Age is no obstacle for NFL’s rushing champion
Adrian Peterson, who turned 30 years old in March, won the NFL rushing race when Doug Martin fell 16 yards short of Peterson’s total heading into the Vikings’ Sunday night game at Green Bay. Peterson is the third player in league history to lead the NFL or AFL in rushing yards in his 30s. The only other players to have done so were Marion Motley in 1950 (at age 30) and Curtis Martin in 2004 (31).
Ryan gains sweet revenge against the Jets
The Bills defeated the Jets, 22-17, and that result, combined with Pittsburgh’s victory at Cleveland, denied the Jets a spot in the postseason. Thus, Rex Ryan became the first head coach in NFL history to help keep a team that he had head-coached in the previous season out of the playoffs by beating that club, head to head, in the season’s final week.
Additionally, Ryan is the first NFL head coach in 85 years to sweep a two-game season series against a team of which he was the head coach in the previous season. The last to do so was Jack Depler, a player-coach with the Orange Tornadoes in 1929 who bolted to coach the Brooklyn Dodgers a year later. The Tornadoes moved from East Orange, New Jersey to Newark in 1930, enduring a 1-10-1 season that included a pair of shutout losses to Depler’s Dodgers: 32-0 at Ebbets Field and 14-0 on the infield of the Newark Velodrome.
Marshall makes a great first impression
Brandon Marshall finished the season with 1502 receiving yards, breaking Don Maynard’s team record that had stood since 1967. Notably, Marshall fell six receiving yards short of the NFL record for a player in his first season with a team-any team, that is-a mark that Marshall himself set with the Bears three seasons ago.
Marshall and Eric Decker scored touchdowns in the same game for the ninth time this season, tying an NFL record. The only other teammates to score TDs in the same game nine times in one season were Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith with the Cowboys in 1995.
Brown caps season with another spectacular game
Antonio Brown caught 13 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers’ 28-12 win at Cleveland. For most players, even some great ones, that would be a “career game.” Consider that Tony Gonzalez never gained even 150 receiving yards in one game; Cris Carter never had a 170-yard game; and neither Larry Fitzgerald nor Hines Ward ever had as many receiving yards in one regular-season game as Brown did on Sunday.
But that was Brown’s fourth-highest total this season, following games of 195 against the 49ers, 284 against the Raiders, and 189 against the Broncos. Brown is the first receiver in NFL history to reach the 180-yard mark in four games in the same season.
Peyton Manning made the first relief appearance of his career and he made it count, engineering the Broncos’ rally in a 27-20 come-from-behind win over the Chargers to clinch the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Manning has started 265 regular-season games; this was the first in which he came off the bench. That’s a record of sorts. The last player to start even 200 games before his first game as a substitute was the Raiders’ Hall of Fame guard, Gene Upshaw. Upshaw started 207 games before his first appearance as a sub in 1981.
Carolina ends a great season with a noteworthy victory
The Panthers walloped the Buccaneers, 38-10, to finish their season with a 15-1 mark. It was the largest season-ending victory posted by any of the seven teams that won at least 15 games. The only other club among that group that won its season finale by at least 20 points was Chicago in 1985. The Bears finished their regular season with a 37-17 win at Detroit. Carolina’s head coach, Ron Rivera, was a linebacker on the 1985 Bears.
Watt captures sacks title with three in season finale
J.J. Watt sacked Blake Bortles three times in Houston’s 30-6 victory over Jacksonville, to pass Khalil Mack of the Raiders as the NFL leader for the 2015 season. Watt became only the second player to lead the NFL in sacks twice within his first five years in the league. He previously led the league as a second-year pro in 2012. The other player to do so was Reggie White in 1987 and 1988, his third and fourth seasons in the NFL.
