NFL year in review: The 18 biggest stories of 2018

Nobody has ever accused the NFL of being boring and predictable, but the excitement and unpredictability of the league may have risen to new heights in 2018.

Let’s take a look back at the year that was through the 18 biggest stories of 2018:

Jan. 6: ‘Chucky’ returns

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After spending nine years in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth, Jon Gruden made his long-awaited returned to sidelines. The man affectionately referred to as “Chucky” received a 10-year, $100-million deal from the Oakland Raiders – the largest contract for a coach in NFL history – along with a no-trade clause to prevent owner Mark Davis from eventually shipping him out of town like father Al did in 2002.

Jan. 14: Minneapolis Miracle

The Minnesota Vikings trailed the New Orleans Saints 24-23 with 10 seconds left in their NFC Divisional playoff game. The Vikings, stuck at their own 39-yard line, had no timeouts. What happened next became known as the Minneapolis Miracle. Case Keenum chucked the ball 27 yards down the sideline to Stefon Diggs. As Diggs caught the pass, Saints safety Marcus Williams, inexplicably, went diving past him, giving Diggs a clear path to the end zone. The receiver bolted 34 more yards and the Vikings won on a touchdown as time expired at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Feb. 4: Super Foles

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Most assumed the Philadelphia Eagles’ season was over when MVP favorite Carson Wentz tore his ACL late in the 2017 regular season. The few that believed in Nick Foles were rewarded, as the backup quarterback led Philadelphia to its first-ever Super Bowl championship. Foles caught fire in the postseason, completing 72.6 percent of his passes while throwing for six touchdowns and one interception. He torched the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII to the tune of 373 yards with three passing touchdowns. He also caught another touchdown on the infamous Philly Special en route to game MVP honors.

Feb. 6: McDaniels spurns the Colts

The Indianapolis Colts named Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels their new head coach two days after the Super Bowl. But hours later, the Colts announced that McDaniels had backed out of their agreement and was staying in New England. The Colts relaunched their coaching search, which led them to Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich.

March 15: Cousins’ free agency

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After playing on the franchise tag for two years with the Washington Redskins, Kirk Cousins finally got a chance to hit free agency. He was billed going into the process as the best quarterback to touch the open market since Drew Brees in 2006, and he came out of it with the first fully guaranteed deal in NFL history. Cousins signed a three-year, $84-million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, who viewed him as the missing piece to their Super Bowl puzzle. The Vikings secured his services over the New York Jets and Denver Broncos.

April 13: Cowboys cut Dez

Amid a decline in production, the Dallas Cowboys cut ties with one of the most accomplished receivers in franchise history after eight seasons. Dez Bryant didn’t hold back after his release was made official, blaming his termination on head coach Jason Garrett and the influence of a group of Cowboys players he labeled “Garrett guys.” Bryant was a free agent until Nov. 7, when he inked a one-year agreement with the New Orleans Saints. However, the three-time Pro Bowler tore his Achilles at the end of his first practice with New Orleans, ending his season before it really started.

April 26: Mayfield goes No. 1 in QB-filled draft

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To the surprise of many, the Cleveland Browns selected Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. Sam Darnold (No. 3), Josh Allen (No. 7), Josh Rosen (No. 10), and Lamar Jackson (No. 32) all came off the board in Round 1, leaving 1983 as the only draft class with more pivots picked in the opening round. Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner, watched the draft with his family at his own viewing party.

May 3: Witten retires for TV gig

Jason Witten stunned the Cowboys when he called it quits a week after the NFL draft for a broadcasting job on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. The Cowboys had already released Bryant, so the tight end’s departure left Cole Beasley as Dallas’ only established returning pass-catcher. Unlike his former teammate Tony Romo, who was a hit on CBS a year earlier, Witten’s rookie season in the booth drew negative reviews.

Sept. 1: Raiders make 1st of 2 blockbuster trades

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Without an end to their contract impasse in sight, the Raiders traded former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears in a behemoth deal right before the season. Oakland netted two first-round picks as part of the trade, but it was a small price to pay for the Bears, who turned into Super Bowl contenders with Mack. The Raiders pulled the trigger on another blockbuster less than two months later, sending wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for another first-rounder. Cooper had a similar impact on the Cowboys, sparking their sputtering offense and helping Dallas win the NFC East.

