Scoring at a 47-year high…comebacks galore…new teams making the playoffs and winning divisions…consistent teams excelling once again…records falling…rookies making their mark…and so much more!
The 2012 season really did have it all, including a fantastic finish.
Week 17 came right down to the wire as 10 of the 16 games played on the final day of the regular season had playoff implications. Sunday’s excitement was due in part to having 16 divisional games played on the season’s final day, a tradition instituted in 2010.
The NFL also arranged the schedule to ensure as many meaningful games as possible in each broadcasting window, resulting in the highest collective Sunday rating since at least 2006 (when the Sunday primetime package went to NBC). And the regular-season’s final game – game No. 256 of 256 – determined the NFC East division champion as Washington defeated Dallas in a winner-take-all matchup.
Each of the 12 teams still in Super Bowl XLVII contention can look back at the wild ride that was the 2012 regular season and appreciate how challenging the road to the playoffs was. Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before. Indianapolis, Minnesota, Seattle and Washington accomplished the feat this year.
“You work the whole season to get here,” says Washington head coach MIKE SHANAHAN, whose Redskins became the fifth team in NFL history to qualify for the playoffs after a 3-6 start. “It’s a four-game season. There’s only one team that will be happy at the end of this season, and we want to be that team.”
Three of this year’s four “new” playoff teams finished in last place in 2011, combining for a 21-win improvement. Indianapolis (11-5) led the way with a nine-game improvement over last year’s 2-14 record, followed by Minnesota (10-6, seven-game improvement) and Washington (10-6, five-game improvement).
The 2012 season also proved that consistency is difficult, but not impossible, to maintain in the NFL, as the AFC became the first conference since realignment in 2002 that saw four repeat division champions – Baltimore, Denver, Houston and New England.
The Patriots became the second team in NFL history to win at least 10 games in 10 consecutive seasons, joining the 1983-98 San Francisco 49ers (16 consecutive seasons) as the only teams to accomplish the feat. BILL BELICHICK also became the eighth head coach in NFL history to reach 200 wins (including postseason), moving into seventh place all-time with 204 victories.
Two of the winningest quarterbacks in league history – PEYTON MANNING of Denver (13-3) and TOM BRADY of New England (12-4) – led their teams to the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the AFC. Manning (154) surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famers DAN MARINO (147) and JOHN ELWAY (148) for the second-most regular-season wins by a starting quarterback in NFL annals.
Meanwhile, Brady became the first starting QB in NFL history to win 10 division championships. Manning captured his ninth division title, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA for second place all-time.
And two of the NFL’s most significant single-season records fell in 2012. DREW BREES of New Orleans threw a touchdown pass in 54 consecutive games, besting Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHNNY UNITAS’ previous record of 47. Detroit’s CALVIN JOHNSON led the NFL with 1,964 receiving yards, topping Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE’s record of 1,848 set in 1995.
The NFL is never short on surprises, and that leads to the excitement we witnessed in 2012:
A record 11,651 points were scored during the 2012 season, with games averaging 45.5 points, the highest average in 47 seasons (46.1 in 1965). In all, 1,297 total touchdowns were scored, surpassing the league-wide record of 1,270, which occurred twice previously (2002, 2010).
Scoring came in all forms in 2012. An NFL-record 139 “miscellaneous” touchdowns were scored, which include all return TDs (kickoffs, punts, interceptions, fumbles and blocked kicks).
Nine teams scored at least 400 points this season – New England (557), Denver (481), New Orleans (461), Washington (436), Green Bay (433), New York Giants (429), Atlanta Falcons (419), Houston (416) and Seattle (412) – equaling the previous record set in 2008. Those nine teams combined for a .681 winning percentage, and seven qualified for the playoffs.
The Patriots became the first team in NFL history to score 500+ points in four different seasons (2007, 2010-2012) and joined the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams (1999-2001) as the only clubs to accomplish the feat in three consecutive seasons.
New England’s 557 points were the third-most of any team in a single season in NFL history.
Washington rebounded to win the NFC East after finishing in last place in 2011. This marked the NFL-record 10th consecutive season that at least one team went from “worst-to-first” in its division.
A record-tying 13 teams won 10+ games – Atlanta (13), Denver (13), Houston (12), New England (12), San Francisco (11), Green Bay (11), Indianapolis (11), Seattle (11), Baltimore (10), Chicago (10), Cincinnati (10), Minnesota (10) and Washington (10). Thirteen teams also did so in 2003, 2005 and 2010.
2011 was considered by many to be the Year of the Quarterback, but NFL QBs put together a historically proficient and prolific year in 2012.
The league-wide passer rating (85.6) and touchdown-interception ratio (1.62:1) were both at historic levels, topping the previous records set in 2011 (84.3 passer rating; 1.47:1 TD:INT ratio).
Games averaged an all-time high 694.4 total net yards per game, surpassing last year’s record (693.7). Explosive passing offenses fueled that trend, with an average of 462.6 net passing yards per game, also an all-time high (459.4 in 2011).
There were 126 individual 300-yard passing games in 2012, the most of any season in NFL history (121 in 2011).
