It’s been a good one and I’m sure I speak for everybody when I say we’re all sad to see it go, but the 2012 NFL season has provided us with exciting finishes, triumphant record-breaking performances, comebacks, winning streaks, losing streaks and of course, replacement officials. Disappointments, pleasant surprises, rookies leading their teams to the playoffs and unspeakable tragedy have all left their marks on the past 17 weeks as well.
Here are 32 of the biggest stories – one about each team – from the 2012 regular season of NFL football.
Arizona Cardinals (5-11, 4th in NFC West): Normally, when you lose nine games in a row, that’s the biggest story of the year. That was not the case for the Arizona Cardinals this year, however. Following the rib injury to starting quarterback Kevin Kolb in Week 6, things went from bad to worse in the desert as the Cards spiraled from a 4-0 first place team all the way to the bottom of the NFC West. Arizona’s quarterbacks, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer, were three big reasons why. In that time frame, they combined to go 1-9 and throw 18 interceptions to just three touchdowns. A five-game stretch even resulted in Lindley throwing more touchdowns to opposing teams via interception returns (four) than he threw to his own receivers (zero). A few of the trio’s passing highs included 74, 72 and 64 yards. It probably didn’t help that All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had just 20 catches for 213 yards and no touchdowns in the final seven games of the season. Either they will trust that Kolb will return healthy next season or one would think they spend their first-round pick this spring on a competent quarterback. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired by the team on ‘Black Monday.’
Atlanta Falcons (13-3, 1st in NFC South): The Falcons went 13-3 in 2012 and locked up their second straight No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, but that’s not really news – at least not until they actually do something in the playoffs. Matt Ryan improved his home record to 33-4 in five NFL seasons, but that wasn’t even the biggest thing, in my opinion. For the sixth consecutive season, Roddy White played in all 16 games (hasn’t missed a game in his eight-year career) and put up what would seem like Pro Bowl worthy numbers. He did not make it, however, but teammate Julio Jones did. White had 13 more catches and 153 more yards than Jones on the season. Interesting. In fact, White has finished out of the top 10 in receiving yards just once in the last six seasons (2009). In the last six seasons, he has ended up ninth, eighth, second, 13th, fourth and eighth in the NFL in receiving. He has gone to just three Pro Bowls, however, including one due to an injury of another player. The biggest story out of Atlanta this season may just be the fact that one of the most productive receivers in the league from year to year was snubbed from the Pro Bowl after once again bringing that consistent level of exceptional play. Should he be mad? Yes.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 1st in AFC North): It was kind of a tale of two seasons for the AFC North champion Ravens. They began the year 9-2 and were in the driver’s seat in the division as well as in good position in the hunt for a first-round bye. Then came injuries, however. Already without Pro Bowl defensive lineman Terrell Suggs, All-Pro Ray Lewis tore his triceps in Week 6 and was out for the rest of the regular season. In Week 7 against Houston, Suggs would return. Their success in the last few seasons shows the importance of those two players to the team. As if the Lewis wasn’t bad enough, cornerback Lardarius Webb tore his ACL in the same game and he, too, was lost for the year. Lewis is slated to make his return this weekend, but without these three players all on the field in the second half of the year, Baltimore went from a 9-2 team to one with an average 10-6 record. Should they face an early exit in the playoffs, these injuries will have likely given them their death sentence as the up-and-down offense can’t really be counted on.
Buffalo Bills (6-10, 4th in AFC East): As one of the most disappointing teams of 2012, the Buffalo Bills were projected by some to be contenders in the AFC East and perhaps even make the playoffs. That illusion was quickly lost, however, after the team began the year with a 3-6 start, including a 48-28 loss to the Jets on Opening Day. They finished 6-10 at the bottom of the division for the fifth straight year. Buffalo has missed the playoffs in 13 consecutive seasons. Of the six teams that they did beat on the year (the Chiefs, Browns, Cardinals, Dolphins, Jaguars and Jets), not one of them had a winning record. In fact, they had a combined record of 27-69. The defense, which was supposed to be solid with the addition of Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus in his second year, gave up 45-plus points four times on the season as the Bills finished 31st in the league in rush yards against, allowing 145.8 per game. C.J. Spiller did have a solid season as he finished eighth in the league with 1,244 rushing yards, but a knee injury to Fred Jackson really ended up hurting the offense, which finished 19th in the league in total yards. Buffalo fired head coach Chan Gailey on Monday.
