Photo Credit: Colts.com
Often lost in the highlight reels featuring amazing one-handed catches or clutch throws is the fact that, since its creation, the National Football League has relied on moments that define each and every season.
The late Steve Sabol documented many of those moments in the NFL Films that so many grew up watching.
Thus far, the 2012 season has not been short of memorable moments. The men that take the field each and every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday have provided fans with the moments that will be undoubtedly etched in the minds of those that have witnessed them.
With the five weeks left in the regular season and the post-season just around the corner, there will undoubtedly be more moments that leave fans talking for years to come.
Until those moments unfold on television screens across the country, these are the top 10 moments of the 2012 NFL season.
It has been quite some time since a single player has dominated an entire unit the way that Doug Martin did against the Oakland Raiders defense in Week 9.
Piling up 251 yards on the ground and scoring four touchdowns, Martin introduced himself to a country of football fans who may not have heard of him before. It was the type of statement game, not only for Martin but for his team as well, that fuels a franchise towards a playoff run.
Since then, the rookie tailback has been virtually unstoppable and is one of the three front-runners for Rookie of the Year honors. Regardless of whether the postseason is in the cards for the Buccaneers in 2012, the franchise should be incredibly happy to know they have a franchise running back, barring any serious injury, for the next 10 years.
When Alex Smith suffered a concussion early in a Week 10 against St. Louis, second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick stepped in and did an admirable job leading the team to a tie against a Rams team that had clearly out-played the Niners all day.
Few could have expected what would come one week later, when Kaepernick would get the start for NFC West leading San Francisco against one of the truly great defenses in the league, the vaunted Chicago Bears. Most thought the Bears would harass Kaepernick into making mistakes and pound the 49ers offense en route to victory.
Kaepernick proved analysts and fans wrong by picking apart the Bears, keeping the stout defensive unit on edge with his ability to complete the deep pass and run the ball in ways incumbent QB Alex Smith could not. Completing 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns, he also picked up an additional 10 yards on the ground, doing just enough to remind Brian Urlacher and crew of the danger that his feet pose.
It was the type of moment that signals the changing of the guard for a team. Regardless of whether Colin Kaepernick is the long-term answer at the position for San Francisco remains a mystery, but for this year, the team’s Super Bowl chances may very well rest on his shoulders.
Everyone, at some point, knows what it feels like to have a loved one die. There is often chaos, confusion, family needs to tend to and a long list of arrangements that must be completed. It is an extremely difficult process for a family to endure, but imagine being a star wide receiver for a top NFL team faced with the decision of staying home to assist his family or play in a nationally televised football game.
Smith chose to play in one of the bigger games of the early season, a Week 3 showdown with the New England Patriots.
And play he did.
Smith was phenomenal for the AFC North-leading Ravens, tallying six receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns. In a game that was decided by a last-second field goal, the play of the second-year wideout proved to be the difference.
In a performance unlike any since Brett Favre’s memorable Monday night game against Oakland just 24 hours removed from the death of his father, Smith paid a tremendous tribute to his brother and proved just how reliable he is to the rest of his teammates.
In the five years prior to the start of the 2012 season, there had been no worse team in the National Football League than the St. Louis Rams. Once considered the “Greatest Show on Turf,” the team had become a show even its own fans no longer wanted to watch. It was just plain bad.
The arrival of a decorated coach, however, gave fans reason for hope.
In Week 5, the undefeated Arizona Cardinals entered the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, the heavy favorites in an NFL Network Thursday Night Football contest. It did not take long for analysts and odds makers to realize just how wrong they were.
The Rams battered, beat and abused quarterback Kevin Kolb for four quarters, sacking him nine times and knocking him down a number of others. Constantly in his face, Chris Long and Robert Quinn dominated the game and lead the Rams to a 17-3 victory. It put the team at 3-2.
It was the first time the team had been above .500 since 2006. No, that is not a typo.
With NFL Network analysts Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk on hand to witness the game, the Rams players and fans brought to the Dome an energy that had not been seen since those two players lit up the scoreboard in the late '90s, early 2000s.
It was a major step in what the team hopes is a return to championship form under new coach Jeff Fisher.
There have been few quarterbacks as consistently great as Drew Brees has been since signing with the New Orleans Saints in 2006. He remains an example of class in an organization that has seen its fair share of controversy over the last twelve months. On October 7, he added another accomplishment to his illustrious career.
Entering a Sunday night game against his former team, the San Diego Chargers, Brees needed one touchdown to surpass legendary, Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame QB Johnny Unitas’ record of 47 consecutive games with a passing touchdown. It was once believed to be an untouchable record but, with the help of an extremely talented supporting cast, Brees found himself on the doorstep of history.
With receivers in trips formation, Brees hit Devery Henderson for a 40-yard touchdown pass, cementing himself in history as the only player to pass for a touchdown in 48 consecutive games.
The streak would reach 54 games before a Week 13 loss to Atlanta brought it to an end.
In a season where there has not been a lot to be excited about for Saints fans, Drew Brees’ continued excellence is one thing that they should be incredibly thankful for.
