It’s almost a week on from the climactic end to the 2012 NFL season. After the dust has settled following the thrilling spectacle that was Super Bowl XLVII (not least the half time show), we can now reflect on what we have learned from the season as a whole. There are always endless topics of discussion in the NFL but, for me, 3 main talking points can be taken from the 2012 campaign.
The word bouncebackability was added to the Oxford Dictionary due to it’s common use in recent years, particularly in the world of sport. It is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from a setback”. A setback could be a suspension, a decline in performance/form or, in this case, a long-term injury. The NFL has developed a reputation of nursing its superstars back to health in unlikely circumstances, but two players from the 2012 season come to mind when I think of the word bouncebackability.
The first is Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. During a game against the Washington Redskins in December 2011, Peterson had to be helped off the field after suffering a torn ACL and MCL. For the first time in his career, Peterson failed to record a 1,000 yard season having been sidelined by injury. He was listed as “questionable” to start the 2012 campaign, just 8 months on from his double ligament tear, but rushed for 84 yards and 2 touchdowns in week 1 and thus began his record-breaking season. Peterson finished 2012 with 2,097 rushing yards, the second-most in NFL history, just 9 yards away from beating Eric Dickerson’s record. At just 26 years of age, there was never really a question about whether or not Peterson would return from his setback, but the manner in which he did it was incredible. His historic season earned him the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and the NFL Most Valuable Player awards. He was also named in second place, behind a man with another amazing recovery story, in the NFL Comeback player of the Year award. The winner? Peyton Manning.
In May 2011, Manning underwent surgery on a neck problem that had been troubling him the previous season. Based on an MRI scan, doctors told him later that summer that he would require spinal fusion surgery, and that at his age they could not guarantee he would return to the NFL. The 4-time MVP failed to feature in a single game in the 2011 season and the Colts succumbed to a 2-14 record without their starting quarterback. Despite having signed a 5-year contract in July 2011, Manning was released by the Colts in March the following year. Later that month, the Denver Broncos offered Manning a 5-year deal and a chance to prove he still had what it takes to be an NFL QB. Manning had an impressive 2012 campaign, throwing his 400th touchdown pass in the process, making him only the third quarterback to do so after Dan Marino and Brett Favre, and the quickest of the 3 to achieve that feat. He was named in his 12th Pro Bowl and led his team to the playoffs, where they lost 38-35 to Baltimore who, of course, went on to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy.
- If you’re good enough, you’re old enough
2012 was the year of the rookie. While a large number of impressive rookies have emerged over the course of the season, in a number of different positions, many are of the opinion that the 2012 class of rookie quarterbacks is the best ever. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were first and second picks respectively in the 2012 NFL Draft. They were tipped for greatness and, on first showing, didn’t disappoint. Despite their age and inexperience, both men led their respective teams to the playoffs. However, the most impressive rookie QB for me was Russell Wilson. In the 3rd round of the draft, with the 75th pick overall, the Seattle Seahawks chose Wilson. He was seen as adequate cover for Matt Flynn, who had been brought in from the Green Bay Packers with a view to replacing Tarvaris Jackson as Seattle’s starting quarterback. However, it didn’t take Wilson long to make his presence known. An impressive preseason saw Wilson named the Seahawks’ starting quarterback. After leading his team to the playoffs in his first season, Wilson was named in the 2013 Pro Bowl, and earned the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year award.
Another player who proved that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough was San Francisco’s second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In week 10, against the St. Louis Rams, Kaepernick replaced starter Alex Smith after Smith suffered a first-half concussion. While Smith recovered, Kaepernick got his first NFL start against the Chicago Bears back in November and, after some impressive performances, was named the 49ers starting quarterback, despite Smith having regained full fitness. Kaepernick certainly fits the bill of a modern-day QB. Much like rookies Wilson and RGIII, Kaepernick is an exciting young player. He is as quick as his arm is strong, and provides a different dimension to his team’s offence with his ability to rush for first downs. With an old head on young shoulders, he led his team to the Super Bowl, narrowly missing out on the win, and coming agonisingly close to inspiring his 49ers team to a second half comeback.
- Never write off the underdog
The final lesson we learned from the 2012 NFL season is that the favourites don’t always come out on top, and the game is never over until it’s over. There were a number of surprises throughout the regular season, but the playoff picture, and the Super Bowl itself, epitomised the rise of the underdog.
Not many would have predicted this match-up entering the postseason. The Ravens eased past the Indianapolis Colts on Wild-Card Weekend but were giving little chance of progression when they faced the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round. The Broncos, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, had been tipped by many to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy, but fans were treated to an epic encounter that went right down to the wire at a frosty Mile High Stadium, and saw the Ravens come out on top 38-35. Likewise, the Ravens had been written off prior to the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough against Super Bowl favourites the New England Patriots. Joe Flacco outplayed fellow quarterback Tom Brady, who uncharacteristically threw 2 interceptions on the night, and controlled the game to brush aside a disappointing Patriots team in a 28-13 victory.
Similarly, when the 49ers entered the playoff picture, they appeared to be the underdogs of the NFC. They faced Championship hopefuls Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round. 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick ran for quarterback playoff-record 181 yards and threw 2 touchdown passes to help his team to a 45-31 win at Candlestick Park. San Francisco then faced the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game. The Falcons where the NFC’s number 1 seed after an impressive regular season campaign but, yet again, the 49ers upset the odds and triumphed 28-24, owing much of their accomplishments to running back Frank Gore, who ran for 2 second half touchdowns in the Georgia Dome.
Even the Super Bowl brought about somewhat of an upset. San Francisco were the bookies favourites but failed to deliver on the night. The game was seemingly over as a contest at half time. The 49ers needed something to go their way early in the second half, but their chances looked even more bleak when, immediately after the interval, their kick-off was returned for a 108 yard touchdown by Jacoby Jones. As it turned out, the game could have went either way as San Francisco mounted a second half revival that came too little, too late but was typical of the 2012 campaign, highlighting the fact that the game is never over until the final whistle is blown.
Super Bowl XLVII had it all. Two brothers coaching on opposite sidelines, a tense ending after an inspired fightback, the underdog coming out on top, and veteran Ray Lewis hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy to cap off his final season, one that seemed almost pre-scripted.