2003 NFL season

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2003 National Football League season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 4 – December 28, 2003
Start dateJanuary 3, 2004
AFC Champions New England Patriots
NFC Champions Carolina Panthers
Super Bowl XXXVIII
DateFebruary 1, 2004
Site Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
Champions New England Patriots
Pro Bowl
DateFebruary 8, 2004
Site Aloha Stadium

The 2003 NFL season was the 84th regular season of the National Football League (NFL).

National Football League Professional American football league

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL is one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America, and the highest professional level of American football in the world. The NFL's 17-week regular season runs from early September to late December, with each team playing 16 games and having one bye week. Following the conclusion of the regular season, six teams from each conference advance to the playoffs, a single-elimination tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, which is usually held in the first Sunday in February, and is played between the champions of the NFC and AFC.


Regular-season play was held from September 4, 2003, to December 28, 2003. Due to damage caused by the Cedar Fire, Qualcomm Stadium was used as an emergency shelter, and thus the Miami DolphinsSan Diego Chargers regular-season match on October 27 was instead played at Sun Devil Stadium, the home field of the Arizona Cardinals.

Cedar Fire (2003) California Wildfire in 2003

The Cedar Fire was a massive wildfire which burned 273,246 acres (1,106 km2) of land in San Diego County, California, during October and November 2003. The fire's rapid growth was driven by the Santa Ana winds, causing the fire to spread at a rate of 3,600 acres (15 km2) per hour. By the time the fire was fully contained on November 4, it had destroyed 2,820 buildings and killed 15 people, including one firefighter. Hotspots continued to burn within the Cedar Fire's perimeter until December 5, 2003.

Miami Dolphins National Football League franchise in Miami, Florida

The Miami Dolphins are a professional American football team based in the Miami metropolitan area. The Dolphins compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference (AFC) East division. The Dolphins play their home games at Hard Rock Stadium in the northern suburb of Miami Gardens, Florida, and are headquartered in Davie, Florida. The Dolphins are Florida's oldest professional sports team. Of the four AFC East teams, they are the only team in the division that was not a charter member of the American Football League (AFL).

The 2003 San Diego Chargers season was the franchise's 34th season in the National Football League (NFL), its 44rth overall and the second under head coach Marty Schottenheimer. They finished the campaign last in their division with only four wins and earned the #1 pick in the 2004 NFL draft. They played one “home” game during the season, against the Miami Dolphins, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona where the Arizona Cardinals played, due to the Cedar Fire. The team declined from the previous season, as the Chargers won four games and surrendered the second most points per game (27.6), trailing only the Arizona Cardinals during the season.

The playoffs began on January 3, 2004. The NFL title was won by the New England Patriots when they defeated the Carolina Panthers, 32–29, in Super Bowl XXXVIII at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, on February 1.

2003 New England Patriots season Season of National Football League team the New England Patriots

The 2003 New England Patriots season was the franchise's 34th season in the National Football League, the 44th overall and the 4th under head coach Bill Belichick. They finished with a league-best 14–2 record before advancing to and winning Super Bowl XXXVIII.

The 2003 Carolina Panthers season was the franchise's 9th season in the National Football League and the 2nd under head coach John Fox. They improved on their 7–9 record from 2002, and made it to the playoffs for the second time in franchise history.

Super Bowl XXXVIII

Super Bowl XXXVIII was an American football game between the National Football Conference (NFC) champion Carolina Panthers and the American Football Conference (AFC) champion New England Patriots to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 2003 season. The Patriots defeated the Panthers by a score of 32–29. The game was played at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, on February 1, 2004. At the time, this was the most watched Super Bowl ever with 144.4 million viewers.

This was the last season until the 2016 NFL season where neither of the previous Super Bowl participants made the playoffs.

The 2016 NFL season was the 97th season in the history of the National Football League (NFL). The season began on September 8, 2016, with the defending Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos defeating the Carolina Panthers 21–20 in the NFL Kickoff Game. The season concluded with Super Bowl LI, the league's championship game on February 5, 2017, at NRG Stadium in Houston with the New England Patriots defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34–28 in overtime.