Carolina Panthers (7-9, 2nd in NFC South): For the third straight year the Panthers finished under .500, but for the second straight year they had a dynamic rookie on the field with them. As the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft, linebacker Luke Kuechly not only led the team in tackles, but he led the entire league. He finished the season with 164 while also picking off two passes, recovering three fumbles and deflecting eight passes for the 10th-ranked defense in Carolina. He was not selected to the Pro Bowl, however. Kuechly was so impressive that he may have even slightly overshadowed the sophomore season of Cam Newton, who was just the third quarterback ever to lead his team in rushing yards in a season. With the two of them as their foundation, the future looks bright in Carolina if they can build around them. They could return to the playoffs as early as next year for the first time since 2008.
Chicago Bears (10-6, 3rd in NFC North): You can have a good beginning. And you can have a good end. But if you don’t have a good middle, most of the time, success is not on the horizon. The Chicago Bears found this out the hard way in 2012 as they became just the second team since 1990 (out of 53) to miss the playoffs after starting a season 7-1. Unfortunately for them, they lost five of their next six before finishing the season with two straight wins, but by then, it was too late. Jay Cutler‘s injury had a bit to do with it, but ultimately the offense they put out on the field could not get it done in the second half of the year as they averaged just 17.3 points per game in the final eight weeks of the season. Chicago has now missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons with their only playoff run ending in the NFC Championship Game to the eventual champion Packers two years ago. Head coach Lovie Smith was fired on Monday in a very surprising move that could ultimately result in more bad than good for the team.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 2nd in AFC North): The Bengals are going to the playoffs for the seconds straight year behind their talented second-year playmakers Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Green really made a leap in his second year as he finished 10th in the league in receiving yards (1,350), tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns (11) and seventh in receptions (97) while making his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He even had a stretch early in the season in which he caught a touchdown pass in nine consecutive games. His 84.4 yards per game also cracked the top 10 in the league. As the team’s biggest name on the offense, Green continued to put up monster numbers even when drawing the best coverage schemes from opposing defenses. His 164 targets in 2012 were tied for fifth in the league behind five of the best receivers of this generation. Green came up seven catches shy of breaking the record for the most receptions by a player in his first two NFL seasons as Cincy opted to rest most of its starters in their season finale. He has a chance to be the most productive receiver in Ohio since Chad Johnson.
Cleveland Browns (5-11, 4th in AFC North): In a backfield that featured two rookie starters in quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, the Cleveland Browns were not able to avoid a second straight last place finish in the AFC North, but did win one more game than they did last year (four) if that’s any consolation. Richardson broke Jim Brown‘s franchise record for most rushing yards in a season by a rookie with 950 and also scored 12 total touchdowns. He started every game he appeared in and went over 100 yards three times before being forced to miss the team’s final game with an ankle injury. Weeden also missed the season finale with a shoulder injury. In 15 games at quarterback, he was 297-of-517 passing for 3,385 yards and threw 14 touchdowns. If both of them can come back healthy next year and the Browns can put some other pieces of the puzzle together, they look to be able to contend in the tough AFC North in 2013. Head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert were both fired by the team on Monday.
