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Season In Review: 32 Storylines From The 2012 NFL Regular Season 0

Posted on January 03, 2013 by Andy Larmand

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.

Ryan Lindley watches as Janoris Jenkins (left) scoots into the endzone, returning another Arizona pass for a touchdown.

Flew into a wall: Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley watches as Janoris Jenkins (left) scoots into the endzone, returning another Arizona pass for a touchdown.

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.

Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles this season, but the Panthers still finished below .500.

Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles this season, but the Panthers still finished below .500.

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.

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Peterson Comes Up Just Short, Cowboys Miss Playoffs: Week 17 Storylines 0

Posted on January 01, 2013 by Andy Larmand

The final week of the 2012 NFL season was just as good as the first 16 were. With 16 division matchups on the schedule, it had it all: shutouts, blowouts, third-string quarterbacks, elimination games, records being chased and of course another opportunity for Tony Romo to choke. (He did). For the last time in 2012, your storylines from the week that was in pro football.

Eight would have been great: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson came up eight yards shy of tying the single-season rushing record, but his Vikings are heading to the playoffs.

Eight would have been great: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson came up eight yards shy of tying the single-season rushing record, but his Vikings are heading to the playoffs.

Adrian Peterson came within eight yards of tying and nine of breaking the NFL single-season rushing record, but with time running out in the game, Blair Walsh kicked a 29-yard field goal to break the tie  and send the Vikings to the playoffs, ending Peterson’s regular season. Minnesota defeated the Packers, 37-34, for their first win against their division rivals since 2009. The loss also ended Green Bay’s 12-game division winning streak. Peterson did become just the seventh running back to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a season as he concluded the regular season with 2,097 yards on the ground. The Packers had won nine straight regular season finales before the loss. Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdowns in a game for the fourth time this year, including two to Greg Jennings. Walsh added to his NFL record with his 10th field goal of 50-plus yards on the season. Peterson finished the season with seven 150-plus rushing games, tying the NFL record. Minnesota has made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Packers, who finished the regular season at 11-5 and the Vikings, who finished 10-6, will play each other on Saturday in the Wild Card round.

The good news: the Colts won their regular season finale. The great news: Chuck Pagano was back on the sidelines to coach it. J.J. Watt failed to get any sacks and finished two shy of the NFL single-season record as the Texans lost to the Colts to fall all the way to the third seed in the AFC, missing the bye they had been in position for all season long. Watt finished with 20.5 sacks on the year. Houston has never won at Indianapolis – now 0-11 all-time with the 28-16 loss on Sunday. A career-long 70-yard TD pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton on 3rd & 23 all but sealed the win for the Colts. Deji Karim returned a second-half kickoff 101 yards for Indy, their longest return since 1973. Andre Johnson tied the career record of 10-reception games set by Wes Welker last week with the 18th of his career. Reggie Wayne now has at least three catches in 64 straight games, extending his NFL record. The Colts became the seventh team to improve by nine wins in just one year, going from 2-14 in 2011 to 11-5 in 2012. Houston finished 12-4 after losing three of its last four games and will host the Bengals in the Wild Card round, while the Colts will travel to Baltimore.

The Chicago Bears have made a little history of their own as they became just the second team since 1990 to miss the playoffs after starting the season with a 7-1 record despite beating the Lions, 26-24, in Detroit and finishing with a 10-6 record. They have now missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. Matt Forte did rush for 1,000 yards for the third time in his career. The Lions finished a disappointing 4-12, but Matthew Stafford shattered the previous record of 691 pass attempts in a season and finished with 727. Calvin Johnson caught five balls for 72 yards and came up 36 yards short of the first ever 2,000-yard receiving season. It broke his streak of eight straight 100-yard receiving games and four straight 10-catch games, which were both NFL records. He finished the season with an NFL record 1,964 receiving yards. Chicago fired head coach Lovie Smith on Monday after a 3-5 end to the year and that has apparently prompted kick returner Devin Hester to consider retirement.

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Move Over “No-Name Defense!” Buffalo Bills are 2-0 with a No-Name Roster and a Cast-off Coach 67

Posted on September 19, 2011 by John Wingspread Howell

A defense that includes former All-Pros Shawne Merriman (#56) and Nick Barnett has fans excited in Buffalo.

All of a sudden Buffalo Head Coach Chan Gailey and General Manager Buddy Nix are starting to look like geniuses.

Until a week ago, even the most loyal, optimistic Bills fans were being tempted to doubt. After a mostly dismal pre-season, the popular prognosis for the Bills ranged from regression to no improvement to a 6-10 record at best.

But then Buffalo spanked the Chiefs 41-7 for their most lopsided opening day win since the O.J. Simpson era. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had a nearly flawless game, and the Bills defense was looking like a cross between the classic Purple People Eaters and the Steel Curtain– or maybe– the much heralded “No-Name” Dolphins defense of the ‘70’s.

It was impressive and surprising for everyone. From the most subjective Bills fan to the most jaded pundit, everyone was left speechless– except, perhaps to say, “Wow!”  In fact, one NFL journalist had predicted a 42-7 score favoring Kansas City just days before the season opener. Wow! No, really. Wow!

But of course the question was, how real was that? Was it a fluke? Could the Bills repeat the performance against another tough running team like the Raiders? Certainly not, most handicappers insisted. Even The Buffalo News predicted a 20-14 loss.

And then, as the home opener commenced in front of a sold out Ralph Wilson Stadium, and Oakland jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead, most people– even the most loyal fans, if they were to be honest– had to be thinking the Chiefs game really was a fluke.

