The miraculous return of Adrian Peterson is the story of the 2012 NFL season.
Another NFL season has come and gone. This season seemed longer than others or maybe we just feel this way in Philly. It was an emotional ride. From the plight of Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, his battle against Leukemia and ultimately his triumphant return to the sidelines to the unexplainable events surrounding the deaths Jerry Brown, Kasandra Perkins and Jevon Belcher.
Calvin Johnson set a new single-season standard for wide receivers. Adrian Peterson recovered from possibly a career-threatening knee injury to come within 9 yards of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record. Peyton Manning changed his uniform, but remained the same field maestro, leading the Denver Broncos to the top of the AFC. The play of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and others have solidified the quarterback position in the NFL for many years to come.
Here are my 2012 NFL Award Winners.
2012 NFL Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
I had to put the USC scandal behind me when checking Pete Carroll’s body of work in Seattle this season. The Seahawks signed quarterback Matt Flynn to three years and $25 million in the opening days of free agency. In the NFL Draft, Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson was selected in the third round. There were few knocks on the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year other than his 5’10″ stature. The job became Wilson’s to lose in the early days of training camp and heading into the preseason. Russell got the starting nod for the Seahawks for Week 1 and the team hasn’t looked back. The least heralded of the three rookie quarterbacks didn’t set the world on fire early, but he kept the Seahawks in games and showed poise in tight spots. Wilson tied the rookie record for touchdown passes (26) set by Peyton Manning in 1998.
The Seahawks came from out of nowhere to win eleven games and came within a whisker of winning the NFC West. The Seahawks have one of the NFL’s best power running backs in Marshawn Lynch and a young aggressive defense. Even the infamous Monday Night debacle against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3 is a distant memory. Carroll deserves credit for going against the grain and sticking with the player best equipped to run the Seahawks’ offense. His decision to ride with Wilson has paid off handsomely as the Seahawks prepare to meet the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL Divisional round this weekend.
Runners Up: Leslie Frazier (Minnesota), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), Bruce Arians (Indianapolis), Gary Kubiak (Houston)
2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE Houston Texans
No Mario Williams, no Brian Cushing, no problem. The Texans defense end became one of the premier defensive forces in his second season. Watt excelled in the Texans 3-4 defense, a scheme which has historically been beneficial for linebackers. Watt’s sack total leaped from 5.5 to 20.5 this season, leaving him two sacks shy of Michael Strahan’s single season record. His ability to time the release of passes and disrupt the quarterback’s passing lanes led to 16 pass deflections this season compared to 4 in 2011. Watt was the juice in a Texans defense – which was one of the NFL’s most feared.
Runners Up: Aldon Smith (San Francisco), Von Miller (Denver), Charles Tillman (Chicago), Geno Atkins (Cincinnati)
2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Casey Hayward, CB Green Bay Packers
This was the toughest of my picks. Selecting Casey Hayward came down to his play in the absence of All-Pro corner Charles Woodson due to injury. Most rookie corners become targeted in these situations, but Hayward survived on the island. In Week 6, Hayward intercepted Matt Schaub twice in the Packers 42-24 victory over the undefeated Houston Texans. In a three-week span, Hayward garnered four picks. He finished his rookie campaign with 53 tackles, 6 interceptions, 21 passes defended and one forced fumble.
Runners Up: Janoris Jenkins (St. Louis), Bobby Wagner (Seattle), Mark Barron (Tampa Bay), Luke Keuchly (Carolina)
2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: Robert Griffin III, QB Washington Redskins
It was tough watching RG3′s knee give out on him in last Sunday’s Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks. The debate will continue for years about Griffin’s health and if he should’ve been on the field. The one thing we all hope for now is a speedy and full recovery for the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. Griffin’s rookie numbers read like those of an established veteran. His 3,200 yards passing are supported by an impressive completion percentage of 66 percent. Griffin accounted for 27 touchdowns (20 passing and 7 rushing) and only 5 interceptions — which placed him first among quarterbacks with at least 10 starts. The Baylor product rushed for 815 yards, a record for a rookie quarterback. His stats equated to a quarterback rating of 102.4 another rookie record. Griffin led the Redskins to victories in six of their last seven games (Kirk Cousins replaced Griffin in Week 14). Griffin showed tremendous accuracy throwing the deep ball, elusiveness as a scrambler and was lethal in space. The Redskins signal caller has a tough road ahead of him, but if anyone has the confidence to overcome, it’s Griffin.
Runners Up: Russell Wilson (Seattle), Andrew Luck (Indianapolis), Alfred Morris (Washington), Doug Martin (Tampa Bay)
2012 NFL Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings
Robert Griffin III needs to look no further than Adrian Peterson for inspiration. The Minnesota Vikings tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee on the same Fed-Ex Field where Griffin plays more than a year ago against the Washington Redskins. The prognosis on Peterson’s injury was close to a year for a full recovery. Peterson was ahead of schedule before surgery as he was able to lift the knee weeks in advance. Peterson was ultimately ready for training camp and to everyone’s surprise suited up for opening day. Peterson didn’t need an entire season on the shelf. He came back ahead of schedule and better than ever to lead the NFL in rushing and threaten one of the NFL’s most hollowed records.
Runner Up: Peyton Manning (Denver)
2012 NFL Most Valuable Player & Offensive Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson ran every one of his 2,097 yards like a man out to avenge the shortened careers of Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and others whose knees were denied the benefit of modern science. In an offense which lacked trust in their quarterback and a consistent go-to receiver, he remained the focal point. Peterson rushed for only 230 yards in his first three weeks and only two touchdowns in the Vikings first six games.
Over the next ten weeks, Peterson rushed for over 100 yards nine times, eclipsed 200 yards twice and scored 10 of his 12 rushing touchdowns. Between November 11th and December 9th against division foes Detroit, Chicago (twice) and Green Bay, Peterson rushed for an eye-popping 643 yards. Peterson became only the fifth running back in NFL history to average six yards per carry while averaging 15 carries per game. To give an idea of the weight Peterson carried for the Vikings, quarterback Christian Ponder outgained Peterson by roughly 800 yards. On six different occasions, Peterson out rushed Ponder’s passing total.
Adrian Peterson was 208 yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing mark of 2,105 yards heading into Week 17. More importantly, the 9-6 Vikings needed a victory over the Green Bay Packers to clinch a playoff berth. Peterson rushed for 210 yards in their previous meeting – which made reaching the historic mark more than possible.
The Vikings the faced a critical third down late in the 4th quarter with the game tied at 34. Peterson was over the 2,000 yard mark, but 35 shy of the record. When Ponder took the snap, he handed off to Peterson who raced up the left side for 26 yards. Only nine yards away from the record, the Vikings kicked the game-winning field goal on the next play as time expired. The third down play was indicative of Peterson’s season. The Vikings knew they could lean on him when it mattered most. Peterson responded the only way he knew how.
Runners Up: Peyton Manning (Denver), Tom Brady (New England), Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), Calvin Johnson (Detroit)