Dallas Cowboys (8-8, 3rd in NFC East): As has been the case in recent Dallas football memory, there was some good and there was some bad, but the bad caught up to the good and the Cowboys missed the playoffs for the third straight year with their second consecutive loss on the final night of the season. While Tony Romo may face most of the blame for his inability to get a win when it mattered most, he actually played well on the year. His 4,903 yards were third in the league and the most of his career, but, at the same time, his 19 interceptions were tied for the most he’s ever thrown. He’s not going to get any warm greetings in Big D for almost getting the team back to the playoffs. With the weapons that he has, including Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, who each had huge years, there probably isn’t any excuse to not lead the team into postseason play. But, though this may be the first time, it was not all his fault. You just knew the Cowboys were going to lose to the Redskins this past Sunday night. You didn’t know why, but you did.
Denver Broncos (13-3, 1st in AFC West): The Broncos are once again division champs and headed to the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 1 seed due, in large part, to MVP candidate Peyton Manning. After missing all of 2011 with a neck injury, some wondered if the time off and the change of scenery from a warm dome to the Rocky Mountains would hurt the aging Manning. It did not. In 16 games, he threw for 4,659 yards (sixth in the league) and 37 touchdowns (third in the league). Denver has won 11 straight games to close out the regular season, but will be tested in the playoffs. While their defense finished the regular season ranked second in the league, the team has benefited from acquiring Manning more than anyone else this offseason. Manning has a chance to lock up his fifth career MVP award by leading the Broncos on a deep postseason run. Exceeding expectations are what the Manning boys do and this year Peyton certainly exceeded those of most people around the league. He led the Broncos to its first No. 1 seed since 1998 – one of their championship years.
Detroit Lions (4-12, 4th in NFC North): The 2012 season of the Detroit Lions was a very disappointing one in terms of their 4-12 record just one year after making their first playoff appearance in quite some time. On the other hand, Calvin Johnson broke the ‘Madden Curse’ and did it in style, having one of the best seasons that any wide receiver has ever had. He broke the 17-year-old record for receiving yards in a season that was set by Jerry Rice back in 1995. What made it even more impressive was that he did it through just 16 games and while drawing the toughest coverage around. In his team’s Week 16 loss to the Falcons, Megatron set or tied five NFL records. They included a new mark for the most receiving yards in a season, most consecutive 100-yard receiving yard games, most consecutive 10-catch games and most receptions in a month. He also tied the record for the most 100-yard receiving games in a season. In Week 17, he was not able to extend any of those records and finished the season with 1,964 yards to set the NFL single-season record and just miss becoming the first 2,000-yard receiver in NFL history.
Green Bay Packers (11-5, 1st in NFC North): The Packers won their second straight division title and though they saw their 12-game division win streak come to an end on the final day of the season, are in the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Their defense even got better and was not at or near the bottom of the league in 2012. How did they really get there, though? ROGGAHS! Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had another huge season as he threw for 4,295 yards and 39 touchdowns. His 108.0 QBR was best in the league. He also ran for 259 yards and two scores. Not that it was a surprise, but it was important for the team to have him build off of his MVP season of a year ago. It also helped that they played the Bears in the second half of the season. Just missing out on a first-round bye, Rodgers will have to beat the Vikings this weekend to continue his strong season. I think he should be getting a little more consideration for the MVP, but clearly there are two way more deserving candidates.
Houston Texans (12-4, 1st in AFC South): J.J. Watt had one of the best seasons a defensive player has had in recent memory. He registered 20.5 sacks, just two shy of the single-season record and deflected 16 passes while picking up 81 tackles and being an easy choice for the Pro Bowl as the Houston Texans got off to an 11-1 start to the season. Then came a Week 14 matchup with New England and everything seemed to come unraveled. A 42-14 loss dropped Houston off the top of nearly everybody’s power rankings, but that was just the beginning of it. They would lose two more times, to the Vikings and Colts, in the final three games and see their bye turn into a first round rematch of a year ago against the Bengals. They also had a tough time with Chicago, Jacksonville and Detroit in the second half of the year. While this has been no Bears collapse, I would not be surprised to see Cincinnati upset the Texans on Saturday.
