Top 10 NFL storylines of 2019
BY CHARLES MCDONALD
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/TNS
The 2019 NFL season was a pivotal moment for the league. New stars emerged onto the scene, the future of the league was given the spotlight, and we even got some of the same old storylines that have become ingrained into the DNA of the NFL.
From Action Jackson to the Browns Brownsing, here are the best storylines from this year in the NFL.
Jackson and Ravens running over Patriots
When the Ravens beat the Patriots, 37-20, on Sunday Night Football, it felt like a passing of the torch. Baltimore looked incredibly overwhelming in the same way that the Patriots have for the past two decades.
Lamar Jackson ran all over them, the defense put the clamps on New England’s offense, and the Ravens established themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
That game was the first time in a long, long time that the Patriots looked mortal. Like they were just another team. Of course, the Patriots could very well rack off 27 straight Super Bowls with Tom Brady playing until he’s 70, but on that day they looked just OK.
Bengals accidentally tanked this season
Cincinnati hilariously fell into a tanking situation and locked up the first overall pick, which will probably be used on LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.
The Bengals were competitive against the Seahawks to start the season, losing 21-20 in Week 1 and completely unraveled from there. The only win they’ve been able to grab this year was a 22-6 victory over the Jets.
Unlike the Dolphins, this was not the Bengals’ plan going into the season. They were reluctant to trade the few players of value that they had for future assets, but still ended up in this situation anyways. The first year of the Zac Taylor experience was a disaster, but it might end up with a happy ending if Burrow pans out.
Real-life NFL quarterback got mono
Sam Darnold kicked off the 2019 season with a bang when he was diagnosed with mono after the Jets’ Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Now, Darnold getting sick isn’t terribly funny, but the internet content that was produced afterwards was outrageous.
ESPN posted a ridiculous graphic that showed an enthused Darnold next to the words “OUT INDEFINITELY: MONONUCLEOSIS.” There were online generators where internet users could create their own diagnosis for Darnold and the creations were predictably outrageous.
Luckily for the Jets, Darnold survived his bout with mono and looks pretty promising.
Cowboys flopped despite measuring like elite team
Based on how Dallas statistically performed throughout the season, they should have absolutely run away with the NFC East crown. Their offense was arguably the best the league outside of Baltimore for most of the season, Dak Prescott put up the best efficiency numbers of his career, and the defense was good enough to make the postseason.
Somehow, Dallas stumbled from 3-1 to 7-8 despite statistically performing well. They lost a handful of close games and couldn’t overcome bafflingly conservative calls from head coach Jason Garrett, who looks like he’s on his way out of Dallas after a decade there.
Year of the Black quarterback
Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson all had outstanding 2019 seasons. For the first time in the history of the NFL, the pinnacle of the quarterback position this season was dominated by Black quarterbacks.
This is very, very important. There’s been a history of racial bias against Black players trying to play quarterback.
Seeing a statistical explosion from Black quarterbacks this year, including all of the AFC Pro Bowl quarterbacks, is good for the league and inspiring for younger Black athletes trying to play the position.
Atlanta doing Falcons things
Unsurprisingly, the Atlanta Falcons were the Atlanta Falcons this year.
Once again, they had a star-studded offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Austin Hooper leading the passing attack. Their defense has enough talent to be competitive on that side of the ball, but the underachieved yet again.
Atlanta started the season 1-7 before fighting back and figuring out that they actually have a good team when everyone is on the same page. They beat the Saints and 49ers on the road for crying out loud. It took far too long for head coach Dan Quinn to give up his defensive play-calling duties, but that’s the name of the game with the Falcons.
Good, just never quite good enough.
Pittsburgh became heartwarming story
The Steelers not completely imploding after Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season is one of the most miraculous stories of the season.
Not only did they lose Roethlisberger, but they also traded backup quarterback Josh Dobbs to the Jaguars. Duck Hodges, who started several games for Pittsburgh, was really the team’s fourth-string quarterback at the start of the season.
It’s been a tremendous job by Mike Tomlin and his staff, but that doesn’t mean the Steelers have been enjoyable to watch. Their defense is one of the best in the league while their offense has largely been an abomination. Games that consistently end with less than three touchdowns being scored are not fun to watch.
Still, kudos to Tomlin and crew.
Disappointing Browns season
Cleveland finished with a worse record in their first year under Freddie Kitchens than they did last with a mixture of Hue Jackson and Gregg Williams.
When the Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants, they looked poised to have a dominant offense sooner rather than later. Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Nick Chubb should have been unstoppable.
Kitchens was in over his head and Mayfield regressed after showing incredible promise towards the end of the 2018 season. Obviously, Cleveland didn’t finish without a win like they did in 2017, but this team had expectations. For the first time in a long time, Browns fans had a reason to believe in a potential playoff berth.
Instead, they showed that they were still the Browns.
Tannehill turned into Hall of Famer
Anyone that says they saw this coming is a damn liar. Statistically, Ryan Tannehill is having arguably the best passing season in the league less than a year after it appeared that his career as a starter was over.
Tannehill has unlocked a moribund Titans offense that looked mostly dead in the water under Marcus Mariota. Tannehill hasn’t established himself as the Titans’ definite starter of the future, but the fact that it’s even a plausible conversation to have is outrageous.
Rookie quarterbacks were everywhere
A handful of rookie quarterbacks got significant playing time this season. Arizona’s Kyler Murray and the Giants’ Daniel Jones started the vast majority of the year.
Washington’s Dwayne Haskins played a few games before his season was cut short during his best performance of the year against the Giants. Gardner Minshew started most of the season in Jacksonville as a sixth-round pick and even Drew Lock got to start games in Denver.
The NFL is headed towards a new age of quarterbacks.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers will all likely be gone from the league in the next few years. Even Aaron Rodgers has declined to a degree, although he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
As we head into a new era of NFL football, it was encouraging to see that there are young quarterbacks that at least look capable of keeping quarterback play at a watchable level in the future. That doesn’t even include non-rookie quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and this year’s MVP lock, Lamar Jackson.
The quarterback position looks to be in good hands for a long time.