Fired Up
The Lions coach might be best known for staring blankly and making America wonder if he’s actually paying attention. It turns out that he is, because only someone completely tuned in to the events of the moment could get this fired up in his sixth season as a head coach:
20. The Wentz Wagon’s Short, Happy Life
Expectations were initially low for Carson Wentz, perhaps best known before the season for getting stuck in a gas-station bathroom. But in Wentz’s first four games, he looked like one of the most fun quarterbacks in the league, throwing seven touchdowns to one interception and posting a 104 rating. Wentz has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL the last 11 weeks and has failed to post a quarterback rating of 100 or better since October 9, but we’ll always have that beautiful honeymoon phase. And he’ll always have puppies:
19. John Elway Misunderstanding TMZ’s Question
“Good for you, bud” was definitely not the proper response there, but the internet was better after Elway gave it.
18. The Cowboys Offensive Line Mauling Opponent After Opponent
Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott (and, like, Cole Beasley?) are the most notable names in the Cowboys resurgence, but without the offensive line, it’s doubtful this team would be flying so high.
This is not an effective-yet-boring offensive line, however; this is an uncommonly thrilling unit that delivers highlight-reel-worthy clips:
17. Gus Bradley Coaching Nearly a Full Season
Credit the Jaguars for defying the trends and gifting us with so much entertainment. It’s become commonplace for NFL teams to fire coaches as soon as it’s clear a move needs to be made. That clarity came in September in Jacksonville, but the team held off until December, leading to some truly remarkable data points and moments:
16. Mike Mularkey Shutting Everyone Up
Many dubbed the Titans’ Mularkey hire “uninspiring” due to his miserable failures in his two previous coaching stops, Buffalo and Jacksonville. The few who initially withheld their mockery succumbed to laughter when he unveiled his vision for an “exotic smashmouth” offense this offseason.
Well, guess what? Mularkey completely turned the Titans around, and his offense, which relied more on ground-and-pound play than glitzy quarterback Marcus Mariota before Mariota suffered a season-ending injury in Week 16, has been a wild success, keeping the Titans in the thick of the playoff race until the season’s penultimate week. No one is laughing at the Titans or their coach now, and it looks like silencing the haters feels pretty good:
15. Four AFC West Pass Rushers Ruining Quarterbacks’ Lives
The AFC West race has been one of the highlights of the season: The Raiders are exciting, the Chiefs are productive, the Broncos are physical, and the Chargers are the most creative losers in NFL history. The one thing that’s united and defined the division, though, has been the superstar pass rushers on each team:
14. Everyone Leaping
Given the caliber of athlete in the NFL, it was only a matter of time before a bunch of players realized they were physically gifted enough to prevent a score by LEAPING during field goal attempts. This had happened before in the NFL, but it became A Thing this year, with Seattle’s Bobby Wagner spearheading the movement with this October block:
Shea McClellin pulled off a similar move earlier this month, making it reasonable to wonder when this will start happening on every play.
Sometimes the game is so brutal that we fail to realize how graceful these athletes are. Plays like Wagner’s and McClellin’s remind us of the mind-boggling physical gifts most NFL athletes possess.
13. This Photo of Zeke and Dak
12. Case Keenum’s Almost Unthinkable Interception
Never, ever forget that before first-overall pick Jared Goff took the starting job in Los Angeles, Fisher stubbornly stuck with Case Keenum, who was not only bad, but spectacularly so. This pass was so bad that it was actually magnificent:
11. The Lions’ Comebacks
10. The Raiders’ Comebacks
The Lions and Raiders have made absolute jokes of win-probability metrics by mastering late drives this season. The Detroit Free Press noted that the odds of the Lions’ first seven comebacks were 8.65-million-to-1, and they’ve tacked on another stunner since then. Meanwhile, the Raiders’ near-weekly comebacks, detailed here, have been just as mind-blowing, with wins over New Orleans (a 4 percent chance of winning in the fourth) and Tampa Bay (7 percent in the fourth) qualifying as flat-out ridiculous. Both Detroit and Oakland have been mathematical marvels this year.
