The 2012 season will forever be remembered as the year of the rookie quarterback, as a trio of rookies led their respective teams into the postseason: Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III with the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson with the Seattle Seahawks.
Each became the talk of the league at one point or another: Luck for his seven fourth-quarter comeback victories, Griffin for his incredible highlight-reel combination of passing and running and Wilson for his late-game and late-season brilliance.
Oh, and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took over for the veteran Alex Smith in the middle of the season, leading the 49ers to within three points of a Super Bowl title. Kaepernick was technically a second-year player but he's had even less playing time than the three rookies.
But those four weren't the only quarterbacks filling the stat sheets and setting records. They were just the most talked-about.
Overall, the 2012 year was a wild one for quarterbacks.
Peyton Manning rebounded from four neck surgeries to come within a few votes of collecting his fifth Most Valuable Player award. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees turned in their usual dominant seasons but failed to add another Super Bowl title to their already-impressive resumes. Matt Ryan enjoyed a breakout season, as well as his first playoff victory.
And, of course, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco became the surprising Super Bowl champion after a historic postseason run that saw him throw 11 touchdowns against zero interceptions, equaling Joe Montana's brilliance from 1989. The NFC's equivalent of Eli Manning, Flacco will undoubtedly receive one of the largest contracts in NFL history this offseason.
The following 10 slides will highlight the most shocking, surprising and even ridiculous stats by quarterbacks this season, beginning in reverse order.
Josh Freeman has had arguably the most inconsistent career of any starting quarterback in the NFL. He was brutal as a rookie in 2009. He excelled in 2010. He really regressed in 2011. And he turned back into an efficient passer in 2012.
Or so it seems.
Yes, Freeman threw for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns this year. But that doesn't mean he had a good year. He didn't.
Freeman's completion percentage dropped a ridiculous eight points, from 62.8 to 54.8. He tossed 17 interceptions, including eight in a two-game span late in the season.
Expectations were high for the Buccaneers this season, and if you had seen how rookie running back Doug Martin and veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson performed, you would have thought this team had a pretty good chance of reaching the playoffs. Nope. Freeman's struggles in December were the biggest reason why the Bucs fell from 6-4 to 7-9.
Not even the Washington Redskins could have expected rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III to turn in the type of season he had in 2012. RGIII earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after leading the Redskins from a 3-6 record to a 10-6 finish and a division title.
The 22-year-old rookie tossed 20 touchdowns, led the league in interception percentage and posted a 102.4 passer rating. He also rushed 120 times for 815 yards and seven scores.
Along the way, he became the first player in NFL history to lead the league in yards per attempts as a passer and a runner in the same season.
Think about that. RGIII averaged 8.1 yards per pass attempt and 6.8 yards per rush attempt. That's incredible.
The demise of Cam Newton was greatly exaggerated.
All the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year did was turn in a season extremely similar to his 2011 campaign. He threw for 3,867 yards and 19 touchdowns, and averaged 7.9 yards per pass attempt.
Oh, and he rushed 127 times for 741 yards and eight scores. In two seasons, Newton has now played all 32 games despite carrying the ball 250 times, more than any quarterback in history in a two-year span.
Not only did I think Matt Flynn would win the starting job in training camp, I thought the Seattle Seahawks quarterback would be a borderline Pro Bowler in 2012. I was very wrong.
Despite signing a three-year, $19.5 million contract during the offseason, including $10 million guaranteed, Flynn entered the season as the backup. We all know what happened next.
Wilson threw 26 touchdowns, rushed for almost 500 yards and led the Seahawks to an 11-5 record. Flynn, on the other hand, threw nine passes all season.
He'll be 28 years old this offseason and there doesn't appear to be a lot of interest around the league in Flynn. He may end up never having the opportunity to start in the NFL.
The Alex Smith story had already been pretty interesting before Jim Harbaugh came along, as the former No. 1 overall draft pick played for six different offensive coordinators in his first six seasons. In 2011, he turned into one of the more efficient passers in the league, thanks to Harbaugh.
Smith led the 49ers to within a game of the Super Bowl and expectations were through the roof for 49ers fans in 2012.
But Smith suffered a concussion in midseason, when the Niners were 6-2-1. We all know what happened next. Colin Kaepernick took the reigns and the 49ers became the most complete team in the NFL, eventually advancing to the Super Bowl.
