Essendon won 11 matches, drew one and lost 10 matches in the 2011 season. Essendon won five matches within the first eight rounds, before a form slump culminated in a five-match losing streak and Essendon dropping out of the top eight for the first time this season when it lost to Hawthorn by 65 points.
Their season begun with a 55-point thumping of triple-preliminary finalists the Western Bulldogs before a narrow five-point defeat to Sydney followed. Wins over St Kilda (in their captain Nick Riewoldt's 200th game) followed, before a thrilling draw against Carlton and a five-goal loss in the Anzac Day match against Collingwood followed.
Round 6 brought along the mother of all Essendon wins – a 139-point thumping of the Gold Coast at home, with the Bombers recording a record first-quarter score of 15.4 (94) and its quarter-time lead of 93 points also brought along a new record. Amidst this, Essendon lost the second quarter in surprising circumstances, before going on to finish the job to record its first win over a side featuring Gary Ablett since 2005. Only two more wins would follow, against the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Lions in the weeks after the Suns annihilation.
Essendon pulled off the boilover of the season when they defeated the previously unbeaten Geelong by four points in Round 15, 2011, without their injured skipper, Jobe Watson. It was their first win over the Cats in almost six years, having not beaten them since Round 18, 2005. However, it was just their second win over Geelong since 2003, leaving them with one of the worst records against Geelong in recent times.
Round 20 saw Essendon at home to Sydney for the first time since Round 1, 2006 when Essendon triumphed by 27 points. Essendon won by one point after a post-siren shot by Sydney's Adam Goodes drifted to the left. Round 23 saw Essendon qualifying the finals for the second time in two years, when it defeated Port Adelaide by 7 points at Etihad Stadium. It ended a seven-year winless run against the side, having not beaten them since Round 18, 2004.
Essendon's elimination final against Carlton was lost by 62 points, ending what was otherwise a promising first year for James Hird in the Essendon coaching role.
The draw between Carlton and Essendon was the third of the season, and the third between the two sides since 1993. It also means that four of the last 12 games played at the MCG were drawn, and it is the first time since 1914 that there were three draws in the first four rounds of the season.
a "Points" refers to carry-over points accrued following the sanction. For example, 154.69 points draw a one-match suspension, with 54.69 carry-over points (for every 100 points, a one-match suspension is given).