Major rule changes

"NFL Kickoff" event on September 4, 2003: Joe Theismann (L) and Joe Namath (R) at a military tribute Joe Theismann Joe Namath.jpg
"NFL Kickoff" event on September 4, 2003: Joe Theismann (L) and Joe Namath (R) at a military tribute

Coaching changes

The 2003 Cincinnati Bengals season was the team's 36th year in professional football and its 34th with the National Football League. The Bengals hired first year head coach Marvin Lewis, replacing Dick LeBeau, who was fired following the 2002 season after the worst season in Bengals history. The Bengals had the first overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft with which they selected 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer. After a slow start, the Bengals got hot winning at midseason, winning four straight games to stand at 7–5, entering a key Week 14 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens with a chance to win the division. However in the key showdown for first place the Bengals showed they were not quite ready for primetime as they were beaten 31–13. The Bengals would rebound to win their next game against the San Francisco 49ers, but at 8–6 the Bengals could not get that ninth win, losing their last two games to spoil an effort to earn their first winning season in 13 years, finishing at 8–8.

Marvin Lewis American football player and coach

Marvin Ronald Lewis is a former American football coach and commentator, best known for his 16 seasons as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League (NFL). He came to prominence as the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens from 1996 to 2001, whose defense in 2000 set the record for the fewest points allowed in a 16-game season and helped the franchise win their first Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XXXV over the New York Giants. This success led to Lewis being named the Bengals' head coach, where he served from 2003 to 2018. He is currently a commentator for the Alliance of American Football (AAF).

Dick LeBeau American football player and coach

Charles Richard LeBeau is an American football coach and former cornerback, who was last an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League (NFL). He was active at field level in the NFL for 59 consecutive seasons – 14 as a player with the Detroit Lions and 45 as a coach. He is considered to be one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time. Considered an “innovator” and “defensive football genius”, LeBeau popularized the "zone blitz" when he was defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 1980s.

Stadium changes

Tennessee at Green Bay in the preseason; both teams made the playoffs Lambeau Field Warm-Ups 2003 Tennessee Titans.jpg
Tennessee at Green Bay in the preseason; both teams made the playoffs

New uniforms

Final regular-season standings



Within each conference, the four division winners and the two wild card teams (the top two non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The four division winners are seeded 1 through 4 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams are seeded 5 and 6. The NFL does not use a fixed bracket playoff system, and there are no restrictions regarding teams from the same division matching up in any round. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the third-seeded division winner hosts the sixth seed wild card, and the fourth seed hosts the fifth. The 1 and 2 seeds from each conference then receive a bye in the first round. In the second round, the divisional playoffs, the number 1 seed hosts the worst surviving seed from the first round (seed 4, 5 or 6), while the number 2 seed will play the other team (seed 3, 4 or 5). The two surviving teams from each conference's divisional playoff games then meet in the respective AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, hosted by the higher seed. Although the Super Bowl, the fourth and final round of the playoffs, is played at a neutral site, the designated home team is based on an annual rotation by conference.

Playoff seeds
1 New England Patriots (East winner) Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)
2 Kansas City Chiefs (West winner) St. Louis Rams (West winner)
3 Indianapolis Colts (South winner) Carolina Panthers (South winner)
4 Baltimore Ravens (North winner) Green Bay Packers (North winner)
5 Tennessee Titans (wild card) Seattle Seahawks (wild card)
6 Denver Broncos (wild card) Dallas Cowboys (wild card)


