Best individual seasons of 2000s
Tom Brady proved to be more than a dink-and-dunk QB in 2007
LaDainian Tomlinson's record-setting 2006 was one for the ages
Terrell Owens' 2004 campaign was tops at a time when WRs ruled
The first decade of the 21st century is rapidly coming to a close, and it's been one of the most explosive periods in pro football history -- especially on offense, where it seems new records were set each and every year.
So what have been the marquee performances of the decade so far? Here's our take, with one signature season at each position. (Send comments to email@example.com)
Tom Brady, New England, 2007
The Patriots quarterback was a three-time champion heading into the 2007 season, but he had a reputation as a dink-and-dunk passer throwing to a series of Smurf-life journeymen at wide receiver.
Given a premier weapon as a batterymate -- record-setting wideout Randy Moss -- Brady exploded with the greatest season by a quarterback in this or any other decade. His 50 TD passes are a record. His TD-to-INT ratio is a record. His passer rating is the second highest in history. His 4,806 passing yards stand as the fourth most in history. Even his 68.9 completion percentage is among the best marks in history.
Oh, a couple other things: One, Brady guided the Patriots to the most points in NFL history (589), though the 1950 Rams actually averaged more points per game (38.8 to New England's 36.8), though it came largely against a schedule loaded with expansion teams. And two, he was the single most important force behind the only 16-0 season in the NFL record books.
There was only one little problem: Brady and the Patriots failed to put away the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Honorable mention: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 2004
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego, 2006
In a crowded field of contenders for best performance by a running back this decade, Tomlinson stands above the pack with one reminiscent of Clark Kent's days at Smallville High.
His 1,815 yards and Jim Brown-esque 5.2 YPA on the ground are worthy enough on their own of consideration. But add in a record 28 touchdown runs, along with 56 catches and another 508 yards through the air and you have a performance that will stand the test of time. His 2,370 yards from scrimmage is third best in NFL history, behind Marshall Faulk in 1999 (2,429) and Tiki Barber in 2005 (2,390). Barber might have earned the lead in the performance-of-the-decade race, but his 11 TDs were easily overshadowed by L.T.'s jaw-dropping record of 31 here in 2006.
Tomlinson wasn't done, either: he lost just two fumbles all year on 404 touches and led the Chargers to 492 points, tops in the NFL that year, as San Diego enjoyed a franchise-best 14-2 record.
Honorable mention: Marshall Faulk, St. Louis, 2000
Terrell Owens, Philadelphia, 2004
The first years of the 21st century have been the decade of the wide receiver. Indy's Marvin Harrison smashed Herman Moore's single-season record for receptions (123) with a dizzying 143 catches in 2002. New England's Randy Moss rewrote the record for touchdown catches in 2007 with 23, surpassing the legendary Jerry Rice (22) in the process.
But no receiver has made more headlines on and off the field this decade than Terrell Owens. He's hauled in a single-decade-record 109 TD receptions since 2000, while shooting his way out of three towns.
And in 2004, the year that Owens arrived in Philly for a whirlwind romance with Donovan McNabb and Eagles fans, it seemed the NFL was all T.O., all the time. He delivered something for everybody -- from success-starved Philly fans, to sports writers hungry for juicy storylines.
On the field, Owens set a franchise record by hauling in 14 TD receptions while leading the Eagles to a franchise-best 13-1 record through 14 games. A fractured fibula and sprained ankle in Week 15, though, appeared to put an end to Philly's title hopes. But thanks to Owens' now-famous hyperbaric chamber, he returned in time to haul in nine catches for 122 yards in a hard-fought 24-21 Super-Bowl loss to the Patriots.
The Owens-Philly romance ended in a nasty divorce the following season, as you knew it would. But for 2004, anyway, the football world seemed to rotate around a single volatile star at wide receiver.
Honorable mention: Randy Moss, New England, 2007
Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City, 2004
In the turbulent wake of the Herm Edwards offensive debacle in Kansas City, it's easy to forget that the Chiefs were one of the league's dominant offensive forces in the middle of the decade.
And during this period, a tight end was the most dangerous weapon on one of the league's most explosive teams.
Gonzalez's 2004 season stands as perhaps the greatest pass-catching performance by any tight end ever. His 102 receptions were a career-high -- the league's best that season, and the most by any tight end in history. Gonzalez, in fact, is the only tight end to lead the NFL in receptions in nearly a quarter century (Raiders great Todd Christensen was the last, with 95 catches in 1986).
Gonzalez caught seven TDs that year -- a fairly good harvest for a tight end, but hardly dramatic. However, the attention he drew from linebackers certainly opened plenty of room underneath for Kansas City's stable of running backs who, led by Priest Holmes, scored 31 touchdowns that year as the Chiefs racked up 483 points -- one point shy of the franchise record set the year before.
Honorable mention: Antonio Gates, San Diego, 2005
Orlando Pace, St. Louis, 2001
At the height of his powers, Pace didn't block pass rushers; he absorbed them almost effortlessly into his massive frame, like a ShamWow soaking up a pesky cola spill.
And the 2001 season marked the height of those powers this decade. Pace was an easy selection for every all-star team in existence that year, while serving as the anchor at left tackle of the first and only team in history to top the 500-point mark for three straight seasons.
Pace was there for every single offensive snap of the season, while starting every game for the fourth consecutive campaign. The Rams won a franchise-record 14 games, and the offense could do no wrong.
Quarterback Kurt Warner, on his way to his second NFL MVP trophy, was sacked just 38 times in 584 drop backs behind the wall Pace provided, while leading the league in virtually every major category, including 4,830 passing yards -- a mark that still stands as the third most all time. Superstar running back Marshall Faulk was at the top of his game, with 2,147 yards from scrimmage, while Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt made for a nearly unstoppable tandem at wideout, combining for nearly 2,500 yards in receptions.
It was a dream season for the league's best tackle. That is until Warner was nearly knocked senseless in a devastating Super Bowl loss to the Patriots that marked the death of one prospective dynasty and the birth of another.
Honorable mention: Walter Jones, Seattle, 2005
Alan Faneca, Pittsburgh, 2005
In the signature play of the '05 regular season, the one that launched the Steelers on their Super Bowl charge, Faneca was in the middle of the fireworks. It was Week 14 when the Steelers, losers of three straight, hosted the Bears on a snowy day at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh was at the Chicago five-yard line, staring into the teeth of the mighty Bears defense and clinging to a 14-9 lead. Faneca, the left guard, pulled to the right and led workhorse Jerome Bettis through a gash that had formed in the Bears defense. Faneca took down defensive back Michael Green, but Bettis did the rest. Racing past Faneca's block, he pancaked middle linebacker Brian Urlacher like a short-order cook with a bad temper. Bettis then kneed Urlacher in the facemask, snapping the linebacker's head back as he crashed into the end zone.
The brutal five-yard touchdown sparked the struggling Steelers, who would not lose again that season.
But Faneca wasn't done. In Super Bowl XL, he again pulled to the right, this time obliterated linebacker Leroy Hill, who attempted to fill a hole in the defense. The block launched running back Willie Parker on a Super Bowl-record 75-yard touchdown run.
The 2005 Steelers were one of the few teams since the 1970s who won a Super Bowl by running the ball more often than they passed it. And Faneca, who enjoyed a season of Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, as he did the entire decade, was one of the leading forces in the effort.
Honorable mention: Will Shields, Kansas City, 2003
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