That dreaded time of the year has come once again: The NFL season is officially over. NFL fans have love/hate emotions when the Super Bowl comes around because it’s the biggest game of the year and probably the best. And then the Super Bowl also marks the end of the season.
The 2012-13 NFL season offered many unique turns. It started on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, with the Dallas Cowboys beating the New York Giants, 24-17. Then the final game of the season was Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, as the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, 34-31.
But in between those two games is where the interesting stuff happened. To complete the NFL season, teams and players had to overcome some things that were unexpected.
Replacement refs, bounty hunters
The teams and their fans had to overcome the lockout between the NFLRA and the NFL referees. During that three-week period, players and announcers were complaining that penalties were thrown when they shouldn’t have been. And really I can’t deny it, because there were some instances where the flags should have stayed in the refs’ pockets.
But the two sides settled their differences and ended the lockout just in time. I think there would have been a riot if the replacement refs had taken the field again following the controversial call that gave the Seattle Seahawks a 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers. Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate’s catch was ruled a touchdown and a touchback by two different replacement refs, but it ended up being ruled a touchdown.
Replacement refs aside, though, the NFL games weren’t that good any way during that three-week period.
Before the NFL season even started, there was big news that changed outcome of the season. First, the NFL reported that the New Orleans Saints had a bounty program established in their program for a couple of years. The Saints were found to have operated a slush fund that paid out bonuses, or “bounties,” for in-game performance in violation of NFL rules. The pool was alleged to have been in operation from 2009 (the year in which the Saints won Super Bowl XLVI) to 2011.
Among other things, Saints players allegedly earned bonuses for inflicting injuries on opposing players that forced them to leave games; however, none of the hits in question was ever penalized or deemed illegal by in-game officials. Players targeted during the Saints scandal included Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Matt Hasselbeck and Josh Freeman.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended former Saints Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams indefinitely, but I guess meant just one season because he was hired by the Tennessee Titans this off-season. Goodell also suspended Head Coach Sean Payton for one season, and then the Saints proved that you need a good head coach to win because they finished around last in every possible defensive category. That Saints finished with a 7-9 record and have the 15th spot in the April 25 draft.
23 overtime games and a draw
The 2012-13 NFL season also featured one of the best seasons that I’ve seen in a long time. Virtually all of the games this year were close and exciting. There weren’t a lot of blowouts, and a lot of the games came down to the last quarter. In fact, 23 games went into overtime. That included a double-overtime game in the playoffs between the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens.
Along with the games that went into overtime, the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the St. Louis Rams ended in a 24-24 draw. It was the first tie in the NFL since the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cincinnati Bengals tied at 13-13 in Week 11 during the 2008 season.
Teams went through the year playing their hearts out trying to get into the playoffs. But early on, I could tell that a lot of teams weren’t going to be in the playoff hunt or division hunt. By week 5 or 6, the teams were beginning to separate into the pretenders and the contenders.
After week 5, I felt that only about 17 teams had a shot to make the playoffs. But as the season continued, teams fell one by one. Near the end, only about 14 teams truly had a shot at the playoffs.
Of course, there were divisions that were wrapped up way before the season was even close to being over (the AFC West, the AFC East, and the NFC South). But other divisions came down to the final week of the year (the AFC North, the NFC West, and the NFC East). But the tightest race for the division was the battle was for the NFC East. That came down to the final game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. In the end, the Cowboys lost 28-18.
The NFL season this last year surpassed some of the criteria that I judge a season on. When I evaluate a season, I look at the number of blowouts, then the number of games that were decided by one possession (8 points or fewer). Then the difference between them should be greater for the one-possession games, because teams are beginning to step it up on both offense and defense to make the NFL more exciting. (That is, unless you are the Cleveland Browns, the Arizona Cardinals, the St. Louis Rams, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills, the Kansas City Chiefs, or the Oakland Raiders. Each of those teams had their fair share of blowout losses this year.)
The playoffs this year featured so many different types of playing styles. The playoffs featured running-style quarterbacks from the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins. Then you had the more conservative play-calling styles from the rest of the teams in the playoffs.
The Wild Card Round of the playoffs featured four games that were both interesting and boring. The games between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts, and the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins were all boring. They all were blowouts in their own way – the Packers won by 14, the Ravens won by 15, and the Seahawks won by 10.
But the first game between the Houston Texans and the Cincinnati Bengals was overall a really good game. The Bengals lost 19-13, but they played better than last year when they lost 31-10 to the Texans. This year, the Bengals played better defense, but their offense could have used some work. If they play the Texans next year in the Wild Card Round, maybe they’ll actually beat them.
The Divisional Round
The Divisional Round of the playoffs was more interesting than the Wild Card. In the Divisional Round, three-quarters of the games were actually interesting.
The first exciting game was between the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos. The game started fast and stayed fast the entire game. The Broncos and Ravens traded touchdown for touchdown as each team battled into the night. The teams did end up going into overtime, but neither team could score in the first overtime, and since you can’t tie in a playoff game, they had to go into a second overtime. (Yes, a double-overtime occurred in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, when the Carolina Panthers beat the St. Louis Rams, 29-23.)
But the Baltimore Ravens ended up intercepting a pass that wasn’t one of Peyton Manning’s best-thrown passes. After that, the Ravens capitalized on the Broncos’ turnover and relied on rookie Justin Tucker to kick the game-winning 47-yard field goal. That kick sent the Ravens to Foxborough to play the New England Patriots and sent the Denver Broncos home to watch the rest of the playoffs on their TVs.