This season, 20 of 32 NFL teams (62.5 percent) started the same quarterback in every game, the most of any season since at least 1970.
Green Bay’s AARON RODGERS (108) finished the year as the NFL leading passer for the second consecutive season and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer STEVE YOUNG (1991-94) as the only qualifying players in NFL history to post a 100+ passer rating in four consecutive seasons.
A record-tying six quarterbacks passed for 4,500+ yards – DREW BREES of New Orleans (5,177), MATTHEW STAFFORD of Detroit (4,967), TONY ROMO of Dallas (4,903), TOM BRADY of New England (4,827), MATT RYAN of Atlanta (4,719) and PEYTON MANNING of Denver (4,659) – matching last year’s total.
Twelve quarterbacks had 25+ passing touchdowns – Brees (43), Rodgers (39), P. Manning (37), Brady (34), Ryan (32), Romo (28), ANDY DALTON of Cincinnati (27), JOSH FREEMAN of Tampa Bay (27), ELI MANNING of the N.Y. Giants (26), PHILIP RIVERS of San Diego (26), BEN ROETHLISBERGER of Pittsburgh (26) and RUSSELL WILSON of Seattle (26) – equaling the record set in 2009.
PEYTON MANNING (436 TD passes, 5,082 completions) surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (420 TDs, 4,967 completions) for the second-most TD passes and completions in NFL history. He now trails only BRETT FAVRE (508 TDs, 6,300 completions) in both categories.
DREW BREES became the first player in NFL history with at least 40 touchdown passes in consecutive seasons. He also finished the season as the NFL TD pass leader, tying Favre and Pro Football Hall of Famers LEN DAWSON, JOHNNY UNITAS and STEVE YOUNG for the most seasons leading the league in touchdown passes (four).
He is the first quarterback in NFL history with consecutive 5,000-yard seasons and three career 5,000-yard seasons. Brees is the first ever to pass for 15,000 yards in a three-year span (15,273).
RUSHING & RECEIVING
Several running backs enjoyed historic seasons in 2012. Minnesota’s ADRIAN PETERSON finished with 2,097 rushing yards, the second-most in a season in league history and just nine shy of breaking Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON’s NFL record (2,105 in 1984).
Peterson recorded seven games with at least 150 rushing yards in 2012, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer EARL CAMPBELL (1980) for the most in a season in NFL history.
For the second time in his career, Houston’s ARIAN FOSTER led the league in total touchdowns (17). Since the advent of the common draft in 1967, Foster and PRIEST HOLMES are the only undrafted players to lead the NFL in TDs multiple times.
Always a big-play threat, Tennessee’s CHRIS JOHNSON produced three touchdown runs of 80+ yards, bringing his career total to an NFL all-time high of six. Kansas City’s JAMAAL CHARLES also had three 80-yard rushing TDs in 2012, joining Johnson and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back BARRY SANDERS (1997) as the only NFL players with three in a single season.
St. Louis RB STEVEN JACKSON rushed for 1,042 yards in 2012, joining LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON (eight) and Pro Football Hall of Famers THURMAN THOMAS (eight), CURTIS MARTIN (10), BARRY SANDERS (10) and EMMITT SMITH (11) as the only players in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons.
CALVIN JOHNSON became the first player in NFL history with consecutive 1,600-yard receiving seasons. He posted 49 catches in December, an NFL record for a calendar month. With 707 receiving yards in December, Johnson joined CHARLEY HENNIGAN (822 in October of 1961) as the only players in NFL history with 700+ yards in a calendar month.
Johnson’s 11 100-yard receiving games this season matched Pro Football Hall of Famer MICHAEL IRVIN’s NFL record set in 1995. His streak of eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games surpassed the previous record of seven shared by Irvin (1995) and Hennigan (1961).
2012 marked the third season in NFL history in which three players posted at least 1,500 receiving yards – CALVIN JOHNSON (1,964), ANDRE JOHNSON of Houston (1,598) and BRANDON MARSHALL of Chicago (1,508) – trailing only the 1995 season (four).
WES WELKER of the Patriots became the first player in NFL history with five 100-catch seasons (2007-09, 2011-12).
Welker and ANDRE JOHNSON each finished the season with 18 career 10-catch games, surpassing JERRY RICE (17) for the most in NFL history.
San Francisco’s RANDY MOSS (15,292) surpassed TIM BROWN (14,934) and ISAAC BRUCE (15,208) for third place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards list.
It was also a banner year for tight ends. ROB GRONKOWSKI of New England became the first TE in NFL history with 10+ TD catches in three consecutive seasons. Gronkowski has 38 touchdown catches, trailing only RANDY MOSS (43) and JERRY RICE (40) for the most of any NFL player in his first three seasons.
Atlanta’s TONY GONZALEZ became the first tight end and eighth player in NFL history to reach 100 career TD catches. He now has 103 TD receptions and moved past TIM BROWN (100) and Pro Football Hall of Famers DON HUTSON (99) and STEVE LARGENT (100) for sixth place all-time.
