It's that time again. The end of the regular season is upon us once again. And playoff time is about to begin.
Another year gone down in history. And it's a year all football fans should look upon with pride and admiration, for what both players and coaches accomplished over adversity. It's also the year of controversy.
The season began without the real NFL officials, and had to go several weeks before they returned, so replacement officials had to take their place. These guys came from places like Division III football, high school, and dropped other jobs to take over while the regular officials sorted out their own collective bargaining agreement. And while the replacement refs were around, games were called with many more penalties, there were issues with refs making unecessary comments to players about needing them for their fantasy teams, and questionable calls that could have ultimately decided the game. One of which included a hail-mary play in the Week 3 Green Bay-Seattle Game, where the receiver did not have possession of the ball in the endzone, but it was ultimately ruled a touchdown. And it was the final straw for the replacement officials, and we saw the return of the regular NFL referees.
And this allowed us to focus more on the players and not have to worry, at least too much, about the officiating.
And one of those memorable players we could focus on in 2012 was Peyton Manning. Released by the Indianapolis Colts after concerns over his four neck surgeries, he was eventually signed by the Denver Broncos after being courted by them, the Tennessee Titans, the Miami Dolphins, and even the New York Jets and the San Francisco 49ers. Many were concerned about Manning's arm strength and whether he could take the hits in the pocket despite Denver's solid offensive line. And what did he do?
He came in Week One against the Pittsburgh Steelers, took the hits and sacks from an aggressive Steelers defense, and went 19 of 26 for 253 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 129.2. But before you knew it, the Broncos sat at 2-3 after a string of losses, which caused many to question Manning's arm strength. But he continued to put his doubters to rest, and led the Broncos on a ten-win streak after their 31-21 against the New England Patriots. And to top it all off, he is in serious contention for what could be his fifth MVP Award.
The next big storyline was the status of Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who was coming off of a torn ACL and MCL. Many felt the Vikings were rushing the All-Pro player back into action too soon. He would be active for every game, and he started off modest in Week 1, rushing for 84 yards on 17 carries. But he would return without any kind of setbacks, and resumed his role as the workhorse back, and has provided the Vikings with the spark on offense that is arugably the prime reason they are in playoff contention with an offense devoid of playmaking options at receiver since Percy Harvin went down with injury, and a quarterback in Christian Ponder who has still been inconsistent his first two years in the league. But the amazing thing about Peterson was that he has come extremly close to breaking Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record of 2,105 yards, and needs 208 yards to break it, albeit with only one week left in the regular season.
His amazing recovery efforts and rushing ability has put him atop the MVP list next to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
2012 was also a time of rebuilding and the introduction of a new era for the Colts, who hired Chuck Pagano as head coach and drafted quarterback Andrew Luck No. 1 overall. Luck quickly showed his potential and proved that the Colts can successfully move on after over a decade of the Peyton Manning era. But the team got hit hard only four weeks into the season when Pagano was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and was hospitilized as offensive coordinator Bruce Arians stepped in as interim head coach. The result saw the rookie Luck and the entire Colts organization come together in supprot of Pagano, and go from a 2-3 record to a 10-5 record by Week 16 and clinch a playoff spot. Pagano has since been released and is set to join the team once again, and just in time for the playoffs.
And most of all, 2012 was the year of the rookie quarterback, where five teams had rookie quarterbacks as starters from Week 1. The first rookie sensation to get his name on the board quickly was Robert Griffin III for the Washington Redskins, who exploded onto the scene by beginning his professional career with a win over the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. His big play ability instantly provided the Redskins with something it hasn't had in a very long time: a stable playmaker at quarterback. And after a 3-6 slump, the Redskins rebounded and have a chance to make the playoffs with a win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17. RG3 has sparked a franchise that has long forgotten a big play quarterback like the rookie they selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, and hope to continue watching him in the next years to come. The future looks bright for the new face of their franchise.
Meanwhile, a little over west in Indianapolis, the Colts have been guided by Andrew Luck, who quickly found a liking to veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, a favorite target of Peyton Manning in Indy, and has helped lead this team to a spot in the playoffs in his rookie season. And he's done it despite the hospitlization of head coach Chuck Pagano, whose rare form of leukemia forced him into the hospital since the end of September.
And out west in Seattle, a third round pick in Russell Wilson has played bigger than his 5'11 height would indicate, and thanks to some help from a hard hitting Seattle defense and a little hard-nosed running from workhorse running back Marshaw Lynch, Wilson has helped this team return to the playoffs. Wilson has played well beyond his years, and his arm and athletic ability both in and out of the pocket has contributed to Seattle's well balanced offensive attack, and have been one of the few teams able to match San Francisco in all aspects of the game.
As you can see, 2012 was a lot to take in. And after Week 17, we can look forward to seeing history being made, and in more ways than one.