“Same old Bills. Get our hopes up just to dash them. We’ll be 1-1, and the Patriots are coming next week.”

Well, at least that’s what I was thinking, hard as I tried to stay hopeful.

But then the second half started and a football game broke out. Bills fans began to wonder where the real Bills had been hiding in the first half, and who were those imposters spotting the Raiders 18 points? The team that took the field in the second half came out with a vengeance, scored 21 unanswered points, and then got into a barn burner of a shootout that reminded those of us who are old enough to remember, of a Monday night game in 1974 when the Bills beat the Raiders at home, after exchanging touchdowns twice in the final minute of the game. Read the rest of this entry →

Shan or Chan: In Sports as in War, We’re Always Fighting the Last Battle 4

Posted on December 18, 2010 by John Wingspread Howell

Neither Chan Gailey or Ryan Fitzpatrick was the first choice of Buffalo fans, but they could end up being the right fits.

Here in Buffalo, Monday morning quarterbacking has become the dominant sport, since what happens on the gridiron and on the ice isn’t close to what it used to be in this town. The big fear, especially where the Bills are concerned, is that it won’t be like that again.

I define “Monday morning quarterbacking” broadly for purposes of this discussion, to include prescribing and second guessing personnel decisions as well as game day decisions. Once the woebegone era of Dick Jauron finally ended, there was a flurry of wishful speculation about somehow acquiring a marquis coach and a marquis quarterback. When the dust all settled and we had Chan Gailey as our coach and nobody new as our quarterback, the “nabobs of negativism,” to quote Spiro Agnew, were burning up the airwaves and the blogosphere.

How quickly things change. Today I saw a tweet that said, “Remember when we wanted Mike Shanahan as a coach and Donovan McNabb as our quarterback?”

And there you have it. When a crisis comes, we humans are always inclined to fight the last war, whether it is literal war, or the symbolic kind waged in arenas. Truth is, if we were to analyze the success rate of big name coaches or players reborn or recycled in new venues, especially when the new assignment is a losing franchise, it is more bust than boom. Even the big Tuna, Bill Parcells couldn’t match his New England success in Dallas and couldn’t match his lesser Dallas success in Miami.

The problem—or opportunity, depending on how you see it—is, that most of the best coaches in the NFL come up through the coordinator ranks. More often than not they have been the understudy to a great coach, but not always. Read the rest of this entry →

Is Chan the Man or Just another Tragic-Comic Character in the Buffalo Bills’ Lack of a Plan? 2

Posted on December 11, 2010 by John Wingspread Howell

Is it still too early to decide if Chan Gailey is the right man to turn around the Bills?

One thing about Chan Gailey in Buffalo is certain. Paradox. Irony. He’s definitely playing against type. Think of the three great former Bills coaches: Saban, Knox, and Levy. They were articulate, sophisticated, all business.

Enter Chan Gailey, strong Texan-Southern accent, informal, grandfatherly, stumbles over his words not infrequently. When he sits down at a post-game press conference and tells you how badly he feels for his players because they tried so hard, you definitely get the grandfatherly feeling.

We Yankees (as in anyone who isn’t from the South or Texas/Oklahoma) tend to discount people with a southern accent. We write off the folksy informality as not smart or at least not serious.

And of course we Bills fans had our hopes of getting a high profile coach fed by Bills owner Ralph Wilson offering $10 million to Mike Shanahan, and were completely let down in the anti-climax of Gailey’s hiring.

But now that we’ve had sufficient exposure to Chan Gailey, what’s the verdict? Is he our coach because the price was right for Wilson, still perceived as a cheapskate despite the lip service paid to winning? Or is Gailey truly the right man for the terrible job of coaching the Buffalo Bills back to respectability?

I reserve the right to adjust or reverse my position at the end of the season, but for now, I’m arguing the latter. Read the rest of this entry →

Chan Gailey: “So This is Buffalo’s Idea of a Big Splash!” 1

Posted on January 19, 2010 by John Wingspread Howell
Boston College v Georgia Tech

Former Dallas Cowboys and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets head coach Chan Gailey will become the new head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

I had heard the buzz yesterday, that the Bills would be announcing Chan Gailey as their new head coach. I’ll have to admit, it was underwhelming at best. Then I looked at his record and was almost impressed.

For instance, I did not know that (with the exception of Kansas City in his most recent brief assignment) every NFL team that Gailey has worked for, has gone to the playoffs each year he was there. So, I was starting to convince myself to be at least cautiously optimistic.

But then, as I was eating breakfast today, Chicago’s morning sports anchor announced the same story, ending with the comment in quotes above. The sick feeling returned.

Yes, I’m a die-hard, you might say many times dead, Buffalo Bills fan from childhood. I bleed red and blue. My scabs and scars always take the faint, understated shape of a buffalo. And while disappointment is a staple in the Bills fan’s diet, the club’s inability to land even an A-list coordinator for its head coaching vacancy, when so many A-list head coaches are available is one of the worst blows to the gut we Bills fans have ever had to endure. Bar none!

If we take our 91-year-old owner seriously when he said he would spare no expense to get top tier football people into all aspects of the team’s operation, and especially in the general manager and head coaching positions, then it appears that no amount of money or autonomy was enough to entice any of a “Who’s Who in Football” list to accept, or in some cases even interview for the job.

Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan put it in print– that which most of us would have preferred not having to say, hear, read, or think out loud– that the Bills’ inefectual leadership search indicates that the Buffalo Bills top job is not even the 32nd best coaching job in football (there are 32 teams in the NFL). Sullivan based this on the fact that at least six potential candidates turned down the position or refused to interview for the positon. Read the rest of this entry →

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