With 1,242 career catches, Gonzalez joined JERRY RICE (1,549) as the only players in NFL history with 1,200.
Gonzalez has 14,268 receiving yards and surpassed TORRY HOLT (13,382), HENRY ELLARD (13,777), CRIS CARTER (13,899) and JAMES LOFTON (14,004) this season for seventh place all-time.
JASON WITTEN (110) of Dallas surpassed TONY GONZALEZ (102 in 2004) for the most receptions in a season by a tight end.
Prior to 2012, the most combined wins (23), passing yards (13,060), touchdown passes (73) and completions (1,098) by rookie quarterbacks in a season all occurred in 2011. This year’s crop of rookie QBs surpassed all of those marks by a wide margin, doubling last year’s record win total (46) and combining for 20,300 passing yards, 105 TD passes and 1,713 completions.
ANDREW LUCK of Indianapolis and RUSSELL WILSON of Seattle each finished with 11 wins, joining BEN ROETHLISBERGER (13 in 2004), JOE FLACCO (11 in 2008) and MATT RYAN (11 in 2008) as the only rookie starting QBs in the Super Bowl era to win at least 11 games.
ANDREW LUCK passed for 4,374 yards, topping CAM NEWTON’s rookie record of 4,051 in 2011, and became the first rookie in NFL history with 4,000+ passing yards and 10+ wins. He also set the single-game rookie record for passing yards (433 vs. Miami on 11/4/12).
Luck’s seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime tied for the most by a starting QB in a single season, rookie or veteran, since at least 1970.
RUSSELL WILSON threw 26 TD passes, tying PEYTON MANNING’s NFL rookie record set in 1998. Wilson became the first rookie QB in the Super Bowl era to lead his team to an undefeated home record (8-0).
Washington’s ROBERT GRIFFIN III (102.4) and Seattle’s RUSSELL WILSON (100) finished the season as the NFL’s No. 3 and No. 4 leading passers, respectively. Griffin and Wilson are the only qualifying rookies in NFL history with a 100+ passer rating.
Prior to 2012, BEN ROETHLISBERGER (98.1 in 2004) and DAN MARINO (96 in 1983) were the only two qualifying rookies to post a 90+ passer rating.
Griffin is the only qualifying player in NFL history, rookie or veteran, to rush for 750+ yards and post a passer rating of 100 or better.
Washington RB ALFRED MORRIS rushed for 1,613 yards, the third-most by a rookie in NFL history (ERIC DICKERSON, 1,808 in 1983; GEORGE ROGERS, 1,674 in 1981).
Tampa Bay RB DOUG MARTIN posted 1,926 scrimmage yards, trailing only ERIC DICKERSON (2,212 in 1983) and EDGERRIN JAMES (2,139 in 1999) for the most ever by a rookie.
Washington became the first team in NFL history with a 3,000+ yard rookie passer (ROBERT GRIFFIN III) and 1,500+ yard rookie rusher (ALFRED MORRIS) in the same season.
CB JANORIS JENKINS of St. Louis tied for the NFL lead with three interception-return touchdowns, tying Pro Football Hall of Famers LEM BARNEY (1967) and RONNIE LOTT (1981) for the NFL rookie record.
There were eight individual 100-yard kickoff-return touchdowns this season, the most of any season in NFL history.
Baltimore’s JACOBY JONES, who tied the NFL record with a 108-yard kick-return touchdown in Week 6, became first player in NFL history with two career 105+ yard kick-return touchdowns. He also had a 105-yard KR-TD in Week 10.
The 2012 season marked all-time highs in 50+ yard field-goals made (92) and attempted (151), surpassing records set in 2011 (90 of 140).
Rookie K BLAIR WALSH of Minnesota converted 10 of 10 FG attempts of 50+ yards, the most in a season in NFL history (rookies and veterans).
Green Bay WR-KR RANDALL COBB became the first player in NFL history with 900+ kick-return yards (964) and 900+ receiving yards (954) in a single season.
With all that offense, defenses were heard from as well. There were a record number of interception-return touchdowns in 2012 (71), surpassing the previous record of 60 in 1967.
Chicago led the way with eight INT-TDs, tied with the 1998 Seattle Seahawks for the second-most of any team in NFL history (1961 San Diego Chargers, nine).
The Pittsburgh Steelers yielded an NFL-low 275.8 yards per game, becoming the first team to lead the league in net yards allowed in 10 different seasons.
ALDON SMITH (33.5) of San Francisco, VON MILLER (30) of Denver and J.J. WATT (26) of Houston have combined for 89.5 career sacks, the most of any trio from the same draft class in their first two NFL seasons.
Smith surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE (31) for the most sacks by a player in his first two NFL seasons since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.
Watt’s 20.5 sacks in 2012 tied Pro Football Hall of Famer LAWRENCE TAYLOR (1986) for the sixth-most in a season by any NFL player since 1982.
And Baltimore’s ED REED (1,541) surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer ROD WOODSON (1,483) for the most interception-return yards in NFL history.
Reed now has 61 career INTs, which ranks No. 10 on the all-time list.
Source: NFL Media