Special to ESPN.com
REMEMBER HOW THIS NFL SEASON BEGAN?
From Elias: Remember how this NFL season began? The first four weeks of the season produced the four highest single-week passing-yardage totals in the history of the league: 7842 in Week 1, 7946 in Week 2, 7772 in Week 3, and 7886 in Week 4.
As a proper bookend to the 2011 season, Week 17 produced 7805 passing yards, which ranks fourth in NFL history, nestled among the huge weekly totals from September and early October. This weekend's individual heroics are highlighted in the notes that follow.
FLYNN REWRITES PACKERS' RECORD BOOK
From Elias: Matt Flynn, making the second start of his NFL career in place of Aaron Rodgers, set Packers single-game records for TD passes (6) and passing yards (480) in a 45-41 victory over the Lions. Flynn's six TD passes were also the most in one game in the history of Lambeau Field and came one week after Aaron Rodgers passed for five touchdowns in a Christmas night victory over the Bears.
The Packers became the sixth team in NFL history with five or more touchdown passes in consecutive games, including the LA Rams who did so in the final game of the 1950 season and their 1951 opener. But Green Bay is the first team with consecutive 5-TD games by two different passers.
STAFFORD SETS LAMBEAU YARDAGE RECORD
From Elias: Matthew Stafford capped his third NFL season with a 520-yard, 5-TD performance in the Lions' loss at Green Bay. The only other NFL players with at least 500 passing yards and five TD passes in the same game were Norm Van Brocklin of the Rams in 1951 and Y.A. Tittle of the Giants in 1962. While Matt Flynn was setting a new record for TD passes in one game at Lambeau Field, Stafford shattered the stadium single-game record for passing yardage, set by Marc Bulger of the Rams in 2004 (448 yards).
Stafford and Flynn combined for 1000 passing yards in Sunday's game, the highest such total by two players in any game in NFL history. The previous mark was 933 yards, by Tom Brady (517) and Chad Henne (416) on the opening weekend of the 2011 season. Brady and Henne broke a record that had stood since 1986 (927 yards by Dan Marino and Ken O'Brien.)
NELSON COMPLETES HOME-GAME TD SWEEP
From Elias: Jordy Nelson caught three touchdown passes in the Packers' victory over the Lions. Nelson became the first player with a TD reception in each of his team's home games since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978. Three players did it during the period of 18 years when teams played 14 games in a season (1960-1977): Lance Alworth in 1964, Bob Hayes in 1965, and Paul Warfield in 1968.
Nelson tied the Packers' team record for consecutive home games scoring a touchdown, a mark that was set by Ted Fritsch 66 years ago. Fritsch scored a TD in eight straight home games during the 1944 and 1945 seasons, when the Pack hosted games at both City Stadium in Green Bay and Wisconsin State Fair Park (a.k.a. the Dairy Bowl) in suburban Milwaukee.
BREES CAPS RECORD-BREAKING SEASON WITH TD BLITZ
From Elias: Drew Brees threw five touchdown passes in the Saints' 45-17 win over the Panthers. It was the seventh 5-TD game of Brees's career (his third this season), setting a new NFL record. He shared the previous mark with Peyton Manning and Dan Marino.
Brees threw 14 touchdown passes in the Saints' final three games of the season. The only other players with 14 or more TD passes over a three-game span were Peyton Manning (15 in 2004) and Tom Brady (14 in 2007).
BREES BREAKS ACCURACY MARK WITH STREAK OF 17 COMPLETIONS
From Elias: By completing his last 17 passes against Carolina on Sunday, Drew Brees raised his completion percentage for the season from 70.5 percent to 71.2 percent, breaking the single-season NFL mark that he set in 2009 (70.6%). Earlier in the game, Brees broke the league record for completions in a season. His total of 468 eclipsed the mark set by Peyton Manning last season (450).
MANNING EXCELS AGAINST THE COWBOYS
From Elias: Eli Manning passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns in the Giants' 31-14 win over the Cowboys. That gives Manning 1996 yards and 15 TDs in his last six games against Dallas. Only one other passer in NFL history attained those yardage and TD totals over a six-game span versus any opposing team: Dan Marino against the Jets from 1986 to 1989 (2330 yards, 22 TDs).
