The Week that Never Was: What if the 2001 NFL Schedule Had Never Been Altered?

The NFL took a hiatus after 9/11, and all the Week 2 games were moved to the end of the season. But what might have happened had the schedule never been altered?

Before I get into the meat of this article, let me preface it by saying that of course the NFL made the right decision to postpone the games in the wake of September 11. Football needed to take a back seat at that time, and commissioner Paul Tagliabue understood that. So this article is in no way meant to represent a complaint about the NFL not being played that week.

I remember that time well as I’m sure most people above kindergarten age do. I was slated to fly to St. Louis and see the Rams host Michael Vick and the Falcons in their home opener during their Greatest Show on Turf era. Alas, the sports world went silent, and the NFL decided to tack Week 2 on to the end of the regular season. But it is interesting to me to think about how different the season could have been had the schedule played out as it was supposed to — specifically, one game and two players whose legacies changed forever when the league returned from its hiatus.

So let’s jump into a recap of where things stood at the time and the matchups that would have been.

The Rundown

The Ravens entered 2001 as the defending Super Bowl champions, but the Rams were the NFC favorite after retooling their defense as they aimed to win their second title in three years. The Patriots were going nowhere fast, predicted by some to be the worst team in football. There were upstart teams looking to join the ranks of the elite, like the Philadelphia Eagles, and established franchises looking to rebound from down years, like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.

The Falcons had drafted Michael Vick first overall, using him sparingly early in the season, and the Chargers drafted LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees hoping to turn around a miserable 1-15 campaign in 2000.

In Week 1, there were a few notable upsets that had the teams’ respective fanbases excited. The Carolina Panthers went into the Metrodome and knocked off the Vikings, who had played in the NFC Championship Game a year earlier but were reeling from the sudden passing of Korey Stringer in training camp. The Bengals, the laughingstock of the 90’s, had beaten the Patriots, doing nothing to quiet the predictions of New England’s demise. The 1-15 Chargers matched their 2000 win total by hammering the Redskins, 30-3, in which Washington QB Jeff George and head coach Marty Schottenheimer exchanged words on the sideline. And the Rams edged the Eagles in overtime at the Vet, as Philly fell just short in a measuring-stick kind of game for them.

Week 2 Slate

The NFL had officially wrapped up its opening week just hours prior when tragedy struck. The Giants landed back in New York in the wee hours of the morning after an opening Monday night loss in Denver at the Broncos’ new stadium.

The schedule for Week 2 featured some very intriguing games, some of which turned out to be great games when played in Week 17, and some which never materialized because postseason spots were already wrapped up by the time the teams squared off.

Let’s dive into the games, with a juxtaposition of hypothetical and reality:


Arizona (0-0) at Washington (0-1)

The storyline: The Redskins were a complete mess. After their 2000 spending spree blew up in their face and resulted in an underwhelming 8-8 season, George and Co. were hammered by San Diego and came limping back to DC. The Cardinals had a Week 1 bye, necessitated by the fact that from 1999-2001 the league had 31 teams. This was a winnable game for the Skins, and a win could have stopped the bleeding after the Week 1 disaster.

What happened shortly after: Instead, the Skins went on to begin the year 0-5. They didn’t pick up their first win until mid-October. Arizona started 0-2 before a big upset win in Philly got them on the right track.

When they actually met in Week 17: The 7-8 Redskins capped off a tremendous finish to the year, rallying for a 20-17 win in a wintry mix in Landover to go 8-8 after their dismal start. Arizona had a strong season by their standards, surprising to finish 7-9.

Buffalo (0-1) at Miami (1-0)

The storyline: The Dolphins were flying high after beating the Titans in the opening Sunday night game on the road. Tennessee was 13-3 in 2000 and the Dolphins wanted to prove that their strong first year post-Marino with Jay Fiedler was no fluke. The Bills were in a rebuild after Doug Flutie went to San Diego and Rob Johnson struggled mightily in a Week 1 loss to New Orleans. The Dolphins would have been sizable favorites to start 2-0.

What happened shortly after: The Dolphins a week later registered one of their biggest wins, rallying with a last-second TD run by Fiedler to beat the Raiders in Miami. The Bills began 0-4, registering their first win in mid-October on a Thursday night in Jacksonville.

When they actually met in Week 17: This game was moved to a late-afternoon slot, and the Dolphins capped a second straight 11-5 season with a 34-7 thumping of the 3-12 Bills. Brock Marion sealed the victory with a 100-yard pick-six on the game’s final play.

