Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys

NBC is ecstatic that football is back. Sunday Night Football's season opener set a record as the series' highest-rated game ever, and scored the best ratings for a Week 1 tilt on a Sunday or Monday night in 15 years, preliminary Nielsen data showed.

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The game posted a 16.9 overnight rating and 27 share — the biggest overnight numbers for a comparably scheduled game since Sept. 2, 1996. The record rating for the NFL's premier prime-time package — which became NBC's Sunday night game in 2006 — was up 3 percent compared with last year, 26 percent vs. 2009, and gave the network this year's biggest Sunday night since ABC broadcast the Oscars Feb. 27.

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While the Dallas Cowboys coughed up the game to the New York Jets, 27-24, the game went down to the final minute and averaged some 22.57 million viewers. It also earned a 9.5 rating among 18-to-49-year-olds.

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The next biggest audience-getter on the broadcast networks: CBS' 9/11: 10 Years Later, which garnered 12.23 million from 8 to 10 p.m.

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The boffo numbers for the Sunday night contest came on the heels of Thursday night's kickoff that attracted 27.2 million fans — all in all, an augury devoutly to be wished by NBC. SNF was No. 1 in the first half of the 2010-11 season and likely will be this season. To boot, the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 will be covered by NBC — which just may help the network climb out of fourth place.