Indianapolis Colts (11-5, 2nd in AFC South): The Colts, on the other hand, didn’t have a lot to live up to following their 2-14 2011 season. Their 11-5 record and the play of Andrew Luck made Indy fans forget all about that Peyton Manning guy, however (well, kind of). It was the inspirational story of their head coach and his gutty battle in a much bigger test than a professional football game that stole all the attention. Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in October and missed most of the season before returning on Sunday in the season finale. The Colts, led by Luck, who threw for a rookie record 4,374 yards and 23 touchdown passes, honored their coach all year long by winning and dedicating the season to him. Now Pagano is back and the team is as dangerous as they were in the regular season. The sense of normalcy, confidence and inspiration that he has returned to the team cold make them even more dangerous in the playoffs. Normally a nine-win turnaround in just one season would be the biggest story in a few years, but Pagano’s courageous battle has earned him that honor. The Colts became the second team in NFL history to win 10-plus games the year after losing 14-plus games.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-14, 4th in AFC West): For a team that didn’t have much to be proud about on the field this year, as they posted a 2-14 record and put just 211 points on the board, the 2012 season of the Kansas City Chiefs will forever be remembered for the tragic events that took place on Dec. 1 and scarred the franchise. In perhaps the team’s brightest moment following one darker than anybody could imagine, Kansas City rallied together to get past the Panthers barely 24 hours after they had learned of the death of one of their teammates, brothers and most productive players. Jovan Belcher‘s name will forever be tied to heartbreak, anger and a lot more questions than answers – one of which may be ‘How did this team find a way to focus for 60 minutes and get a win for one of just two times this season?’ The Chiefs finished with the disappointing record due to quarterback injuries and no effective leader of the offense. Their -214 point differential was the worst in the league. Head coach Romeo Crenel was fired on Monday.
Miami Dolphins (7-9, 2nd in AFC East): If the Dolphins were going to make any noise this season, it would have to be due to the play of the eighth overall pick in last year’s draft, Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill was one of six rookie starting quarterbacks in the league and his performance in his first year didn’t necessarily reflect his high pick. Sure, he didn’t really have an established receiver with which to work, but Andrew Luck only had Reggie Wayne. Russell Wilson only had Sidney Rice. And Robert Griffin only had Santana Moss. His 12 touchdowns to 13 interceptions were not good enough and was one of the reasons Miami struggled again in 2012. His 206 yards per game were 25th in the league, while his 35 sacks were tied for the eighth-most. His completion percentage, yards and yards per attempt were all 20th or below in the league. With Reggie Bush getting older now, the team may have to win games with the pass and for that to happen, they will need to get more out of the $12M investment in Tannehill. He was far from terrible, but needs to be better. In fact, he has the most to due with them pulling out seven wins.
Minnesota Vikings (10-6, 2nd in NFC North): Fairly obvious one here. Adrian Peterson had the most rushing yards in the league in 18 years and his total of 2,097 were eight shy of tying the all-time single-season rushing total. It is almost certain that the Vikings would not be preparing for a playoff game this weekend if it weren’t for him. Peterson, an MVP candidate, almost single-handedly led his team to the playoffs less than a year after major knee surgery. It was unknown whether he would even be ready for the start of the season, but I think it’s pretty clear now that he never missed a step. Peterson’s 2,097 rush yards were 484 higher than the second-leading rusher in the league, Alfred Morris. At one point, he was averaging more yards per rush than Christian Ponder was averaging per pass. When one player basically gets his team into the playoffs, it’s generally the biggest story of the year. For Peterson to do it less than a year after knee surgery made it no contest.
New England Patriots (12-4, 1st in AFC East): We all knew of the prolific, record-setting offense of the New England Patriots coming into the year. What we did not know, however, is that their rushing attack would emerge as one of the best in the league after being almost nonexistent for the most part since Corey Dillon left. Stevan Ridley led the ground game and was responsible for 1,263 of the team’s 2,184 rushing yards on the season. The balance made the Patriots’ offense even more dangerous as opposing defenses now had to account for something else. Rushing touchdowns accounted for 150 of New England’s 557 points on the year. The seventh-best rushing attack was the best for the Patriots since their sixth-ranked run game in the league in 2008. Ridley became the first Patriot to rush for 1,200 yards since 2004 and only the sixth back to do it for the franchise. His 12 rushing touchdowns ranked third in the league. Last season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England’s leading rusher, ran for 667 yards and 11 rushing scores – 27th and sixth in the league respectively.
