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From Gronk to Tebow, 2011 season full of enjoyable moments

Super Bowl XLVI is here. Since I started the season with 46 things I was looking forward to, it seemed fitting to book end it with 46 things I loved about the 2011 season. In no particular order, I really enjoyed ...

  1. Jason Pierre-Paul's emergence as a dominating defensive lineman for the Giants.
  1. Watching Drew Brees throw the ball, gain yards and control the game at the line of scrimmage. He always put the Saints in the right play at the right time.
  1. The stretch of quarterback play put together by the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, perhaps unrivaled in NFL history. Many weeks, he looked unbeatable and the best of all-time.
  1. Tom Coughlin's coaching job with the Giants. Many were calling for his head when the Giants were 7-7, but Coughlin was a rock all season and never let injuries or his team's ups and downs distract him from his ultimate goal.
  1. Watching Stevie Johnson battle Darrelle Revis one on one. The Bills wideout made the Jets cornerback work hard to cover him. Johnson is amazingly talented and was fun to watch all season.
  1. Jay Cutler, before he broke his thumb. Up until his injury, the Bears QB was playing as well as anyone in the league.
  1. Reflecting on the life of Al Davis. During the 2011 season, the football world said good-bye to the owner of the Raiders. I loved my time at the Raiders and learned a great deal from Mr. Davis.
  1. Tim Tebow saving the Broncos season.
  1. The job done by Broncos coaches. Two assistants were interviewed for head-coaching positions and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is now the head coach of the Raiders. Tebow magic spreads everywhere.
  1. Learning how much we all miss Peyton Manning... especially the Colts. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and with Manning out, I really missed watching him play.

11.The last of L.T. I always liked the way LaDainian Tomlinson played football, and if this was his last season, he will be missed.

  1. Watching Bill Belichick coach. This season might have been his best with the Patriots.

13.The Jets drama. I love a good soap opera and the Jets' locker room provided material to keep them on the back pages of all the New York tabloids as the team missed the playoffs.

  1. The last of Jason Taylor.Like L.T., I always have admired the way Taylor played the game. The league is losing a great competitor.

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  1. Cam Newton bursting onto the scene. His preseason started slowly, but wow, what a Week 1 debut. Newton was beyond sensational in just his first year.
  1. The Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green connection. The Bengals have a great offensive nucleus, with their rookie quarterback and wideout. Both played outstanding all season.
  1. The Texans proving me wrong. I thought they were soft, but defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did a fantastic job toughening up his unit.
  1. How the Dolphins competed all season. Even though they knew there were going to be many changes, they still played hard each week. Former coach Tony Sparano should feel proud of the work he did in a tough situation.
  1. The resolve of Victor Cruz. The Giants wideout went from almost not making the team to being one of its best players.
  1. Tacklers bouncing off Rob Gronkowski. And I really enjoyed the Patriots tight end's spike celebration after each one of his touchdowns.
  1. Watching tape of London Fletcher. The Redskins linebacker simply makes play after play. He is a tackling machine.
  1. Maurice Jones-Drew winning the rushing title. Does any back in the NFL make more out of nothing than the Jaguars running back? He gets better with time.
  1. Eli Manning backing up his words. The Giants quarterback said he was an elite quarterback and then proved it with his play.
  1. The emergence of another late-round RB. The Cowboys' DeMarco Murray proved that finding great running backs in later rounds is very much possible. Murray was incredible before he was injured.
  1. Joe Flacco making all the throws. The Ravens quarterback proved in the playoffs that he can help the offense win.
  1. Sold out Ford Field. I loved that Detroit has a team its great fans finally can embrace.
  1. Joe Webb's talent. There was not much to love about the Vikings' season, except watching their No. 3 quarterback show all of the football world that he has game.
  1. Tony Romo playing through pain. I was amazed the Cowboys quarterback could play with broken ribs. I was more amazed at how well he played.
  1. The 49ers' return to relevancy. Their season was sensational and Jim Harbaugh showed the NFL his team is tough and ready to fight every week.
  1. The hiring of Greg Schiano. I love that the Buccaneers thought outside the box and hired the Rutgers head coach.
  1. The play of Ray Rice. Speaking of Rutgers, I loved watching the former Scarlett Knight run and catch the ball. Rice was just amazing in helping the Ravens host a playoff game.
  1. The speed of Darren Sproles. The Saints' multi-purpose weapon goes from a standing start to full speed in an instant. He is really fun to watch in the New Orleans offense.
  1. The job by Romeo Crennel. From his duties as defensive coordinator to interim coach, he did great work with the Chiefs. He will do well as their new head coach.
  1. The Steelers' rising wideout stars.Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown emerged as a huge part of Pittsburgh's offense. They will continue to make even more of an impact.
  1. Big stars from small schools. I love when this happens, like Brent Grimes of Shippensburg University becoming a fantastic cornerback for the Falcons.
  1. The star power in Houston. The Texans now have as many stars on defense as they do on offense. Brian Cushing, J.J. Watt, Connor Barwin and Johnathan Joseph really are great defenders.
  1. Kenny Britt, before his injury. The Titans wide receiver was emerging as one of the top five players at his position. Here's hoping he returns to that level in 2012.
  1. Matthew Stafford staying healthy. The Lions quarterback finally played a full season and showed why he was worthy of being the first overall pick in the draft three years ago.
  1. Marshawn Lynch's angry running style. The Seahawks running back runs harder than any player in the league.
  1. The "Dream Team" name. I love catchy nicknames as much as anyone, but the label the Eagles were branded with proved to be too much for them to handle.
  1. Joe Haden's emergence. The Browns cornerback has become a shutdown player, always handling the opponent's best receiver. He was really good this season.
  1. The Chargers at full strength. Late in the season, San Diego finally got everyone healthy on offense. Life was much easier for Philip Rivers with receivers Malcom Floyd, Vincent Jackson and tight end Antonio Gates on the field at the same time.
  1. The next Charles Haley. San Francisco rookie linebacker Aldon Smith reminded me of the former 49ers and Cowboys great in how he rushed the quarterback.
  1. Larry Fitzgerald's ability. I still marvel every time the Cardinals wideout catches the ball, and his two scores in Philadelphia will be two catches I always remember.
  1. The return of Steve Smith. The Panthers wideout had a great season and reminded everyone that he is still a dominating player.
  1. All of my readers. Thank you for reading me on this season. I hope I am around writing for Super Bowl 100, so I have more room for all the things I love.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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