Sept. 9: The arrival of Mahomes

The Jan. 30 trade of Alex Smith to the Redskins left a young quarterback by the name of Patrick Mahomes in charge of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense. Mahomes wasted no time making a name for himself, throwing four touchdowns in the season opener and another six in Week 2. He continued his aerial assault throughout the season, finishing with a league-high 50 touchdown passes and emerging as the MVP front-runner.

Sept. 16: Vontae Davis retires mid-game

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When Vontae Davis was absent from the Buffalo Bills’ sideline to start the third quarter on Sept. 16, most assumed he was in the locker room nursing an injury. After the game, it was revealed that the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback had decided to retire on the spot, leaving his teammates as they trailed the Los Angeles Chargers 28-6. Davis hightailed it out of New Era Field in Buffalo before the game ended and confirmed his decision to retire after the game.

Sept. 16: Roughing the passer

In an effort to prevent quarterback injuries, the NFL introduced strict roughing the passer rules in the offseason that led to plenty of controversy early in the new campaign. In Week 2, Clay Matthews of the Packers drew a questionable penalty on a fourth-down sack that would’ve clinched a win for Green Bay. The beneficiaries – the Vikings – received a fresh set of downs that led to a game-tying touchdown in the final minute. The two teams came out of the ensuing overtime with a 29-29 draw. Matthews was hit with another questionable flag the next week, causing the league’s competition committee to re-examine the rules.

Sept. 20: Browns end 2-year winless drought

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The Browns snapped several depressing streaks in 2018. First, they celebrated a victory for the first time in 635 days after defeating the Jets on Thursday Night Football. Mayfield led the way, entering in relief of an injured Tyrod Taylor. Head coach Hue Jackson was there for that win and one other before he was fired amid discord between him and offensive coordinator Todd Haley – who was also canned. Jackson, who compiled a 3-36-1 record in Cleveland, quickly joined the Cincinnati Bengals’ staff and lost twice to his former employer in the subsequent weeks.

Sept. 30: Thomas flips off his own sideline

A preseason contract dispute fractured the relationship between the Seattle Seahawks and star safety Earl Thomas, and it turned ever more sour in Week 4. Thomas, who reluctantly agreed to play without a contract for next season, broke his leg against the Arizona Cardinals. While being carted off the field, the six-time Pro Bowler flashed the middle finger to his own sideline – specifically, head coach Pete Carroll.

Nov. 13: Bell cements his holdout

All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell refused to play under the franchise tag for a second consecutive year, even if it meant sitting out an entire campaign. The saga involving Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers took ample twists and turns, but it came to a head on Nov. 13 – the deadline for Bell to report to Pittsburgh and sign his franchise tender. The 26-year-old let the deadline come and go without putting pen to paper, rendering him ineligible to play in 2018 and assuring he’d be healthy for free agency.

Nov. 19: The Chiefs-Rams Monday Night Football

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Seven turnovers, 1,001 yards of offense, and 105 points went into the highest scoring game in Monday Night Football history, where the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Chiefs 54-51 at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Afterward, Rams quarterback Jared Goff called the game “four quarters of craziness.” The contest was initially supposed to be played at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, but concerns over the condition of the field forced the NFL to relocate the game to the City of Angels on short notice.

Nov. 30: Chiefs cut ties with Hunt

Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2017 and was on his way to more accolades in 2018 before a video obtained by TMZ derailed any such plans. The footage showed Hunt kicking a woman at a Cleveland hotel during an incident that took place in February. The second-year running back was waived by the Chiefs shortly after the emergence of the video, with the team claiming Hunt had lied about the details of the altercation.

Dec. 2: Packers pull the plug on McCarthy

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Only one Super Bowl-winning head coach had ever been fired in the middle of a season prior to 2018. Mike McCarthy joined former Baltimore Colts coach Don McCafferty in the history books when the Packers delivered him the pink slip following an embarrassing loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals. McCarthy was fired with four games left in his 13th season. He made the playoffs in nine of his previous 12 campaigns and led the Packers to a title in Super Bowl XLV. He went just 4-7-1 in his final season at the helm.