Entering the season, there were many that did not quite know what to make of Heisman Trophy winner, and the No. 2 overall draft pick out of Baylor, Robert Griffin III. Would his play translate to the NFL game? Was there enough of a resume to warrant his selection at No. 2 by the Redskins?
RGIII wasted little time erasing any doubts, becoming one of the league’s handful of very talented rookie quarterbacks to make an immediate impact this season. Perhaps his finest game, however, came on Thanksgiving night against a Dallas Cowboys team that had become synonymous with the holiday.
The Baylor alum became the youngest quarterback to ever accomplish a passer rating of 131.8, passing for 304 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception. And while his statistics were phenomenal, the poise with which he handled the high-pressure situation that was a nationally-televised Thanksgiving day game was that much more impressive. He played on a completely differently level than the opposition, and it resulted in a Redskins victory.
As fans watched the Baltimore Ravens offense line up to go for it on fourth-and-twenty-nine in a Week 12 game against the San Diego Chargers, most assumed the game was over. After all, San Diego had held the Ravens offense in check all game and was on the verge of an upset victory that would keep slim playoff hopes alive.
Joe Flacco hiked the ball and…checked it down to running back Ray Rice. Surely the short dump-off out of the back field would be covered by the Chargers defensemen, especially since Rice was the best player on the field. That was not the case.
Players charged straight ahead at Rice, who made them look foolish by popping his hips and running diagonally. Just barely 29 yards later and the Ravens had picked up a first down and were in position to score the game-tying field goal.
In overtime, Baltimore escaped with 16-13 win.
The victory kept the Ravens atop of the AFC North and gave them a sizeable cushion over second-place Pittsburgh. If this is the year that Flacco and Rice lead the team to the promised land that is the Super Bowl, they will look back at the improbable play as one of the keys to achieving the goal they set prior to the season.
In September, Colts rookie head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancerous disease that would cause him to be sidelined for up to six months. What looked like a promising season for the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, what with the arrival of rookie sensation Andrew Luck and renewed energy and excitement around a Colts organization that had been the worst in football a year earlier, had been met by tragedy.
On November 4, the Colts defeated a very tough Miami Dolphins team and catapulted themselves into playoff contention. After the game, interim coach (and offensive coordinator) Bruce Arians surprised the team with an appearance by Pagano.
Rather than trying to do his emotional speech to the team justice, I will let the video do the talking.
Pagano addressing his team was a moment for a young Colts squad that provided motivation. With five games left in the season, they are firmly positioned for an AFC Wild Card spot, something few analysts or fans could have ever expected. With their coach on their minds and in their hearts, the Colts players will look to continue their unlikely run toward the postseason where maybe, just maybe, Coach Pagano will be able to join them on the sideline.
Heading into the season, the most prominent question on everyone’s mind was whether a ragtag collection of replacement officials could competently call National Football League games without affecting their outcome.
The world got its answer on September 24, when Russell Wilson lobbed a “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone for Golden Tate and it was intercepted by Green Bay Packer M.D. Jennings.
Or was it?
The referees ruled simultaneous possession and awarded the touchdown to Seattle, despite everyone and their mothers being able to see that Jennings had secured the interception. The ruling created outrage from fans of the Packers, as well as fans of the game in general and sparked a demand for the return of the regular officials.
Just days later, the NFL would come to an agreement that would get the trained officials back on the field. Unfortunately, the botched call cost the Green Bay Packers a victory. It was a major black eye for a League so considered with upholding its integrity.
Two months later and one game out of first place in the NFC North, that game is that much more vital.
There are moments in sports that transcend the game. These are moments that make people, regardless of their devotion to team or player, come together for a greater cause, to appreciate life and what they have. Sometimes the moments involve the players on the field, sometimes they involve the coaches or an owner of a given team.
On November 25, the Indianapolis community and two incredibly dedicated, brave and selfless Colts cheerleaders came together to create one of those moments.
In the weeks prior to the Week 12 Indianapolis-Buffalo game, Colts cheerleader Megan M. had accepted a challenge from team mascot Blue, promising to shave her head if the community raised $10,000 for leukemia research. The people of Indianapolis responded, overwhelmingly, raising well-over $20,000 and, being a woman of her word, Megan followed through on her promise.
The night before the much-publicized haircut was to go down, fellow cheerleader Crystal Anne agreed to join her friend. Crystal Anne, herself, had survived leukemia at an early age.
In an occupation where appearance is very important, the fact that two beautiful young women with no connection to Coach Pagano other than the fact that he coaches the team they cheer for, would take such a step to help fund research for the disease he is currently recovering from, is a testament to their internal beauty and the quality of people they are.
Megan, not looking for notoriety or attention, would tell Fox News the following day:
I just shaved my head. These people are going through the battle for their life and they’re really the ones who deserve all the praise.
Making things that much more special was the fact that head coach Chuck Pagano was in attendance to watch the cheerleaders prove their dedication for the cause.
It was the latest honorable step by the entire Colts organization and the larger Indianapolis community to honor their leader as he fights a disease that has taken a countless number of lives. While there will be a number of plays throughout the reminder of the regular season and the playoffs, it was one selfless act of kindness that took place off the field that is the best moment of the 2012 season.