The fascinating aspect is just how well Smith had been playing when he was benched. Let's look at his numbers. He had completed a ridiculous 70.2 percent of his passes, tossing 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. His 104.1 passer rating would be the third-highest mark in the league if he had thrown enough passes to qualify.
In fact, Smith's second-to-last game as the 49ers starter was the best of his career. He completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards, three touchdowns and a near-perfect passer rating.
The average fan looks at Andrew Luck's passing statistics and thinks he's a below-average passer. Nothing stands out. He completes just 54 percent of his passes. He threw 18 interceptions. His passer rating is just 76.5.
But Luck's numbers don't even begin to tell the story. For starters, he ranked 11th in the NFL with a 64.99 QBR. His average pass traveled the second-farthest distance in the league. He led seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. And he played with a very weak offensive supporting cast and one of the worst offensive lines in the league.
There's a reason Luck was selected to a Pro Bowl this year, despite ranking 26th in passer rating. Expect the Colts quarterback to be one of the game's best for the next 15 seasons.
Joe Flacco's 2012 season is so similar to Eli Manning's 2007 season.
Each quarterback had posted very mediocre numbers until taking a low-seeded postseason team to an unlikely Super Bowl title. Each earned the Super Bowl MVP honors with a tremendous performance.
The difference is that Eli's Super Bowl success helped him become a very efficient regular-season passer. He has earned three Pro Bowl selections in the past five years, plus a second Super Bowl title.
That's obviously going to be Flacco's goal. The Ravens' quarterback will undoubtedly receive one of the largest contracts in NFL history this offseason. He now needs to show that he can play well in the regular season too.
In 2012, Flacco posted the 25th-best QBR in the league. By comparison, Christian Ponder finished 17th and Jake Locker finished 24th.
The whole "Joe Flacco is elite" talk doesn't really make a whole lot of sense right now because the Ravens quarterback has yet to even reach a Pro Bowl. In 2012, he was in the bottom-tier of regular-season starting quarterbacks. All that has been forgotten by most following his Super Bowl title.
Running back Adrian Peterson turned in one of the most historic seasons by a running back in NFL history, carrying 348 times for a ridiculous 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns. His six yards per carry played the biggest factor in him becoming the first running back to win the league MVP since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
By comparison, quarterback Christian Ponder averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt. Until the final day of the season, a 37-34 shootout with the Green Bay Packers that clinched a postseason berth for the Vikings, Peterson's yards per carry was higher than Ponder's.
That's insane. This is 2012, where the quarterback position has become so valuable that a team would swap three first-round draft picks to move up four spots in the draft, like the Washington Redskins did to grab RGIII.
Ponder is one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. I can only imagine how poor his numbers would be if he had no running game to lean on.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson played in all 16 games in 2012. He attempted just 393 passes. I looked it up. No quarterback has played in every game and thrown as few passes since the Atlanta Falcons asked Michael Vick to attempt just 388 passes in 2006.
But unlike Vick, who was very limited as a passer, Wilson turned in some phenomenal passing numbers. He ranked second in the league in touchdown percentage, tossing 26 touchdowns. He ranked fourth in yards per pass attempt, recorded a 100.0 passer rating and led five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, including three touchdown passes in the final minute of regulation or overtime.
Oh, and he added 489 rushing yards and five scores on the ground. It doesn't compare to the 1,039 yards that Vick rushed for in 2006. But one of the big reasons for Vick's high rushing totals was his inconsistencies as a passer.
No quarterback should ever have to throw the football as much as the Detroit Lions made Matthew Stafford throw in 2012. Stafford attempted 727 passes, shattering Drew Bledsoe's previous single-season record of 691, set in 1994.
His numbers went way down from his breakout season of 2011. In fact, his decline was alarming. He tossed just 20 touchdowns after throwing 41 the previous year. His passing yards hovered around 5,000 again, but his completion percentage dropped from 63.5 to 59.8, his yards per attempt fell from 7.6 to 6.8 and his passer rating dipped from 97.2 to 79.8.
The lone highlight for the Lions was Calvin Johnson breaking the single-season record for receiving yards, with 1,964, but it didn't mean much as Detroit fell from a 10-6 playoff team to a 4-12 last-place team.