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Top 5 Stories Of The 2012 NFL Season

Lisa Battaglia |
February 5, 2013 | 11:27 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

The USC alum struggled badly in 2012. (Ed Yourdon/Creative Commons)
The USC alum struggled badly in 2012. (Ed Yourdon/Creative Commons)
The Baltimore Ravens capped off another great NFL season with a Super Bowl XLVII win against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, 34-31. As the season comes to a close, we reflect on the top five trends and turns of the 2012 season. Here they are (in reverse order): 

5) The New York Jets' Quarterback Rut

What appeared last summer to be a strong offensive unit for the New York Jets with two excellent quarterbacks, Tim Tebow and USC alum Mark Sanchez, turned out to be a disaster for faithful Jet fans. The confused and often dysfunctional offense became the critics’ focus for blame for the disappointing Jets' season. Sanchez was ultimately replaced by Greg McElroy, as Tebow was passed over and is now being shopped around the league. When McElroy got injured, Sanchez was given his job back. Fittingly, the Jets lost their final game to the Bills, 28-9, after yet another subpar Sanchez performance.

Ryan was loudly criticized for the offensive coaching and poor decisions in his seemingly erratic alternating of his quarterbacks (at times, his failure to bench Tebow drew a sizable backlash). Although the defense did a more than creditable job, finishing with a solid record of three defensive touchdowns and 30 sacks, the offense coughed and sputtered throughout the season gaining only 299 first downs and 4,787 total offensive yards. 

Nonetheless, the Jets plan to keep Ryan and trade Tebow instead of releasing him. The Jets will undoubtedly fire up their offensive engines next year by focusing on a single quarterback-driven offense.

4) Robert Griffin III Offensive Rookie of the Year

As an NFL rookie, Robert Griffin III impressed the league with an astounding 258 completed passes, 815 rushing yards, and more than 4,000 total yards in his first 15 games in his first season. 

Coming from Baylor University as the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, RGIII was drafted No. 2 by the Washington Redskins in the 2012 NFL Draft. The ‘Skins saw him as their ticket to respectability with his explosive running skills as much as his passing talents. A quarterback who can run like a running back, Griffin gave the Redskins multiple offensive options to throw at opponents. But this strategy was roundly criticized by some because a running quarterback also increases the risk of a serious injury - one that could take him off the field altogether. And that’s exactly what happened late in the NFC Wild-Card round against the Seattle Seahawks, ending Griffin’s season and any hope for the Redskins to reach the Super Bowl. 

Despite his serious knee injury, Griffin had "no regrets," according to NFL.com. Up to that point, however, RGIII turned the heretofore mediocre Redskins into an exciting playoff team with his outstanding skills, finishing the season with a record of 10-6 and for Robert Griffin III an Offensive Rookie of the Year title.

We see another important trend in RGIII's success. Despite the risks, more teams are seeing the offensive benefits in having a highly athletic quarterback who can pass accurately, as well as run with speed and the ability to read defenses like Griffin. The Redskins quarterback also told NFL.com that he plans to come back even better next season: "I vowed to my teammates and to myself after my first injury (an ACL tear in 2009 at Baylor) that I'd come back a better player, and that's what I plan to do after this one, as well."

3) Keeping Colin Kaepernick: From Second String to Super Bowl

The Kaepernick over Smith decision seemed to pay off well for Jim Harbaugh. (nflravens/Creative Commons)
The Kaepernick over Smith decision seemed to pay off well for Jim Harbaugh. (nflravens/Creative Commons)
Midway through the season, San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh interchangeably utilized the strengths of both of his quarterbacks, Alex Smith and rookie Colin Kaepernick. Smith suffered a concussion in Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams, and rookie Kaepernick, a University of Nevada-Reno grad, took the snaps for the talented 49ers. But even after Smith was later cleared to play, controversy surrounded the coach's decision to keep the ball in the relatively inexperienced hands of Kaepernick, rather than stick with the proven talents of Smith. The coach’s confidence paid off: the relatively unknown and untried Kaepernick began his excellent season. 

Kapernick, San Francisco's 36th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, is also a talented running quarterback. He gained a total of 413 yards and scored five touchdowns - one a 56-yard scramble to paydirt - against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional round. 

After steering the 49ers into the Super Bowl, Kaepernick made a record-breaking touchdown run of 15 yards in the Big Game's fourth quarter, setting a Super Bowl record for the longest touchdown run by a quarterback and bringing the 49ers all the way back from an early deficit to within a shot at winning it all. 

Even in a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss, Kaepernick had an outstanding game: he threw for 302 yards and rushed for 62 yards, giving 49er faithful real hope for redemption next year. 

2) Ray Lewis's Finale

Linebacker Ray Lewis retired this year after 17 years with the Baltimore Ravens. Lewis and the Ravens finished a tremendous career together last Sunday, winning the Lombardi Trophy. Lewis, the Ravens’ emotional and spiritual leader, capped his career with a second Super Bowl ring.

Lewis was selected to the AP All-Pro team 10 times and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003, only the sixth player in league history to win the award multiple times. He’s one of two linebackers to ever be named Super Bowl MVP (Chuck Howley won MVP in Super Bowl V, but the Cowboys fell to the Ravens).   

After being acquitted for murder 13 years ago and finding faith to guide his personal life and his team, Lewis has been a leader and exceptional player throughout his time with the only team he ever played for, the Baltimore Ravens. His win on Sunday and a career total of 2,050 combined tackles capped off an unforgettable career for Lewis and his adoring Ravens fans. As usual, Lewis gave all the credit to his teammates and to the Baltimore fans. 

1) Adrian Peterson Defies Odds, Wins MVP

Perhaps in this season of outstanding individual performances, the most spectacular came from a player who did not reach the Super Bowl. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson suffered through a career-threatening knee surgery in late 2011 to come back to lead the Vikings to their best single-season turnaround and to the playoffs. 

In the season opener against the Jaguars, which many expected him not to play, Peterson crashed through defenders for 84 yards on 17 carries. He finished the season with 2,097 yards, just nine short of Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 yards. At season’s end, Peterson deservedly earned MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors.

The personable "MVPeterson" told the AP that he plans to reach the 2,500-yard mark next season. Upon accepting the 2012 MVP award, the defense-shredding Peterson said he is also determined to win MVP a second year in a row and this time take his Vikings to the 2014 Super Bowl.

Reach Staff Writer Lisa Battaglia here, or follow her on Twitter.



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