TWILIGHT ZONE, Nev. — You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension … You’ve just crossed over into … how the 2020 NFL season played out.
Rod Serling wouldn’t have seen this coming. Way too bizarre for him.
The just concluded NFL season might not have created a real end-of-the-world scenario, but it sure felt that way to a majority of fans. Fire and brimstone is right. And we’re not talking about when Baker Mayfield decked his offensive coordinator following Cleveland’s 38-7 home loss to the Raiders.
Come on. Tom Brady winning a seventh Super Bowl ring by beating New England just months after he bolted for Tampa Bay?
And in his newfound home of Raymond James Stadium?
And by throwing four touchdowns in a 31-17 victory to best Cam Newton? Yeah, that’s right. The Jarrett Stidham experiment at quarterback didn’t work out.
And in the same week as conference basketball tournaments began?
Hollywood would have turned down such a crazy script. And these are the people who gave us, “Freddy Got Fingered.”
But, hey, why not? History was all over this 2020 season. Play didn’t begin until the first week of October due to the coronavirus. Fans weren’t allowed into stadiums until after Thanksgiving, leaving Cowboys owner Jerry Jones standing beside an empty Salvation Army kettle. He couldn’t even convince Ezekiel Elliott to hop in for old time’s sake.
What a strange journey. I mean, doesn’t it seem like the league schedule was just released yesterday?
The playoffs began on the weekend Super Bowl LV was originally scheduled to take place. Poor ol’ Bill Belichick. He spent that first-round bye prancing his dog around a best in show event, saw it lose out to a Siberian husky and then fell to Brady in the game of Roman Numerals. There isn’t such a thing as enough social distancing from Belichick for the next several months.
But nothing compared to Las Vegas when it came to scripting interesting storylines.
Not even when Jameis Winston, in place of an injured Drew Brees, threw three fourth-quarter interceptions in the NFC championship game.
Not even when Pete Carroll chose to throw the ball at the goal line in a playoff game against Brady and the Buccaneers instead of handing it to veteran running back Marshawn Lynch, who rejoined the team in Week 8.
Not even when the Ravens suspended Antonio Brown for purposefully sending opponents weekly game plans.
Not even when the Lions clinched the worst record at 2-14 and coach Matt Patricia opened his postgame press conference by writing the name Trevor Lawrence across his forehead … in pencil.
A change of scenery can create serious shifts in results, and nothing supports the theory more than the Raiders finishing 9-7 and earning just their second playoff spot in 18 years.
Allegiant Stadium was as spectacular as advertised — sort of an early look at that 2025 Super Bowl that Las Vegas was awarded in May — and even more captivating when 65,000 made their way inside for the first time on Dec. 13.
Finally, Raiders owner Mark Davis didn’t spend home games moving from one seat to another in an empty venue.
Carr conquers cold
Grind best describes the team’s season before it concluded with that 32-19 wild-card loss at Tennessee.
Having those first three games pushed to the back of a schedule due to the delay actually worked to the benefit of Jon Gruden’s team. Three straight wins — and some fortune — earned that playoff berth.
Sure, it helped that Carolina was out of the playoff race by then. Yet Cory Littleton still needed 32 tackles, all against Christian McCaffrey, to save the day.
Of course, Brees being out for the season when the Saints visited the following week was a plus for Las Vegas.
And, yes, a 26-14 road win against New England had everything to do with the Patriots having clinched a No. 1 seed in the AFC and Belichick sitting all starters.
(O.K., so now you really know this is fictional.)
You also realize the Raiders were charmed when Derek Carr led victories in the snow against both the Jets and Broncos. Hell hath frozen over is right.
A pandemic changed our world and the NFL, like all such entities, called an audible and reacted accordingly. But when it finally came time to play, there was again no shortage of drama and intrigue and shocking results.
Tom Brady won a seventh Super Bowl. Beat his old team.
Top that for another dimension.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.