New Orleans Saints (7-9, 3rd in NFC South): The biggest story of the Saints‘ season may have happened before the team ever even hit the field. The NFL world was shocked to learn that current and former players and coaches were involved in a bounty program that involved monetary compensation for knocking opposing players out of games. The offseason distraction appeared to carry over into the fall and New Orleans finished with a 7-9 record and the fewest number of wins since 2007. They had been to the playoffs three straight years and not finished a season under .500 since ’07. New Orleans finished the season last in the league in total defense and allowed the most yards in NFL history. With all the talent this team has, even with the bounty situation plaguing them, it may be safe to say that not many people saw this coming. For a team led by Drew Brees to have such a poor season, something huge must have caused it. And it did.
New York Giants (9-7, 2nd in NFC East): For the second straight year, the Giants finished with a 9-7 record. This year, however, it was not good enough to back into the playoffs and return to the Super Bowl. They became the seventh straight defending champ to either miss the playoffs or not win a playoff game the following year. New York won less than ten games for the third time in four years and while they appear to be sticking with head coach Tom Coughlin, the team needs to figure out how to put together a strong regular season. It’s almost as if they are content to use the regular season as a tune-up for the playoffs. It didn’t work out for them this year, though and Eli Manning needs to be better in 2013 – the regular season. His 87.2 QBR was 14th in the league and only better than two playoff quarterbacks. Expect the Giants to have a strong regular season in 2013. Like, really strong.
New York Jets (6-10, 3rd in AFC East): Yup, you guessed it. The biggest story to come out of New York in 2012 was not Tim Tebow. Though he was constantly talked about this year because of all the time he spent not playing in games, he was eventually overshadowed by the quarterback that was used. The team was led by Mark Sanchez, who had one of the worst seasons a quarterback has had in recent memory, His stat line was horrible and for some head-scratching reason, Rex Ryan stuck with him all season long. Sanchez’ 66.9 passer rating was 31st in the league out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks. Also, his total QBR ended up at 23.4 – last in the league out of 36 qualifiers. He finished the year with 13 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, leading the Jets to just six wins while Tebow watched hopelessly on the sidelines. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns in seven out of 15 games. As someone who hates the Jets and loved watching this unfold, I cannot, for the life of me understand how Ryan let this man start 15 games. Things need to change in New York. Clearly Sanchez does not have the skill to get it done.
Oakland Raiders (4-12, 3rd in AFC West): The trade for Carson Palmer was supposed to accomplish two things: get him out of Cincinnati where he was miserable and provide the Raiders with a legitimate quarterback to get them to the playoffs. Well, one out of two ain’t bad. Palmer was a middle-of-the-road quarterback, only finishing in the top-10 in three significant statistical categories in 2012. His 14 interceptions were near the most in the league. With Darren McFadden‘s injury limiting his availability this season, Palmer couldn’t put together wins through the air. Oakland’s 18.1 points per game were 27th in the league. In their season finale, which Palmer missed with broken ribs and a bruised lung, Terrelle Pryor threw a touchdown and ran for another while putting up 21 points for the league’s 18th-ranked offense. While he had a high passer rating, Palmer finished 29th in the league with a final QBR of just 44.7. To put it in perspective, Pryor’s QBR in his one-plus games was 59.7, good for 39th in the league of players with at least one action play. Palmer finished 59th in the same category. If performance doesn’t translate to wins, no one’s going to be happy.