    Jan. 3 – Bank of America Stadium  Jan. 10 – Edward Jones Dome      
     6  Dallas  10
     3  Carolina  29**
     3  Carolina  29  Jan. 18 – Lincoln Financial Field
     2  St. Louis  23 
    Jan. 4 – Lambeau Field  3  Carolina  14
    Jan. 11 – Lincoln Financial Field
      1  Philadelphia  3 
     5  Seattle  27NFC Championship
     4  Green Bay  17
     4  Green Bay  33* Feb. 1 – Reliant Stadium
     1  Philadelphia  20* 
    Wild card playoffs 
    Divisional playoffs
    Jan. 4 – RCA Dome  N3  Carolina  29
    Jan. 11 – Arrowhead Stadium
      A1  New England  32
     6  Denver  10 Super Bowl XXXVIII
     3  Indianapolis  38
     3  Indianapolis  41  Jan. 18 – Gillette Stadium
     2  Kansas City  31 
    Jan. 3 – M&T Bank Stadium  3  Indianapolis  14
    Jan. 10 – Gillette Stadium
      1  New England  24 
     5  Tennessee  20AFC Championship
     5  Tennessee  14
     4  Baltimore  17 
     1  New England  17 

    * Indicates overtime victory
    ** Indicates double overtime victory


    The following teams and players set all-time NFL records during the season:

    RecordPlayer or teamDate/OpponentPrevious record holder [2]
    Most Touchdowns, Season Priest Holmes, Kansas City (27)December 28, vs. Chicago Marshall Faulk, St. Louis, 2000 (26)
    Most Rushing Yards Gained, Game Jamal Lewis, Baltimore (295)September 14, vs. Cleveland Corey Dillon, Cincinnati vs. Denver, October 22, 2000 (278)
    Most Consecutive Field Goals Mike Vanderjagt, IndianapolisDecember 28, at Houston Gary Anderson, 1997–98 (40)
    Most Consecutive Road Games LostDetroit LionsDecember 21, vs. Carolina Houston Oilers, 1981–84 (23)
    Most consecutive games with a sackTampa Bay Buccaneers (69)November 9, 2003 Dallas Cowboys (68)

    Statistical leaders


    Points scored Kansas City Chiefs (484)
    Total yards gained Minnesota Vikings (6,294)
    Yards rushing Baltimore Ravens (2,674)
    Yards passing Indianapolis Colts (4,179)
    Fewest points allowed New England Patriots (238)
    Fewest total yards allowed Dallas Cowboys (4,056)
    Fewest rushing yards allowed Tennessee Titans (1,295)
    Fewest passing yards allowedDallas Cowboys (2,631)


    Scoring Jeff Wilkins, St. Louis (163 points)
    Touchdowns Priest Holmes, Kansas City (27 TDs)
    Most field goals madeJeff Wilkins, St. Louis (39 FGs)
    Rushing Jamal Lewis, Baltimore (2,066 yards)
    Passing Steve McNair, Tennessee (100.4 rating)
    Passing touchdowns Brett Favre, Green Bay (32 TDs)
    Pass receiving Torry Holt, St. Louis (117 catches)
    Pass receiving yardsTorry Holt, St. Louis (1,696)
    Pass receiving touchdowns Randy Moss, Minnesota (17 touchdowns)
    Punt returns Dante Hall, Kansas City (16.3 average yards)
    Kickoff returns Jerry Azumah, Chicago (29.0 average yards)
    Interceptions Brian Russell, Minnesota and Tony Parrish, San Francisco (9)
    Punting Shane Lechler, Oakland (46.9 average yards)
    Sacks Michael Strahan, New York Giants (18.5)


    Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning, quarterback, Indianapolis and Steve McNair, quarterback, Tennessee Titans
    Coach of the Year Bill Belichick, New England
    Offensive Player of the Year Jamal Lewis, running back, Baltimore
    Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis, linebacker, Baltimore
    Offensive Rookie of the Year Anquan Boldin, wide receiver, Arizona
    Defensive Rookie of the Year Terrell Suggs, linebacker, Baltimore
    NFL Comeback Player of the Year Jon Kitna, Quarterback, Cincinnati
    Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Will Shields, Guard, Kansas
    Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England


    The 2003 NFL Draft was held from April 26 to 27, 2003 at New York City's Theater at Madison Square Garden. With the first pick, the Cincinnati Bengals selected quarterback Carson Palmer from the University of Southern California.


    1. Gaughan, Mark (March 27, 2003). "Execs Plan Only Minor Procedures". The Buffalo News. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
    2. "Records". 2005 NFL Record and Fact Book. NFL. 2005. ISBN   978-1-932994-36-0.

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