It should be noted that Watt’s three sacks on Sunday were enough to catch and pass Mack, but not enough to lead his team in sacks in its win over the Jags. That distinction goes to Whitney Mercilus, with three-and-a-half sacks of Bortles. Over the last four seasons, only one other pair of teammates had at least three sacks each in the same game: Chris Long and Robert Quinn of the Rams in a loss to Seattle in 2013.
Seahawks end season with rout of powerful Cardinals
The Seahawks made a bold season-ending statement with a 36-6 victory at Arizona, crushing a Cardinals team that had a 13-2 record coming into the game. It was the fourth-largest margin of victory in NFL history against a team with a record at least 10 games above the .500 mark. The largest was a 41-0 victory by the Boston Patriots at San Diego on the final week of the 1961 AFL season. The Chargers had a 12-1 mark prior to that game. One week later, San Diego lost the AFL Championship Game to the Houston Oilers, 10-3.
Cousins’ fast start dooms Cowboys
Kirk Cousins threw three touchdown passes to give the Redskins a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and Washington rolled to a 34-23 win at Dallas. Only one other player has thrown three first-quarter touchdown passes in a game against the Cowboys: Randall Cunningham in a memorable 46-36 Vikings win at Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving Day 1998. Cunningham’s early TD passes all covered more than 50 yards. He connected with Randy Moss for first-quarter TDs of 51 and 56 yards and with Cris Carter for a 54-yard touchdown. For good measure, Cunningham found Moss on a 56-yard scoring pass in the third quarter.
Walter Thurmond recovered a fumble by Eli Manning in the third quarter and returned it 83 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the Eagles’ 35-30 win over the Giants. Thurmond, who played two games for New York in 2014, became the first ex-Giants player to score a second-half game-winning TD against the team since Bobby Hammond did it for the Redskins in 1980, scoring on a 7-yard pass from Joe Theismann in the final minute of a 23-21 victory.
It was yet another blown opportunity for the Giants, who lost nine of the last 18 games in which they led in the second half. New York has lost six of the last nine games against the Eagles in which it led at some point after halftime, dating back to 2009.
Chiefs turn season around, finish with 11-5 mark
Kansas City extended its winning streak to 10 games, capping its season with a 23-17 win over the Raiders. The Chiefs, who lost five straight games after winning their season opener, finished with an 11-5 mark, the best in NFL history by a team that suffered five consecutive losses during the season. The previous record was the Jets’ 10-6 mark in 1986, when they lost their last five games after a 10-1 start.
Bengals’ Hill snaps drought with long TD run
Jeremy Hill flashed rarely-seen breakaway ability, running 38 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter of the Bengals’ 24-16 win over the Ravens. That was Hill’s longest run from scrimmage by far this season, snapping a streak of 232 carries for less than 20 yards.
Pats lose second straight intradivision game
The Dolphins finished the season with a 6-10 mark, defeating the Patriots, 20-10, to snap New England’s streak of 20 consecutive wins against teams with a record at least five games below .500. Combined with a 26-20 loss to the Jets last week, it marked the first time that New England lost consecutive games, both to divisional rivals with Tom Brady at quarterback. It’s also the first time that a team head-coached by Bill Belichick lost its last two games of a season since 1991 and 1992, Belichick’s first two seasons as an NFL head coach (both with Cleveland).
Bears end historic season with home loss to Lions
With a 24-20 loss to Detroit, the Bears finished the 2015 season with a 1-7 record at Soldier Field. That is the team’s worst home record, whether based on winning percentage or games below .500, in any of its 96 seasons in the NFL. By either of those standards, the Bears suffered their previous worst home records at Wrigley Field in 1969 and at Soldier Field in 1973 (1-6 in both seasons).
New Colts QBs lead team to win over Titans
With Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck, and Charlie Whitehurst all injured, Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley each threw a touchdown pass in the Colts’ 30-24 win over the Titans. Over the last 25 seasons, only one other pair of teammates both threw a TD pass in the same game in which each was making his team debut. Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski did it in the Bengals’ 2011 season opener.