CRUZ REDEFINES SCORING POSITION IN THE NFL
From Elias: Victor Cruz opened the scoring with a 74-yard touchdown reception in the Giants' win. It was Cruz's fifth receiving TD of 65 yards or longer this season, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history. Only Elroy ("Crazy Legs") Hirsch caught as many TD passes of 65 yards or longer in one season as Cruz (6 in 1951). That's not only a near record for one season, it gives Cruz the second-highest career total in franchise history, behind only Homer Jones (13).
AKERS BREAKS NFL RECORD & THROWS A TD PASS
From Elias: David Akers scored 10 points and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree in the 49ers' 34-27 win over the Rams. Akers's extra point following his TD pass broke the NFL record for points-by-kicking in one season. The previous mark was 164 points, set by Gary Anderson with the Vikings in 1998. Only two players besides Akers and Anderson held that mark over the past 40 years: Jim Turner (1968-1982) and Mark Moseley (1983-1997).
Akers threw the first TD pass of his career in his 205th NFL game. Only one other player tossed his first TD pass after playing 200 or more games in the league: Emmitt Smith, who threw a 21-yard score to Obafemi Ayanbadejo for the Cardinals in 2004. That was the only pass that Smith threw in a 15-year Hall-of-Fame career. Akers threw one previous pass, an 11-yard completion for the Eagles in 2006.
SANCHEZ'S UNCHARACTERISTIC MISFIRES COST THE JETS
From Elias: Mark Sanchez threw a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter of the Jets' 19-17 loss at Miami, just as he did in last week's loss to the Giants. Prior to that, Sanchez hadn't thrown two INTs in the same period of any game this season, and hadn't done so in the fourth quarter of any game since a loss at New England in November 2009.
RIVERS SETS TEAM MARK FOR COMPLETIONS
From Elias: Philip Rivers completed 19 of 26 passes in the Chargers' 38-26 win at Oakland to finish the season with a team-record 366 completions, breaking a mark set by Dan Fouts 30 years ago (360 completions in 1981). The only prior holders of the record were Jack Kemp (1960-1966) and John Hadl (1967-1978).
JONES SCORES TWO QUICK TDs
From Elias: Julio Jones caught touchdown passes of 17 and 48 yards just 26 seconds apart in the first quarter and the Falcons rolled to a 45-24 win over the Bucs. Jones was the first rookie since 1960 to catch a pair of TD passes within 30 seconds of playing time. In fact over the last 40 seasons, only one NFL player, rookie or otherwise, scored on two passes as quickly as Jones did: Dameane Douglas of the Eagles on January 6, 2002 against the Bucs (also 26 seconds apart).
BUCS DEFENSE COLLAPSES AS SEASON DRAWS TO CLOSE
From Elias: The Bucs allowed 203 points over the last five games. Only three teams in NFL history gave up more points than Tampa Bay in their last five games of a season: the Giants in 1966 (212), the Baltimore Colts in 1950 (206), and the New York Bulldogs on 1949 (204).
RICE'S LONG TD RUNS PACE RAVENS TO WIN
From Elias: Ray Rice scored on touchdown runs of 70 and 51 yards in the Ravens' 24-16 win at Cincinnati. The only other Ravens player to score two rushing TDs of 50 yards or longer in the same game was Jamal Lewis in 2003. But longtime Baltimore fans might recall that Lenny Moore did it for the Baltimore Colts in 1956, which was Johnny Unitas's rookie season.
McCOY SHINES IN EAGLES' DISAPPOINTING SEASON
From Elias: Although he didn't play in the Eagles' 34-10 win over the Redskins on Sunday, LeSean McCoy finished the 2011 season as the NFL leader in touchdowns (20). McCoy is the first Eagles player to do so since Steve Van Buren, who led the league in TDs in both 1945 (18) and 1947 (14).
No Eagles player, prior to McCoy, held the league lead even with one or two weeks remaining in the season since Pete Pihos in 1953. Pihos shared the lead with eight days left in the 1953 season before Joe Perry scored four TDs in the 49ers' last two games.
ANOTHER RUSHING LEADER WILL WATCH PLAYOFFS ON TV
From Elias: Maurice Jones-Drew clinched the NFL rushing title with a 169-yard performance in the Jaguars' 19-13 win over the Colts. This is the third consecutive season in which the team with the league's rushing leader failed to reach the playoffs, following Chris Johnson and the Titans in 2009, and Arian Foster and the Texans in 2010.
TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY IN PATS-BILLS SEASON SERIES
From Elias: The Patriots earned a split of their season series with the Bills when they overcame a 21-0 first-period deficit in a 49-21 victory. New England became the first team in NFL history to win a game by more than 20 points after trailing by more than 20 points earlier in the game.
In case you've forgotten, Buffalo trailed 21-0 in its 34-31 victory over New England in September. So this was an NFL first: a two-game season series in which the winning team in each game overcame a deficit of more than 17 points.
WELKER RUNS AWAY WITH PASS-RECEPTION TITLE
From Elias: Wes Welker caught six passes on Sunday to finish the season as the NFL's runaway leader with 122 pass receptions, 22 more than the runner-up, Roddy White of the Falcons. Over the last 20 seasons, only one other player led the league by a margin of 20 or more receptions: Marvin Harrison, who caught 143 passes in 2002 (31 more than the runner-up, Hines Ward).
LYNCH'S STREAK HALTED BY CARDS
From Elias: Marshawn Lynch's 11-game touchdown streak ended when he failed to reach the end zone in the Seahawks' 23-20 overtime loss to the Cardinals. Lynch carried the ball 19 times, but only once in the red zone and that was a 1-yard loss from the Cardinals' 12-yard line.
VIKINGS' 7 SACKS AND 3 TAKEAWAYS NOT ENOUGH
From Elias: The Vikings sacked Josh McCown seven times and forced three Chicago turnovers but were still defeated by the Bears, 17-13. It marked the first time in eight years that an NFL team failed to win a game in which it recorded at least seven sacks and three or more takeaways. That had last happened in November 2003, when the Saints withstood seven sacks and four giveaways in a 23-20 victory over the Falcons at the Superdome.
LOVE FIRST SINCE GARNETT
From Elias: Kevin Love led the Timberwolves with 25 points and 17 rebounds in a 99-82 victory against the Mavericks. Love is the second NBA player since 1999-2000 to begin a season with four straight games in which he scored at least 20 points and grabbed a dozen or more rebounds. The only other player to do so over that span was Kevin Garnett in November 2007, in his first four games for the Celtics after leaving Minnesota.
OSCAR, LEBRON AND DWYANE
From Elias: Dwyane Wade reached and surpassed career totals of both 14,000 points and 3,500 assists as the Heat destroyed the Bobcats, 129-90. It was the 552nd regular-season game of Wade's career. Only two other players in NBA history reached both of those statistical milestones in as few games as Wade: Oscar Robertson (461 games) and LeBron James (516 games).
BRYANT STARTS THE NEW YEAR POORLY
From Elias: Kobe Bryant's first game of 2012 was one to forget, as he shot 6-for-28 from the field and committed six turnovers in the Lakers' 99-90 loss at Denver. Bryant didn't miss as many as 20 field-goal attempts nor did he record as many turnovers as field goals in any game during the 2011 calendar year. This was the first game in Bryant's NBA career in which he did both.
CAVS MAKE THREE-POINTERS PAY OFF
From Elias: The Cavaliers made 16 of 26 three-point shots in a 98-82 win over the Nets. It was only the fifth time in team history that the Cavs scored more points on field goals from beyond the arc than they scored on two-point shots. The last time Cleveland did so was in March 2009 against Phoenix.
BULLS ROUT GRIZZLIES AT MEMPHIS
From Elias: Even during the Michael Jordan era, the Bulls didn't accomplish what they did with a 104-64 win at Memphis on Sunday night. It was only the third time in team history that Chicago won a road game by 40 or more points. The others were a 148-104 win at Philadelphia in 1971 and a 108-66 victory at Miami in 2006. The Bulls' biggest road win with Jordan was a 111-72 victory at Denver in 1998.
KOSTITSYN CELEBRATES NEW YEAR, GIVES PREDATORS A 2-GOAL WIN
From Elias: Sergei Kostitsyn completed the first hat trick of his NHL career with a empty-net goal that wrapped up a 5-3 win for the Predators over the Flames in the only NHL game played on New Year's Day. That empty-net insurance goal gave the Predators their first win by more than a one-goal margin since November 17, when they posted a 4-1 victory against the Maple Leafs.
Nashville was 10-9-1 between that game and the one on Sunday, and all 10 wins were by a one-goal margin, including one overtime victory and three via shootouts. The Predators' streak of ten consecutive one-goal wins is the longest in the NHL this season and the longest single-season streak of its kind in Nashville franchise history.