Cincinnati (1-0) at Tennessee (0-1)

The storyline: Two teams heading in surprisingly opposite directions: the Bengals pulled off the Week 1 upset, while Tennessee lost at home to Miami. This was a chance for Cincy to prove that was no fluke, and for the Titans to bounce back. They lost in Week 1 in 2000 and still went 13-3.

What happened shortly after: The Bengals did in fact prove it was no fluke by shocking the defending-champion Ravens at home a week later, 21-10, although their 2-0 start did not last. The Titans started 0-3, failing to notch a win until mid-October.

When they actually met in Week 17: On a cold and dreary day in Nashville in front of a crowd that didn’t appear to be a sellout, the Bengals got a road win over the Titans, 23-21, in what turned out to be Bruce Matthews’ final NFL game. Cincinnati actually won its final two games after winning its first two, but the problem was it went 4-10 in between. The Titans failed to follow up their stellar 2000 season, dropping their last two games at home to end the year at 7-9.

Dallas (0-1) at Detroit (0-1)

The storyline: Ten years after the Lions won their only playoff game of the Super Bowl era at home against Dallas, this game saw two teams in serious ruts. Both teams were held to just six points in Week 1 and someone had to win it. The significance of this game would have come in the weeks that ensued.

What happened shortly after: Both teams went winless in September, and the Lions would go winless into mid-December. While Dallas got off the schneid in Week 5 against Washington, the Lions would start 0-12. With each passing week the pressure grew, and Detroit was the butt of many a late-night talk-show joke, specifically Jay Leno, for whom Johnnie Morton had some choice words when the Lions finally broke their skid.

When they actually met in Week 17: The Lions ended up beating the Cowboys, 15-10, in what turned out to be the final game at the Pontiac Silverdome. The fact that Detroit won the game gave credence to the idea that the Lions may have never experienced what they did as a team facing the brutal reality of a winless season. Even if the Lions had still finished 2-14, things would have felt a lot different had they not had the big goose egg for the first three-plus months of the season. Dallas began 0-4, so it’s reasonable to think the Lions would have won had they played when originally scheduled.

Denver (1-0) at Indianapolis (1-0)

The storyline: The “Horse Power” showdown in Indy could have been a good one. Both teams looked impressive in Week 1 wins, and neither team had yet to show any warts. Indy put up 45 points in Week 1 and both teams had high expectations after playoff appearances in 2000.

What happened shortly after: The Broncos began 3-1 before turning into a middling team. The Colts were sitting pretty at 2-0 until running into Tom Brady in his first NFL start. Indianapolis’ defense struggled mightily all year, especially against the run.

When they actually met in Week 17: Instead of an intriguing matchup, this game became something of an afterthought. Denver was 8-7 and looking to at least post a winning record, while the Colts’ defensive struggles had them at 5-10. Indy whipped the Broncos in the finale, 29-10, and avoided giving up 500 points for the season, but it turned out to be Jim Mora’s final game as a head coach in the NFL.

Green Bay (1-0) at New York Giants (0-1)

The storyline: This would have been an interesting game for the Giants in particular. After their Monday night opening loss to Denver, they needed a win against a 1-0 Packers team. The pressure surely would have mounted in the Big Apple had they started 0-2.

What happened shortly after: The Giants never really got untracked in 2001. Even though they won their next three games, they soon found themselves just scrapping to stay in the playoff hunt. The Packers began 3-0 and went 12-4 in a postseason return after missing out the previous two seasons.

When they actually met in Week 17: The Giants had been mathematically eliminated, so the only suspense for them was whether Michael Strahan would break Mark Gastineau’s single-season sack record. The Packers were alive to win the NFC Central, but with the game in hand and knowing they’d have to settle for a wild card berth despite winning 12 games, Brett Favre conveniently slid into the waiting arms of Strahan for his record-breaking sack late in the fourth quarter of a 34-25 Green Bay victory.

Jacksonville (1-0) at Chicago (0-1)

The storyline: The narrative of this game was drastically different than when these teams would meet in Week 17. Jacksonville smoked a Pittsburgh team that would go 13-3 in Week 1, 21-3, while the Bears lost to the Ravens, 17-6. Little did anyone know that it was the Bears who would go on to have the magical season.

What happened shortly after: The Bears suddenly started winning games, some of the absurd variety, like when Mike Brown ran back interceptions for touchdowns in overtime in back-to-back weeks. Chicago only lost to Green Bay, twice, for the remainder of the regular season. Jacksonville began 2-0 but the wheels began to fall off after that.

When they met in Week 17: Keith Traylor produced one of the season’s most entertaining moments, when the massive defensive tackle rumbled 67 yards with an interception to set up a TD in a resounding 33-13 Chicago win that clinched the NFC Central. The Jags finished 6-10, their second consecutive losing season after a magical 14-2 year in 1999.