The next game that was good was the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. This game featured the inexperienced 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, against a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. But the inexperience didn’t stop Kaepernick and the 49ers, as they beat the Packers 45-31 in a record-setting game. Kaepernick beat the record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback, with 181 rushing yards along with 2 rushing touchdowns.
The game in which the 49ers beat the Packers was a shootout. The 49ers and the Packers scored touchdown after touchdown in the first half, and the 49ers led 24-21 at halftime. After the break, the Packers went down and kicked a field goal to tie the game at 24. But after that, the 49ers took control of the game, scoring three touchdowns to take a 45-24 lead. The Packers cut the deficit to 45-31, thanks to a Greg Jennings 3-yard touchdown run, but the 49ers held on for the win. The win advanced the 49ers to their 6th NFC Conference Championship, and it sent the Packers back to Green Bay.
The next game was between the Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons. For the first three quarters, the game looked to be a one-sided affair. But something must have clicked inside the Seattle players’ heads as they scored 21 unanswered points in the last 15 minutes of the game. The Seahawks were down 27-7 as they entered the fourth quarter, but rookie quarterback Russell Wilson led a big comeback. The Seahawks took a 28-27 lead with around 30 seconds left in the game.
It looked like the Falcons would once again be going home early in the playoffs, and Falcons’ Quarterback Matt Ryan, Tight End Tony Gonzalez and Head Coach Mike Smith would still have to wait to get their first playoff win. But the Falcons scored a field goal with 8 seconds left in the game to take a 30-28 lead, which ended up being the final score.
The final game was between the Houston Texans and the New England Patriots. Well, this really wasn’t a game because the Patriots obliterated the Texans 41-28. The Texans came into the game after beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round. The Patriots had the first round off, but it didn’t seem to bother them at all because they came out clicking on all cylinders. Even though the Texans scored first, 3-0, that didn’t stop the Patriots as they scored 17 points, and took a 17-13 lead into halftime. The second half was even more boring than the first, because the Patriots scored 24 more points as they won 41-28.
That game set up the AFC Championship game between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots.
The Conference Championships
The NFC Championship game featured two quarterbacks who had never played in this game before as the Atlanta Falcons took on the San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons came into the game with the best record in all NFL, and the 49ers came into the game with one of the most explosive and unpredictable quarterbacks.
The Falcons did jump out to a quick 10-0 lead as they shut the 49ers out of the first quarter. Nearly halfway through the second quarter, the 49ers finally broke the end-zone, as they scored a touchdown. Both the Falcons and the 49ers scored two touchdowns in the quarter, and the Falcons took a 24-14 lead into halftime. In the second half, however, the 49ers shut out the Falcons and went on to win the game, 28-24. The Falcons were so close to getting to the Super Bowl, but the quickly stomped out that dream. With the win, the 49ers made it to their 6th Super Bowl in franchise history.
In the AFC Championship game, the New England Patriots welcomed the Baltimore Ravens to Foxborough. The Patriots scored first, but that hardly ever matters. The Patriots scored a field goal late in the 1st quarter, and followed that with a touchdown and another field goal. The Ravens scored a touchdown in the 2nd quarter, so the teams headed into the locker rooms at halftime with the Patriots leading, 13-7. In the second half, the Ravens scored three more touchdowns and shut out the Patriots to win the game, 28-13.
The Super Bowl
So the big game came down to the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, which meant the brothers Jim Harbaugh (the 49ers) and John Harbaugh (the Ravens) would coach against each other. It would be first time other that brothers would play or coach against one another in the Super Bowl. (For the longest time, I had thought that the two brothers to set this record in a Super Bowl would be the Manning brothers – Peyton and Eli, of course).
After the Ravens outscored the 49ers 21-6 in the first half, I felt certain that they were going to be Super Bowl champs. The Ravens had scored on three touchdown passes from quarterback Joe Flacco, while the 49ers had settled for two field goals from kicker David Akers.
The second half opened with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones. But shortly after the 49ers took the ball for the first time in the second half, a power outage halted the game. The game was on hold for 34 minutes as stadium officials tried to restore the power, and the unexpected stoppage in play basically gave the teams a bonus halftime.
After the blackout ended, the 49ers came out firing on all cylinders and outscored the Ravens 17-0 in the remainder of the third quarter. The score was now 28-23, in favor of the Ravens.
In the fourth quarter, however, the 49ers couldn’t break the end-zone until Kaepernick ran one in from 15 yards out. The 49ers then went for a two-point conversion and didn’t get it. The Ravens got the ball back, drove down the field and tried to run as much time off the clock as they could, finishing with a field goal with 4:19 left in the game to make the score 34-29.
The 49ers did drive down the field and got inside the 5-yard line, but the Ravens defense made four great stands, not allowing the 49ers into the end-zone. The Ravens ran the ball 3 straight times to run the clock down, and held the punt in the end-zone for as long as they could. The 49ers got a safety out of it, but it also took a lot of time off of the clock.
The score after the 49ers’ safety was 34-31, and the Ravens still had to punt the ball back to the 49ers. But they couldn’t do anything with the return because they only had 4 seconds to work with. So the Ravens held on to win the game, and John Harbaugh beat his brother, Jim, in the Super Bowl.
I can only hope that the 2013-14 NFL season will be as good as the 2012-2013 season.