Lawrence: Fireworks For The New Year

We're only a couple of days into 2020, but already the new year has offered jaw-dropping moments and stunning hires

Amy Lawrence
January 07, 2020 - 10:12 pm
Deshaun Watson Bills

USA Today Images


One week does not a new year make, but the first few days of January can set the tone as we turn the calendar and start fresh.

The NFL couldn't have asked for a better start to 2020 with a WILD Wild Card weekend. Between the TV broadcasts and online streaming, viewership soared 7% from a year ago. The four games averaged 30.5 million viewers, the largest audience since 2016. Seattle's victory over Philadelphia on NBC (35.1 million) was the most-watched TV show across all genres since the Super Bowl last February! On CBS, Tennessee's upset of New England had a larger audience (31.4 million on average) than any AFC Wild Card game since Tim Tebow was quarterbacking the Broncos. Minnesota's overtime stunner in New Orleans drew more eyeballs than any other FOX show since the last overtime stunner in the Superdome against the Rams. According to FOX, the streaming numbers also set an NFL playoff record. Happy New Year, indeed!

Wild Card weekend simply extended what has been another year of skyrocketing interest for the most popular spectator sport in the United States. The league's 100th season generated the highest average TV ratings in four years, roughly 16.5 million viewers per game. That includes the stinkers and the blowouts! For the second straight year, ratings were up 5% across the board. It's the first time since 2010 the TV numbers have climbed in back to back seasons. In other words, the NFL is cruising into January on a VERY high note.

Who else is starting 2020 off right? With the signature moment of the opening round, Deshaun Watson elevated the playoffs to incredible heights. Not only did he spark his team from a 16-0 deficit in the 3rd quarter with the offense on life support, but his athleticism and determination saved the Houston Texans from another embarrassing exit. After seven previous sacks, Watson appeared to be in the grasp of two Buffalo defenders when he orchestrated a perfectly-timed spin move, bounced away from danger, rolled out and delivered the ball to Taiwan Jones for a huge gain to set up the winning field goal in overtime. An absolute jaw-dropper! Watson knew it, too, as he strutted up field, flexing his biceps. Despite no points until the final minutes of the 3rd, the Texans' leader was brilliant in the comeback, posting a 121.2 passer rating and leading the team in rushing yards.

Derrick Henry certainly celebrated the new year and his 26th birthday in style. He racked up more rushing yards than anyone's ever managed against a Bill Belichick defense in the postseason. When the fog lifted in Foxborough, the Titans had eliminated the Patriots and Henry had 182 yards and a touchdown to show for his efforts. He says they love to play gritty, so this victory was right up his alley.

In setting the tone for 2020, Kirk Cousins answered critics with a literal and figurative "YOU LIKE THAT?!" as he engineered the game-winning drive to shock the Saints in overtime. Even before his touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, his 43-yard bomb to Adam Thielen was the most important pass of his career. And a few weeks removed from his 22nd birthday, Seattle's DK Metcalf earned major vindication with his magnificent catches and 160 yards, an NFL playoff rookie receiving record. Now the whole league knows it was a mistake to let him slip to the 64th pick in last spring's draft.

While the Eagles were bowing out in the opening round, Dallas owner Jerry Jones was quietly putting together a coup. As the football stratosphere waited for the "official" end to the Jason Garrett era, Jones was already busy courting Mike McCarthy. With Ron Rivera quickly scooped up by the Redskins, McCarthy was the most experienced and accomplished candidate available; and three other franchises were closing in. By hosting the Super Bowl winner on Saturday and convincing him to stay an extra day, Jones closed the deal without allowing the Panthers, Browns, or Giants another shot at McCarthy. And by not releasing the statement about Garrett until Sunday afternoon, Jones masterfully kept all the attention on his out-going coach without tipping off the league he was about to hire McCarthy. In keeping it on the down-low, Jones didn't alert the other teams they needed to make their final, best pitches to McCarthy and his agent. Too late! You snooze, you lose in the NFL.

For his own part, McCarthy is wasting no time either. He spent the last year studying film, tracking analytics and offensive trends, and brainstorming with other coaches. He used his season off to make himself a coach better equipped to compete in 2020. No doubt, he already had assistant coaches in mind when he interviewed with the Cowboys. He's already lured his friend and former Niners coach Mike Nolan away from the Saints to serve as his defensive coordinator. Now he's reportedly wooed former Rams interim coach and current assistant John Fassel from Los Angeles to be his special teams coordinator. By the time he's done, Dallas could have the most collective experience of any coaching staff in the league. Things are looking up for the Cowboys after a rocky finish to 2019.

Cashing in to start the new year is new Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. Fresh from a stint at Baylor where he overhauled and rejuvenated the disgraced Bears' program, he accepts a seven-year deal reportedly worth up to $70 million dollars to fix the Panthers. Wowzers! In addition, team owner David Tepper paid $6 million to Baylor to buy out his contract. The price is so steep the New York Giants didn't even bother interviewing Rhule. They weren't interested in matching that offer, so they moved forward with Patriots wide receivers coach Joe Judge instead. Rhule's reputation precedes him from Waco, Texas, as well as Philadelphia where he built Temple football into a conference champion.

No, one week does not a new year make. We still have 98% of 2020 to navigate. But it never hurts to start off on a high note. As usual, the NFL is planted firmly in the middle of all the action.

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.