New England (0-1) at Carolina (1-0)

The storyline: Did I say two players whose legacies chaged forever? This game is by far the most interesting one that never got played, for many reasons. As mentioned, the Pats were upset by Cincy in Week 1 and there had to be rumblings about Drew Bledsoe and Bill Belichick’s job security considering the team went 5-11 in 2000. Of course, who did the Pats have after Bledsoe? The backup was a sixth-round pick named Tom Brady who had thrown just three NFL passes. Meanwhile, Carolina came into this matchup 1-0, undoubtedly confident after their 24-13 win in Minnesota in Week 1. What would the spread have been on this game? Hard to say, but Carolina being favored would not have been a shock. And what exactly would a Carolina victory have done to not only Bledsoe and Belichick, but the Patriots season as a whole? Considering New England lost its next game, an 0-3 start might have been too big of a hole for even Brady to overcome had Belichick turned to him as the starter.

What happened shortly after: To say that the fate of both franchises changed after the hiatus would be the understatement of the century. Everyone knows by now what happened to New England. Bledsoe was injured in the next game against the Jets, paving the way for Brady to become the starter and one of the game’s all-time greats. As for Carolina, it never recaptured its Week 1 momentum, failing to win another game for the rest of the 2001 calendar year.

When they met in Week 17: There was a lot of irony and symmetry in these teams facing off at the end of the 2001 season. New England had turned a 1-3 start into a 10-5 mark, winners of five straight and gunning for a win to secure the AFC East and a possible first-round bye. Carolina was looking to avoid becoming the first team in history to lose 15 straight games within a single season. In front of a sparse crowd on a miserable weather day in Charlotte, the Patriots thumped Carolina, 38-6, to cap off an incredible regular-season turnaround. The Panthers’ 15th straight loss spelled the end for head coach George Seifert and opened the door for John Fox, who turned the team around in a hurry. Two years later, these teams met in Super Bowl XXXVIII, and 15-in-a-row carried a different meaning, as the Patriots won their 15th straight game of the 2003 season to cement their dynasty status.

Philadelphia (0-1) at Tampa Bay (1-0)

The storyline: The Eagles were coming off a disappointing loss to eventual NFC champion St. Louis, while the Bucs won an underwhelming game in Dallas. These teams had met in the postseason a year prior and would ultimately clash again in the 2001 playoffs. A loss would have put Philly in a tough 0-2 hole and propelled the Bucs to a 2-0 start. Donovan McNabb, who struggled in dealing with the heat, might have had a rough day (as he did in Tampa four years later).

What happened shortly after: The Eagles turned things around, going 11-5 and capturing the NFC East crown. The Bucs underwhelmed in 2001, going 9-7 in what turned out to be Tony Dungy’s final season as head coach in Tampa.

When they met in Week 17: Originally a Sunday afternoon game, the league selected this matchup as a Sunday night game. They did not count on both teams securing playoff spots after Week 16, rendering an otherwise-enticing matchup meaningless. Both teams rested their starters as neither wanted to tip its hand, with the Eagles prevailing, 17-13. A week later, Philadelphia again ended Tampa Bay’s season as Veterans Stadium in resounding fashion, 31-9.

San Francisco (1-0) at New Orleans (1-0)

The storyline: The upstart 49ers survived Atlanta in OT in Week 1 and were on the road against a Saints team that manhandled Buffalo. The winner would start 2-0 and presumably keep pace with the Rams, who were the prohibitive favorite in the NFC West.

What happened shortly after: The Saints could not recapture the magic of 2000, although they hit a high-water mark of 7-5 after Week 13 before a major skid derailed them. The 49ers, in the doldrums the previous two years, surprised by winning 11 of their first 14 games to position themselves for a postseason berth.

When they met in Week 17: Coming off an upset loss to Dallas, the 49ers needed a bounce-back before the postseason. The Saints more than obliged, finishing off a dismal four-game losing streak in grand fashion with a 38-0 drubbing at home to end the season. New Orleans was outscored 160-52 in the season’s final quarter and ended the year allowing 78 unanswered points.


Atlanta (0-1) at St. Louis (1-0)

The storyline: I had tickets to this game and was excited to see Michael Vick play. Vick was not yet starting but relieved Chris Chandler at times early in the year, and the Rams were coming off a big road win against Philly in overtime in a year when many picked them to win the Super Bowl.

What happened shortly after: Vick took over as the starter midway through the season and the Falcons improved their win total from four to seven in 2001, while the Rams were flawless on the road and were 13-2 by the time these teams ended up meeting in early January.