9. Cam Newton’s Press Conference Outfits
Newton regressed on the field this season, but his postgame execution was more advanced than ever:
8. Tom Brady’s Revenge Tour
Remember in 2007, after Spygate, when the Patriots tore through the regular season, went 16–0, and fielded perhaps the greatest offense in league history? Well, something similar is happening now. Tom Brady missed the first four games of the season due to his Deflategate suspension, then came back pissed off and went on a tear. His current 111 quarterback rating is the third-best of his career and his best mark since 2010. (He posted a 117 ranking in 2007.) He’s 10–1 since returning and, more importantly, he’s doing Brady things:
7. Rodgers to Nelson
Aaron Rodgers did not look like a good quarterback in the first half of the season. He improved as the weather turned, but he wasn’t truly back to being himself until two weeks ago, when, tied with the Bears with 36 seconds to go, he threw a 60-yard strike to Jordy Nelson to set up the Packers victory. It was classic Rodgers, classic Nelson, and, quite frankly, classic Bears. It was one of the plays of the year — for its drama, for its execution, and for confirming that Rodgers is still damn good.
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Six Interceptions Against the Chiefs
There’s been a lot of bad quarterback play this year. Brock Osweiler got a contract worth up to $72 million and was recently benched. Case Keenum exists.
But the absolute master class in bad quarterbacking came in September, when Fitzpatrick threw six interceptions against the Chiefs and promptly received Pro Football Focus’ lowest-ever grade. It’s hard to be the worst quarterback in a bad year for quarterbacks. But congrats, Ryan, you dominated the field. At least the game produced one of the best photos of the year:
5. Eric Berry’s Pick-Six and Pick-Two
At their peak, good, exciting safeties are among the most fun players to watch. Ask anyone who enjoyed the Ed Reed era. Based on his play this season, Kansas City safety Eric Berry is getting closer to that territory. He dominates games and reverses his team’s fortunes by forcing turnovers. Oh, and he survived cancer. It’s all pretty cool.
Against Atlanta earlier this month, Berry delivered his most dominant game as a pro: He picked off Matt Ryan for a touchdown in the second quarter, then put the Chiefs in the lead, 29–28, with a return on a failed two-point-conversion attempt in the fourth quarter.
4. Julio Jones’s 300-Yard Day
Jones amassed 300 receiving yards against the Panthers, confirming that he and Ryan were back as an elite quarterback-receiver combo; that Jones can basically do whatever he wants on a football field; that the defending NFC champions had little hope of actually being good this season; and that Bene Benwikere’s career might be over. The Panthers defensive back was cut days after Jones torched him, spent a brief span on the Dolphins, and is not currently on an NFL roster.
Seriously, this highlight reel should be in a museum:
3. Seahawks 6, Cardinals 6
Two missed game-winning kick attempts in overtime, absurd amounts of failure near the goal line, and an unlimited stream of amazing GIFs? This game should be studied in schools.
2. Antonio Brown’s Twerk
Look, it’s hard to pick the best Antonio Brown twerk. It’s like picking the best Beatles album. But the nod here goes to the first and most famous incarnation, in Week 1 against Washington.
Brown, one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL, went from superstar to megastar with this, and now every NFL celebration that is not a twerk feels like an unforgivable disappointment.
1. The Cowboys-Steelers Heavyweight Fight
This season will largely be defined by the Cowboys’ return to relevance. It’s impossible to overstate how big it is for the sport that the Cowboys are great again, especially with failing ratings early in the season. The game that changed the course of the season, the course of the league’s ratings, and the course of Elliott’s career came on November 13, the first Sunday following the election that zapped NFL viewership for the season’s first two months.
This game reminded us all how much there is to love about football: The Steelers and Cowboys exchanged leads four times in the last eight minutes of the game, and, with nine seconds left, this happened:
Not even Fisher’s challenge-flag fiasco can top that.