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-12, 4th in NFC East): In what was ultimately Andy Reid‘s final year as head coach of the team, the Eagles grossly underperformed compared to how they were expected to play and won just four games. They missed the playoffs for the second straight year and have failed to win more than eight games with the ‘Dream Team.’ Whether it was extremely sloppy play from Michael Vick (21 turnovers in 10 starts) or mental mistakes dooming the team, it ended up costing Reid his job. Surprisingly, if you can remember back that far, the Eagles began the season 3-1. They then went on to lose eight in a row and cement 2012 as another lost season. Whatever way you look at it, something has to change in Philadelphia in 2013. This team was known for its high win totals and playoff runs in recent years and now can’t get out of its own way or have all of its stars function together. Philly finished a very disappointing 4-12. Vick hasnt won a game since Sept. 30 and Reid was one of the seven head coaches to be fired on Monday after 14 years at the helm for the Eagles.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8, 3rd in AFC North): The other team from Pennsylvania didn’t fare much better. For a team that is usually in the playoffs with ease, the Steelers will find out what it is like to be playing golf in mid January instead of playing for a championship as they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. After Week 10, the team was 6-3, but Ben Roethlisberger went down with a shoulder injury and missed the next three games before making his return. That was enough to send their solid season in the opposite direction and eliminate them from the playoff race by mid December. In the nine games before Big Ben got hurt, the team was 6-3, scoring 23 points per game. While he was out, the team went 1-2 and put up just 15.7 points per game while falling out of it in the AFC North. Their final record of 8-8 was their worst since an 8-8 finish in 2006. The injury was undoubtedly something that altered the course of their season and they were ultimately unable to fully recover from it.
San Diego Chargers (7-9, 2nd in AFC West): There’s no denying that the Chargers had a horribly disappointing 2012 season. Some of that has to do with the coaches, as we saw Norv Turner fired on Monday, but they can only do so much. It is up to the players on the field to perform and this year, they didn’t do that. This Chargers team was expected to contend in the AFC West with the veteran talent they have on offense. It starts with Philip Rivers. Rivers finished the season with 15 interceptions and 49 sacks. I know that’s not all his fault, but it’s the quarterback’s job to make plays and he could not do it. He remains the only quarterback from that ’04 draft class not to have won a title and has missed the playoffs for the third straight year. As is so often the case in the NFL, Rivers needs to get better for his team to have any shot at getting better. He is entering his ninth season in the NFL and I ask you if he has already peaked and is now only going downhill. Average isn’t going to cut it. I guess a positive spin on the situation is to realize that it’s not like Denver blew them out at all this year. The two games between the teams were decided by 11 and seven points, respectively. Although, San Diego did blow that 24-point lead in the first matchup on Monday night. And once again, that will somehow find its way back to Rivers.
San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1, 1st in NFC West): Since taking over as the starting quarterback on Nov. 11, Colin Kaepernick has led the 49ers to five wins in eight games to help sew up the NFC West for the second consecutive season. Kaepernick, in his second year out of Nevada, was an afterthought in the 49ers offense coming into the year as Alex Smith was expected to be in there every play. Smith struggled, however, and an injury to him in that Nov. 11 tie against the Rams opened up the door for Kaepernick. Smith was 6-2 before going down, but it has been Kaepernick who righted the ship, kept it afloat in his absence and ultimately took the starting job away from the veteran. In 13 games, he has thrown for 1,814 yards and 10 touchdowns while rushing for 415 yards and five touchdowns. His 98.3 QBR would be eighth in the league among starting quarterbacks if he qualified. Kaepernick ended up leading the 49ers back to the playoffs and will now be able to show what he can do in the postseason.