When they met in Week 17: The Rams needed a win to secure homefield advantage, and even with Vick entrenched as the full-time starter by then, the Falcons were overmatched in a 31-13 St. Louis win.

Kansas City (0-1) at Seattle (1-0)

The storyline: The Chiefs lost the opener of the Dick Vermeil/Trent Green era at home, while Seattle was underwhelming in a road win in Cleveland. Matt Hasselbeck was brought in by Mike Holmgren to lead the Seahawks, and despite only mustering three field goals in Week 1, Seattle had a chance at a 2-0 start.

What happened shortly after: The Chiefs struggled mightily for most of the first three months, failing to notch a home win until beating Seattle the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Seattle’s home opener a week later was a shellacking at the hands of Philadelphia, but they managed to find themselves alive for a postseason berth late in the season.

When they met in Week 17: With Hasselbeck injured, the 8-7 Seahawks hosted the 6-9 Chiefs with a wild card berth still up for grabs. Trent Dilfer, victorious in the Super Bowl a year prior with Baltimore, got the nod, and in a twist of fate, had a chance to steal a postseason berth from the Ravens with a win. Dilfer and the Seahawks did their part, holding off the Chiefs, 21-18, but the Seahawks would be eliminated when Baltimore won the final Monday night game of the season a day later.

New York Jets (0-1) at Oakland (1-0)

The storyline: A playoff preview in the making, this was a perilous spot for the Jets coming off a 45-24 waxing at home at the hands of the Colts. The Raiders beat the Chiefs on the road and were gunning for a second straight 2-0 start, while an 0-2 beginning would have put the Jets in a sizable hole.

What happened shortly after: The Jets got off the mat a week later in the landscape-altering win over New England when they injured Bledsoe, and became road warriors by winning six of their first seven games away from the Meadowlands. The Raiders lost to Miami, but built up a big enough cushion to give themselves the inside track to win the AFC West for a second consecutive season.

When they met in Week 17: In a game with massive playoff implications for both teams, the Jets and Raiders produced a thrilling season finale. New York needed a win to get to 10-6 and secure a wild card berth, while a win by the Raiders would have given them a first-round bye in the postseason for the second year in a row. Special teams would be the catalyst for the Jets, as they utilized a blocked punt return for a touchdown and a 53-yard field goal by John Hall with 59 seconds left to eke out a season-saving, 24-22 victory. It was the Raiders’ third straight defeat, but Oakland would get its revenge a week later by defeating the Jets, 38-24, in the wild card round before losing the infamous “Tuck Rule” game to the Patriots in the divisional round.

Sunday Night Football

Cleveland (0-1) at Pittsburgh (0-1)

The storyline: The first-ever game at Heinz Field was to be played in front of a national audience between bitter division rivals, but the Steeler faithful would have to wait nearly a month for the inaugural game. Both teams had failed to score a touchdown in Week 1 losses, and the loser of this game would fall into an 0-2 hole.

What happened shortly after: The Browns began to turn the tide a week later, picking off seven (!) Ty Detmer passes in a win over the Lions. Cleveland, coming off a 3-13 year in 2000, had some uplifting moments and went into the season finale with a shot at a .500 season. The Steelers, meanwhile, shook off their 18-point loss to Jacksonville in Week 1 with a special season that saw them win 12 of their first 14 games before a stunning loss to Cincinnati in Week 16.

When they met in Week 17: Instead of playing under the lights, the Browns and Steelers played in the snow. Neither team technically had anything to play for, as the Steelers had clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and the Browns had been mathematically eliminated. Pittsburgh finished the season 13-3 with a resounding 28-7 victory over the Browns, who ended up 7-9.

Monday Night Football

The storyline: This was slated to be the first Monday Night Football game in Baltimore in 23 years and Ravens’ first one ever. The NFL did the Ravens a disservice by not giving them the season opener as they traditionally did for defending Super Bowl champions, but Baltimore was getting a Minnesota team coming off an upset loss to Carolina (who would lose its next 15 games) and looked primed to begin its title defense 2-0.

What happened shortly after: The Vikings’ season never got off the ground, and they struggled mightily away from home all year. Things only got uglier when head coach Dennis Green was fired three days before the season finale against Baltimore. The Ravens did not repeat their defensive dominance of 2000, but went into the season’s final week with a win-and-in scenario for an AFC wild card berth only needing to beat a Vikings team that was 0-7 on the road.

When they met in Week 17: The Ravens finally got their home Monday night game and made it count, stifling the Vikings and quarterback Spergon Wynn (one of the Brady 6 QBs and a player that Ravens head coach Brian Billick once told Browns head coach Chris Palmer that he had never heard of) in a 19-3 victory to return to the postseason.

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