2012 Midseason Report (cont.)
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE -- Doug Martin destroys the Raiders: Born in Oakland and raised in Stockton, Calif., the Bucs rookie running back made a historic homecoming in Tampa Bay's 42-32 slugfest road win against the Raiders in Week 9. Martin ran for a team-record 251 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries, the NFL's 10th-best rushing performance of all time.
He became the league's first player to record at least three rushing touchdowns of more than 45 yards (45, 67, 70 yards) in the same game, and all four of his touchdowns and 220 of his rushing yards came in the second half. Martin and former Denver running back Mike Anderson are the only backs to ever rush for at least 250 yards and score four times in a game. Not bad for a guy who lasted until the 31st pick in the draft.
-- Kudos to: Reggie Wayne's 13-catch, 212-yard, one-touchdown day in the Colts' Week 5 upset of Green Bay beats out the monster games turned in by Miami receiver Brian Hartline and Dallas tight end Jason Witten, both of which came in losses.
WORST COLLECTIVE PERFORMANCE -- Arizona's offensive line charged with attempted murder of Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb: In a 17-3 Week 5 loss in St. Louis, the Cardinals' dreadful (and dangerous) offensive line stood by like paying spectators as Kolb absorbed nine sacks and several other bruising hits. Kolb's helmet flew off on two of the sacks, leaving him bloodied and battered, but fortunately his head somehow stayed intact. It was that showing that started Arizona's current five-game losing streak.
-- Kudos to: Not to pick on the Cardinals offense or offensive line, but Arizona managed just 7 yards rushing in a 24-3 Week 8 loss at home against San Francisco, the lowest rushing total by a 49ers opponent since 1972.
TEASE OF THE YEAR -- The Cardinals' wild ride: Arizona's wholly unexpected 4-0 start disappeared faster than an ice cube in the desert, with the Cardinals now on a five-game losing streak since beating Miami in overtime at home in Week 4. In the course of its slide, Arizona has somehow managed to lose to quarterbacks who completed all of seven passes (the Rams' Sam Bradford) and eight passes (the Vikings' Christian Ponder).
-- Kudos to: Dallas went into the Giants' backyard in Week 1 and became the first visitor to ever knock off the defending Super Bowl champion in the NFL's annual regular-season kickoff game. But after hitting that high to start the year, the Cowboys have again flat-lined, losing five of their next seven games to sit 3-5 at the turn.
I WISH I WOULDN'T HAVE DONE THAT AWARD -- Ryan Kalil puts his money where his mouth is: I liked the confidence the Panthers veteran center showed in his team, but as it turns out, it was the wrong year to buy a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer predicting/promising a Super Bowl run in Carolina. And he should have known that. It was in all the papers.
-- Kudos to: For being such a smart guy, why did Calvin Johnson want to go and mess with the Madden cover curse? The Lions superstar receiver has just one touchdown catch this season (15 fewer than last year), and three times already this year has been held to 54 receiving yards or less in a game. And there's his balky left knee to contend with as well.
IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT AWARD -- Andy Reid fires defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, fixes what ain't broke: The Eagles' primary problem this season hasn't been their defense, so it was more than a bit curious for the embattled Philly head coach to lower the boom on Castillo during the team's Week 7 bye. It wasn't exactly a miracle cure for what ails the Eagles. That week at home against undefeated Atlanta, Philadelphia allowed the Falcons to score on their first six possessions en route to a 30-17 defeat, dropping the Eagles to 3-4 on the season. As first impressions go, new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' debut was a dud.
-- Kudos to: Carolina canned longtime general manager Marty Hurney the day after a disheartening home loss to Dallas in Week 7, and even Hurney understood the Panthers' lack of success since 2008 made him extremely vulnerable. But timing-wise, firing a GM in the middle of the season is mostly a "do-something'' move made to appease the football gods (i.e., the fans and media).
TAKE THAT AWARD -- 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick shows Tim Tebow and the Jets how it's done: It had to leave a bit of a mark on the bruised psyches of the Jets when San Francisco, with great success, used its second-year No. 2 quarterback in the Wildcat formation role that was supposed to be Tebow's calling card this season. In the 49ers' 34-0 road spanking of New York in Week 4, Kaepernick carried five times for 50 yards, opening the day's scoring with a 7-yard touchdown that stood up as the game-winning points. Tebow was virtually a non-factor in the same game. Ouch.