Seattle Seahawks (11-5, 2nd in NFC West): For a team that has had its share of interesting moments in 2012, it isn’t one of them that was their biggest story of the year. The Seahawks made news early in the year on Monday Night Football in Week 3 with the ‘Inaccurate Reception’ when the replacement officials incorrectly ruled that Golden Tate had caught the game-winning touchdown pass as time expired. The team also had to deal with Richard ‘Pro Bowl snub, Tom Brady taunting, leaky cup’ Sherman while posting an undefeated home record for the third time in their history. It was rookie starting quarterback Russell Wilson, however, who ultimately stole the headlines for Seattle in 2012 as he tied the all-time record for the most TD passes by a rookie with 26. Wilson was an afterthought in the draft, especially with quarterbacks like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III available, but he finished the year with more touchdown passes than either of them and had five games with a total QBR of 90, which was equal to what the other two combined for. He also had four rushing touchdowns, including three in Week 15 and led the Seahawks to the playoffs for the second straight year with 11 wins. Not bad for someone who was supposed to back up Matt Flynn all season.
St. Louis Rams (7-8-1, 3rd in NFC West): It was an up-and-down year for the St. Louis Rams, as the last few years have been. The one constant, however, has been running back Steven Jackson. In his eighth year in the league, Jackson has run for 10,135 career yards. Most impressively, he joined a very elite group of legendary backs to have rushed for 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons. Jackson has hit four figures in all but his rookie season since entering the league in 2004 , joining Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson as the only backs to ever do it in eight straight seasons. The veteran has only won one playoff games in his time in St. Louis, however, and that lack of team success has reportedly caused him to consider retirement this offseason. Either way, he has still quietly been one of the most productive runners in the league for quite some time now.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9, 4th in NFC South): A promising start to the year did not result in a playoff appearance as the Buccaneers struggled mightily down the stretch. One constant that they did have all year long, however, was rookie running back Doug Martin. Martin, the 31st overall pick in the 2012 draft, burst onto the scene in Week with a 251-yard and four-touchdown performance. It only got better from there as he finished the year with 1,454 rushing yards, the fifth-most in the league and the most by a Tampa Bay player since 1984 and the second-most in their history. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the team, it’s back to the drawing board this offseason as the team lost five in a row after a 6-4 start to the year. Martin was fourth in the league in attempts (319), tied for third with 11 runs of 20 or more yards, tied for fifth with 11 rushing TD’s and fifth with 90.9 rushing yards per game. He was snubbed from the Pro Bowl though and unfortunately, his year as the biggest threat on the Tampa Bay offense was marred by the second-half inability to win games. He’ll be back next year though.
Tennessee Titans (6-10, 3rd in AFC South): It was a tough year in Tennessee as Chris Johnson didn’t really do much of anything like we are used to seeing from him. Jake Locker struggled early on and following an injury in Week 4, Matt Haselbeck took over the quarterback job – for the time being. He stayed in control for six weeks before Locker regained the job. In his six games as the quarterback, Hasselbeck led the team to a 2-4 record, while Locker won four games and lost six. Could there be a quarterback controversy brewing in Nashville? Perhaps. But, for the team to have success in 2013, the run game needs to be better. These quarterbacks apparently can’t be trusted to throw the ball 40 times a game. The Titans won only one division game and scored less than 20 points in four out of six of them. Hasselbeck averaged 220.6 passing yards in his six starts in the middle of the season and Locker averaged a slightly less 217.6 yards per game. The pair each finished the season ranked 30th or lower in yards per game. Hasselbaeck threw just three fewer touchdowns than Locker did in four less games. The pair threw for 200 yards or less six times this season.
Washington Redskins (10-6, 1st in NFC East): It had been 13 years since the Redskins last won a division title. Turns out all they needed was a little bit of youth in the backfield. Quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, both rookies, were instrumental in ending the division title slump and the four-year playoff drought in the nation’s capital. Griffin threw for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for another 815 yards. Morris was equally impressive as he finished the regular season as the second-leading rusher in the NFL with 1,613 yards and had 13 touchdowns to go along with them. The Redskins became the first team since 1943 to make the playoffs with a rookie as their leading passer and their leading rusher. They also became the first team since 1996 to make the playoffs after starting the season 3-6. Griffin, Morris and coach Mike Shanahan are three of the biggest reasons why there will be January football in our nation’s capital once again.
That’s it for 2012. Luckily, 2013 football starts in just three days.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.