2003 NFL season

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

2003 National Football League season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 4 – December 28, 2003
Start dateJanuary 3, 2004
AFC ChampionsNew England Patriots
NFC ChampionsCarolina Panthers
Super Bowl XXXVIII
DateFebruary 1, 2004
SiteReliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
ChampionsNew England Patriots
Pro Bowl
DateFebruary 8, 2004
SiteAloha Stadium

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.

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.

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

Major rule changes

  • If an onside kick inside the final five minutes of the game does not go 10 yards, goes out of bounds, or is touched illegally, the receiving team will have the option of accepting the penalty and getting the ball immediately. Previously, the kicking team was penalized, but had another chance to kick again from five yards back.
  • League officials encouraged networks to immediately cut to a commercial break if an instant replay challenge review was initiated. Previously networks were generally not permitted to utilize those game stoppages for their prescribed commercial periods.[1]

Referee changes

Dick Hantak and Bob McElwee retired in the 2003 off-season. Hantak joined the league as a back judge in 1978, and was assigned Super Bowl XVII in that position. He was promoted to referee in 1986, working Super Bowl XXVII. McElwee joined the NFL in 1976 as a line judge, and became a referee in 1980. He was the referee for three Super Bowls: XXII, XXVIII, and XXXIV. Walt Anderson and Pete Morelli were promoted to referee to replace Hantak and McElwee.

2003 deaths

Coaching changes

Stadium changes

New uniforms

Final regular-season standings


  • Indianapolis finished ahead of Tennessee in the AFC South based on better head-to-head record (2–0).
  • Denver clinched the AFC 6 seed instead of Miami based on better conference record (9–3 to 7–5).
  • Buffalo finished ahead of N.Y. Jets in the AFC East based on better division record (2–4 to 1–5).
  • Jacksonville finished ahead of Houston in the AFC South based on better division record (2–4 to 1–5).
  • Oakland finished ahead of San Diego in the AFC West based on better conference record (3–9 to 2–10).
  • Philadelphia clinched the NFC 1 seed instead of St. Louis based on better conference record (9–3 to 8–4).
  • Seattle clinched the NFC 5 seed instead of Dallas based on strength of victory (.406 to .388).


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
1New England Patriots (East winner)Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)
2Kansas City Chiefs (West winner)St. Louis Rams (West winner)
3Indianapolis Colts (South winner)Carolina Panthers (South winner)
4Baltimore Ravens (North winner)Green Bay Packers (North winner)
5Tennessee Titans (wild card)Seattle Seahawks (wild card)
6Denver 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 27 NFC 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 20 AFC 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:

    Record Player or team Date/Opponent Previous 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, Indianapolis December 28, at Houston Gary Anderson, 1997–98 (40)
    Most Consecutive Road Games Lost Detroit Lions December 21, vs. Carolina Houston Oilers, 1981–84 (23)
    Most consecutive games with a sack Tampa Bay Buccaneers (69) November 9, 2003 Dallas Cowboys (68)

    Statistical leaders


    Points scoredKansas City Chiefs (484)
    Total yards gainedMinnesota Vikings (6,294)
    Yards rushingBaltimore Ravens (2,674)
    Yards passingIndianapolis Colts (4,179)
    Fewest points allowedNew England Patriots (238)
    Fewest total yards allowedDallas Cowboys (4,056)
    Fewest rushing yards allowedTennessee Titans (1,295)
    Fewest passing yards allowedDallas Cowboys (2,631)


    ScoringJeff Wilkins, St. Louis (163 points)
    TouchdownsPriest Holmes, Kansas City (27 TDs)
    Most field goals madeJeff Wilkins, St. Louis (39 FGs)
    RushingJamal Lewis, Baltimore (2,066 yards)
    PassingSteve McNair, Tennessee (100.4 rating)
    Passing touchdownsBrett Favre, Green Bay (32 TDs)
    Pass receivingTorry Holt, St. Louis (117 catches)
    Pass receiving yardsTorry Holt, St. Louis (1,696)
    Pass receiving touchdownsRandy Moss, Minnesota (17 touchdowns)
    Punt returnsDante Hall, Kansas City (16.3 average yards)
    Kickoff returnsJerry Azumah, Chicago (29.0 average yards)
    InterceptionsBrian Russell, Minnesota and Tony Parrish, San Francisco (9)
    PuntingShane Lechler, Oakland (46.9 average yards)
    SacksMichael Strahan, New York Giants (18.5)


    Most Valuable PlayerPeyton Manning, quarterback, Indianapolis and Steve McNair, quarterback, Tennessee Titans
    Coach of the YearBill Belichick, New England
    Offensive Player of the YearJamal Lewis, running back, Baltimore
    Defensive Player of the YearRay Lewis, linebacker, Baltimore
    Offensive Rookie of the YearAnquan Boldin, wide receiver, Arizona
    Defensive Rookie of the YearTerrell Suggs, linebacker, Baltimore
    NFL Comeback Player of the YearJon Kitna, Quarterback, Cincinnati
    Walter Payton NFL Man of the YearWill Shields, Guard, Kansas
    Super Bowl Most Valuable PlayerTom 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.


    • NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
    • NFL History 2001– (Last accessed October 17, 2005)
    • Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
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