While the 2012-2013 NFL season has yet to conclude, we can already categorize it as the most memorable in recent years. Beginning in the off-season, where the headlines were dominated by a bevvy of off-field issues. The New Orleans Saints were under investigation by the league for “bounty gate”. They went on to lose their head coach for the season, and (for the time being) lost numerous defensive play-makers and assistant coaches. While this issue dominated the headlines, the most important issue in the Saints facility may have been re-signing their Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees.
A number of coaches were turning to rookie Quarterbacks to lead their respective teams in 2012, and beyond. The Colts and Redskins selected the two guys who were well ahead of the pack, in Andrew Luck and RG3. The were tabbed as the “the guy” from the time they shook the commissioners hand in New York. The Dolphins and the Browns also took QB’s in round one. Both Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden experienced their share of growing pains in year one, while showing promise. There was one QB taken in the second round, but we’ll get back to him later on. In the third round the Seattle Seahawks selected Wisconsin (and NC State’s) Russell Wilson. Now this came as a surprise to many as Seattle had just signed Matt Flynn from Green Bay for 26 million over 3 years. Wilson won over both coach Pete Carroll and his teammates and well, the rest is history.
That lone quarterback taken in round two was Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler. He was selected by the Denver Broncos and did not see any meaningful reps in his rookie season, and quite frankly we all know why. Peyton Manning and his highly publicized neck issues and the uncertainty of where he would play in 2012 dominated the off-season headlines. Manning, after basically being told to pack his bags by Colts management, decided to head west, and about a mile high. Many were skeptical on how this would play out, primarily because Peyton in a Colts uniform was all we knew. Peyton hit it off with head coach John Fox and former Broncos great John Elway and was comforted by former teammates Brandon Stokley and Jacob Tamme.
Manning was handed over the reigns to the offense and the Broncos, who after a slow start (2-3) did not taste defeat for the remainder of the season, reeling off 11 straight wins and capturing the AFC West crown. Manning threw for 4,659 yards, 37 TD’s, 11INT’s and had a passing rating of 105.8. Numbers wise, this was his second best season ever, only behind his 2004 MVP campaign. Numbers aside, Manning did not seem to miss a beat despite his neck surgery. He had complete control of the offense, making checks at the line, manipulating the defense, putting the ball where only his guy could go up and get it. The only thing that was different was the uniform.
There was one other off-season headline regarding a pro bowler recovering from a career threatening injury, and that was Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. AD suffered an ACL and MCL tear against the Redskins on December 26. 2011, making it virtually impossible to be back on the field in time to start the 2012 season, or so we thought. Peterson’s surgery was performed by the Michael Jordan of surgeons, Dr. James Andrews, and the following day, Peterson had already began his rehab. Weeks and months had gone by and even while Peterson and Andrews felt he was ahead of schedule, it was hard to believe he was be ready for week one. History has show that for most athletes you need 9-12 months to fully recover from this type of surgery, Peterson was making cuts at full speed just 7 months in, and that’s when this comeback became somewhat believable.
Peterson started week one for the Vikings, and recorded a “pedestrian” stat line of 84 yards, on 17 carries and 2 TD’s. At that point it was safe to say that just over 8 full months after surgery AD was back, and as the season went on we’d soon learn that he was better then ever. Peterson passed the century mark (102) for the first time in week four against the Lions and just three weeks later ran for 153 against the Cardinals. Peterson had a stretch from week 7 to week 15 where he rushed for no less than 108 yards, including games of 182, 171, 210, and 212. Prior to this stretch it seemed likely that Peterson would be a lock for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award, as QB Peyton Manning seemed to be running away with the MVP award.
By the last month of the season it became evident that not only was Peterson in the MVP hunt but had a legitimate shot at breaking the single season rushing record, held by Eric Dickerson. Peterson rushed for 199 yards against GB in week 17 and fell just short of breaking the all time record (9 yards) but led his team into the playoffs with a last second win. Peterson finished the year with 2,097 yards on 348 carries and 12 scores. Easily the most yards that Peterson has ever accumulated in a single season and his number of carries was well above his career average.
As both Manning and Peterson began to turn heads with their play the argument began, who wins the CPOY and who wins the MVP. These two were the leading candidates for numerous reasons, they play the two highest profile positions in football, they were both putting up ridiculous numbers, and most importantly both were coming off career threatening injuries. At first, I thought it was a no brainier AD’s the MVP, but the more I thought about it, the more I was torn. Several guys have come back from ACL tears such as, Willis Mcgahee, Tom Brady, Jerry Rice, Jamal Lewis, Frank Gore and the list goes on. Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is poised to come back from a similar injury and is ahead of schedule with his rehab. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III just suffered the exact same injury as Peterson and is already rehabbing in hopes of being ready for week 1.
An ACL is one thing, but a neck? That’s uncharted territory for many in the football world. Manning didn’t have one surgery on his neck, but four, four! Manning had surgery to fuse two vertabrea together and this was clearly a lingering issue that took multiple attempts to fix. It been said numerous times that the difference between the great QB’s and the good ones, is not what you possess from the neck down, but instead what you’re blessed with from the neck up. This tested that theory in it’s most literal form. People wondered how this would change Manning, would he be more timid? Would this affect his movement in the pocket? Would this affect his decision making and overall his performance? Well, Manning silenced the critics, emphatically. Manning hit the ground running, and began to run away with the MVP, until he hit a wall against Oakland in week 14, followed by another weak performance against the Ravens. After bouncing back in the final two weeks of the season, Manning had a lackluster game at home in the divisional playoffs against Baltimore. His two interceptions dramatically affected the game, the second leading to Baltimore’s game winning field goal. If there’s one legit knock against Peyton it’s that he shrinks in the biggest moments and rarely wins the big one, dating all the way back to his tenure at the Univ of Tennessee.
Peterson on the other hand started off at an impressive level and improved each and every week of the season. The Vikings wanted to bring Peterson along slowly and not risk any further injury, but two things didn’t allow that to happen. The play of Vikings QB (and former FSU Seminole) Christian Ponder was coming along nicely, but not at an elite level, where he could carry a team, and secondly AD was just playing out of his mind and he needed to be fed. Peterson recorded over 1,000 yards after initial contact in 2012, half of his total for the season, that’s insane folks. Many consider it to be a good year if a back records a 1,000 yard season, in total, not solely after contact. He became only the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards, none of which did so the season after returning from serious injury. AD finished the year ranked 2nd in overall rushing attempts, 1st in yards per carry,1st in yards per game, and of course 1st overall in rushing yards with 2,097. The second greatest season of all time and the greatest of Peterson’s stellar career.
Arguments can be made for both sides, but if i had a vote to cast for MVP I’m going with Adrian Peterson. While his accomplishments were not entirely unprecedented like Manning’s, what Peterson did was just unreal (Manning finished the season as the NFL’s 6th best quarterback, while Peterson was the leagues top running back.) Each and every time AD lined up he saw 7, 8, and 9 guys in the box, each team’s game plan revolved around stopping 28. Unfortunately for his competitors this game plan was never executed and not one team was able to stop Peterson. Peterson is an absolute genetic freak, and in my opinion he is the second best athlete in sports behind only Lebron James. His combination of size, speed, strength, vision and toughness is unmatched by any other NFL back and likely any other NFL player. But, I must remind you that this is a passing league and no one gets the spotlight like quarterbacks. For that reason alone I expect Manning to receive many votes for MVP, and he might even win it, but I think he is more deserving of the CPOY award. The true MVP resides in Minnesota, and if this piece isn’t convincing enough, let the words of the Jigga Man help you decide, “men lie, women lie…numbers don’t.”