-- Kudos to: The Ravens in Week 3 got revenge on the Patriots for their bitter three-point AFC title game loss in Foxboro last January, winning 31-30 on a final-play 27-yard field goal by rookie kicker Justin Tucker. You know who Tucker replaced in Baltimore, don't you? Veteran kicker Billy Cundiff, he of the unspeakable 32-yard shank job that would have sent the AFC Championship into overtime.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER -- Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta: Peyton Manning is making an impressive case for himself week by week, but Ryan has been the best player on the league's best team in the first half, and that still defines the MVP requirements for me. His play has been both consistent and clutch, and Atlanta's 8-0 record speaks volumes.
-- Kudos to: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver.
-- My preseason pick: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR -- Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay: Ryan, Manning, Adrian Peterson or Percy Harvin all would be solid choices, but let's not overlook the season Rodgers is having for a Packers team that has won four in a row. His 2,383 yards passing, 25 touchdowns, five interceptions and 107.4 rating are going to put him into the MVP discussion once again if Green Bay keeps winning.
-- Kudos to: Peyton Manning.
-- My preseason pick: Rodgers.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR -- J.J. Watt, DE, Houston: Watt has emerged as the league's preeminent impact defender in just his second season, with a league-leading 10.5 sacks, 39 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 10 pass deflections, several of which have turned into interceptions for teammates. And Watt is doing it all in the less-glamorous 3-4 defensive end role, which means he gets double-teamed at times and plays inside on plenty of downs. Watt is the rare three-down defender who can both stuff the run and harass the passer, and there's no apparent weakness in his game.
-- Kudos to: Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago.
-- My preseason pick: Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR -- Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington: Andrew Luck has his Colts in playoff contention, but Griffin's spectacular debut doesn't deserve to take a backseat to anyone. Griffin has thrown for eight touchdowns and rushed for six more, and his 93.9 passer rating and 65.6 completion percentage are significantly better than Luck's (79.0 and 56.5). With 1,993 yards passing and 529 yards rushing, Griffin has been a playmaking force.
-- Kudos to: Andrew Luck.
-- My preseason pick: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR -- Chandler Jones, DE, New England: The former Syracuse star has provided instant impact to a Patriots defense starved for playmakers. His six sacks, three forced fumbles and 33 tackles in eight games put him in the pole position for the top defensive rookie honor at the season's mid-point.
-- Kudos to: Casey Hayward, CB, Green Bay.
-- My preseason pick: Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR -- Peyton Manning, QB, Denver: Given his lingering neck issues of 2011 and early 2012, it's almost ridiculous how well Manning is playing for his first-place Broncos. He keeps telling us he's still not 100 percent, but at this rate, who needs perfection? It's almost unfair to not split this award between Manning and Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who leads the league in rushing with 957 yards just a little more than 10 months after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery. Peterson is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and is on pace for his best season since 2008.
-- Kudos to: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota.
-- My preseason pick: NA.
COACH OF THE YEAR -- Bruce Arians/Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis: Another major quandary in my book. How do you overlook the remarkable pinch-hitting job turned in by both the Colts' interim head coach Bruce Arians, and by Pagano, who has clearly provided the inspirational fuel and intensity for 5-3 Indianapolis, the turnaround story of the year thus far in the NFL? I'm saluting both men, and I think it's fair to say this unusual arrangement has worked a whole lot better than the Aaron Kromer-Joe Vitt coaching tandem in New Orleans.
-- Kudos to: Mike Smith, Atlanta.
-- My preseason pick: Gary Kubiak, Houston.
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR OF THE YEAR -- Rod Marinelli, Chicago: I don't know how you do better than what the Bears have produced on defense this season: Seven interceptions returned for touchdowns, 28 takeaways in eight games, and just 10 touchdowns allowed. With a dominating run defense and maybe the best duo of cornerbacks in the game (Tillman and Tim Jennings), there are monsters on the Midway once again in Chicago.
-- Kudos to: Mike Nolan, Atlanta.
-- My preseason pick: NA.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR OF THE YEAR: Dirk Koetter, Atlanta: The Falcons' new offensive coordinator has instilled an aggressive, pedal-to-the-metal approach and it's working. Using the same players that former Falcons OC Mike Mularkey had at his disposal, Koetter is getting much more explosive results, and eye-popping production out of quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
-- Kudos to: Mike Sherman, Miami.
-- My preseason pick: NA.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Rick Smith, general manager, Houston: Love the work new Colts GM Ryan Grigson has done in Indy (especially re-signing Reggie Wayne) and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff also deserves credit for building the foundation that Atlanta is thriving on. But Smith gets the nod for bold moves that have all worked out: Trading locker room favorite DeMeco Ryans to Philly, not bidding for the over-valued Mario Williams in free agency and cutting the popular Eric Winston. At 7-1, the Texans are the AFC Super Bowl front-runner.
-- Kudos to: Ryan Grigson, general manager, Indianapolis.
-- My preseason pick: NA.