Here are five things to love about the NFL on the final Sunday of the regular season:
One. The pitchers. And on this Sunday, Drew Brees (28 of 35 for 389 yards and five touchdowns), Tom Brady (23 of 35 for 228 yards and three touchdowns), Matthew Stafford (36 of 59 for 520 yards and five touchdowns) and Eli Manning (24 of 33 for 346 yards and three touchdowns) took a backseat to … Matt Flynn. The Packers decided to rest Aaron Rodgers, but there was no rest of the Lions’ defense as Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns.
Two. The catchers. And again, not just the usual suspects. The Packers’ Jordy Nelson caught nine passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns. The Saints’ Marques Colston had seven catches for 145 yards and two TDs. The Giants’ Victor Cruz had six receptions for 178 yards and a TD. The Patriots’ tight end tandem of Aaron Hernandez (seven for 138 and two TDs) and Rob Gronkowski (eight for 108 yards and two TDs) combined for 15 catches, 246 yards and three touchdowns. The Raiders’ Darrius Heyward-Bey caught nine passes for 130 yards. The Chargers’ Malcolm Floyd had seven for 127. Then there were those usual suspects: The Lions’ Calvin Johnson (11 for 244), 49ers’ Vernon Davis (eight for 118) and Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald (nine for 149 yards).
Three. Jason Taylor. Talk about walking away in style. Taylor called it a career after 15 seasons and 139½ sacks by helping the Dolphins eliminate the Jets from playoff contention. This was Taylor’s third stint with the Dolphins (1997-2007, 2009 and this season), and he also played with the Jets (2010). Said Taylor, “It was a good way to end this thing … to beat your No. 1 rivals in your home stadium in your last game. I’m very, very happy and blessed to be where I am.”
Four. Matt Hasselbeck. We’ve stayed away from this feel-good story all season, because just the mention of his name is too emotional for a lot of you. But now that his first season with the Titans is over, it’s time to say: Way to go Matt. The QB on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary Team had the Titans in the playoff hunt until the final week, and finished with 3,571 yards and 18 TDs by completing 61.6 percent of his passes.
Five. Ricardo Lockette. Yes, we just like his name. But, we also like to watch this guy run. The Seahawks’ rookie free agent caught a 61-yard touchdown pass to tie the score in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Cardinals, to go with the 44-yarder he had last week against the 49ers. Two catches for a 52.5-yard average on four targets. It leaves us all wanting more in 2012.