AFC East: Paul Brown
|David Stluka/Getty Images|
|Punter Scott Player represents the end of the single-bar facemask era.|
The NFL went as far as it could to replicate history.
The Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans were in their original duds in Sunday night's Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.
Clubs are wearing throwback uniforms this year in selected Legacy Games to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Football League, with Canton's preseason opener the first exhibition.
A lone red Buffalo stood proudly on the Bills' helmets. The Titans were dressed like their ancestors, the Houston Oilers, complete with derricks. Referees were on patrol in orange-striped jerseys.
No matter how hard the NFL tries to recapture the olden days, one glaring omission makes it impossible:
The single-bar facemask is gone and not coming back.
DAVIE, Fla. -- There already were beaucoup ways to illustrate how far the Miami Dolphins have come in the past year, but I've come across one more I wanted to share.
Dolphins left tackle Jake Long, barring an injury at practice or some other calamity, will become only the fourth No. 1 draft pick in NFL history to start in a playoff game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
But each of the previous three instances had special circumstances.
- 1978 Earl Campbell, Houston Oilers: They finished 8-6 the year before, but acquired the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' No. 1 selection for tight end Jimmie Giles and four picks (quarterback Doug Williams, guard Brett Moritz, quarterback Chuck Fusina and defensive end Reggie Lewis).
- 1982 Ken Sims, New England Patriots: In a strike year, they made the bloated playoff field with a 5-4 record.
- 1991 Russell Maryland, Dallas Cowboys: They finished 7-9 the year before, but acquired the Patriots' No. 1 selection for two draft picks (tackle Pat Harlow and cornerback Jerome Henderson).
That means Long will be the first player taken by the team that finished in last place the year before to start a playoff game in a normal season.
Another bit of trivia underscores how far both teams have come heading in Sunday's matchup.
When Miami's Tony Sparano matches X's and O's with Baltimore's John Harbaugh, it will be only the third time in NFL history two rookie head coaches have squared off in the postseason, significant because coaches rarely step down after their teams reach the playoffs.
The first two times it's happened were 1950, when Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns beat Joe Stydahar's Los Angeles Rams for the NFL championship, and in 2000, when Jim Haslett coached the New Orleans Saints past Mike Martz and the St. Louis Rams.
As much as Mike Smith, Tony Sparano and Jeff Fisher deserve coach-of-the-year consideration, I still contend Bill Belichick is doing the best job of his career.
When Belichick's ramshackle team shellacked the Oakland Raiders 49-26 on Sunday, he recorded his 100th victory in 142 games with the New England Patriots.
Only three other NFL coaches reached the century mark faster with one team: John Madden (136), Don Shula (137) and Paul Brown (138).
I hear those guys were somewhat respected in their day.
New England's victory also guaranteed a winning record for the eighth consecutive season and improved an already-gaudy late-season win percentage over the past six seasons.
Since 2003, the Patriots are 23-3 in regular-season games played after November. All three losses were to the Miami Dolphins. Go figure.
The Patriots have won 10 straight games in December.
Here are the top five regular-season records after November since 2003:
- New England Patriots 23-3
- San Diego Chargers 19-6
- Pittsburgh Steelers 18-7
- Indianapolis Colts 17-8
- Green Bay Packers 16-8