TheScore.com is counting down the 50 best stories of the 2008 season. Here’s a look at stories 20-through-11.
20. Turner the Burner changes the Falcons
Without a doubt, the biggest free agent acquisition of the 2008 offseason was Michael Turner, who left the San Diego Chargers for the Atlanta Falcons. After spending four years toiling behind LaDainian Tomlinson, Turner signed a six-year contract with the retooling Falcons. He went on to lead the NFL in rushing for a good chunk of the season before finally succumbing to Adrian Peterson late. Still, with his 27th birthday coming up on Friday, Turner has to be making the Chargers think twice. Oh yeah, and, just like that, the Falcons are no longer “retooling.”
19. Donovan’s up-and-down season
No player this year went through as much hell while almost reaching the peak of the mountaintop as Donovan McNabb. It’s hard to even tell what his low-point was. It could’ve been in week 11, when his team embarrassingly tied the lowly Bengals to drop to 5-4-1. It could’ve come soon after that game, when McNabb admitted he didn’t know about the tie rule. Or it could’ve come when he was benched by head coach Andy Reid the following week. In the end, McNabb got his team all the way to the NFC Championship game. Has anyone had a stranger career than this guy?
18. Owens vs. Werder
Oh wait, maybe this guy has. The best part of Dallas’ second-half collapse was, of course, Terrell Owens and his feud with ESPN reporter Ed Werder. It was the same old thing with Owens: Werder reports that Owens is jealous of tight end Jason Witten, Owens says it isn’t true, clueless and naïve Cowboys fans rush to TO’s defence, and everyone forgets about what’s happening on the field. Now, Owens is reportedly on the trading block. Just another chapter in this long, strange story.
17. Titans start 10-0
They weren’t necessarily tricking anybody. Few believed they’d make a push for a perfect season, but the Tennessee Titans went on one of the best runs in NFL history to start the 2008 season. Ten straight wins out of the gate, led by one of the best all-around defences we’d seen since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The Titans fell flat late, losing four of their last seven games (including a divisional round letdown against those Ravens), but it was a season to remember.
16. The revival of the Dolphins
Led by front-office guru Bill Parcells, the Miami Dolphins went from 1-15 and laughing stock in 2007 to 11-5 and division champions in 2008. And they did it the Parcells way, turning the ball over only 13 times all season. That set a record for fewest turnovers ever in a 16-game campaign.
15. Brees chases Marino’s single-season passing record
Purists probably weren’t cheering for Drew Brees to break Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards mark, mainly because nobody wants to see a quarterback break such a hallowed record while playing for a bad team. That’s why passing yards can be so overrated; when you’re losing, they’re often easier to come by. And that’s a big reason why the Saints quarterback was on pace to break Marino’s feat for much of the season, before falling just one Marques Colston slant pattern short in the final week of the season. Sixteen yards will now forever separate the two. Still, Brees became the second quarterback in NFL history to surpass the 5,000-yard mark in a season.
14. Ed Hochuli’s botched call
Never has a botched call in week 2 been this talked about. Just over one minute to play in the divisional battle between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. The Broncos are down seven, but inside the 10-yard line. Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler fumbles, but it’s ruled that the play was dead because Hochuli blew his whistle while it was in progress. He admits his mistake, but the ball stays with the Broncos, who score, go for two, and win the game. The mishap plagued the remainder of San Diego’s season. The Chargers would get revenge in week 17, beating the Broncos to punch a ticket to the playoffs, but it shouldn’t have come to that. Hochuli’s miscue epitomized a year of bad officiating in the NFL.
13. “Matty Ice”
Few expected Falcons’ third-overall pick Matt Ryan to do what he did in his rookie year. In fact, some are calling the season he had the best in rookie history. The man who’s helping Atlanta forget about Michael Vick threw for just short of 3,500 yards and 16 touchdowns to post a passer rating of 87.7. But it went beyond the numbers. Ryan showed the poise of a veteran, and was always calm and cool, living up to that “Matty Ice” nickname. Most importantly, the kid’s winning games.
12. The Oakland debacle
The drama just never ends in Oakland. Al Davis fired his head coach, Lane Kiffin, after months of back-and-forth and apparent backstabbing. Meanwhile, one of the team’s execs got into a verbal scrap with members of the media, and the team itself continued to flounder on the field. There doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.
11. Denver’s massive collapse
Denver was assisted in week 2 by Hochuli’s botched call, but that still wasn’t enough to help the Broncos make the playoffs. Despite seemingly having the personnel (Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal emerged as one of the best offensive trios in the league), the coaching (Mike Shanahan) and getting the breaks (Hochuli), the Broncos found a way to fumble what was a three-game lead in the division with three games to go. That spelt the end of the Shanahan era.