by Barry Wilner
AP Pro Football Writer

The official NFL awards will be handed out during Super Bowl week. The offbeat ones are being handed out now.


The season began with some sensational, down-to-the-wire matchups, including the overall opener, Green Bay’s 42-34 win over New Orleans. It’s also hard to forget Detroit’s stunning rally for a 34-30 win at Dallas in Week 4.

BEST MOVE INTO END ZONE— Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson (89) flips over Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington (58) for a touchdown, Dec. 24, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

But for sheer impact, we have to go with two Tebow moments: Denver’s 18-15 win at Miami in its sixth game and, seven weeks later, the 13-10 win over Chicago—both in overtime.

Against the Dolphins in his first start of 2011, Tebow was awful until it mattered. He sparked the Broncos by throwing two TD passes in the final 2:44, though, and ran in a 2-point conversion with 17 seconds to go, forcing OT. Denver won on Matt Prater’s 52-yard field goal. That ignited Tebowmania, and Denver kept delivering frantic rallies. But the magic seemed to run out against the Bears.

Not quite. After failing to score on their first dozen possessions, the Broncos erased a 10-0 deficit in the final 2:08 of regulation. Tebow’s 10-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas got them closer, and with Chicago trying to run out the clock, Marion Barber inexplicably went out of bounds. That saved enough time, 53 seconds, for Tebow to guide them in range for Prater’s 59-yard kick to force overtime. And with the Bears in field goal range in the extra period, Barber fumbled. From there, it was simply a matter of time before Tebow got Prater close enough, and Prater’s 51-yard field goal won it.

We’re still trying to catch our breath.


Few games are more energizing to watch than great defensive battles. Cleveland’s 6-3 victory over Seattle in October was not one of those.Instead, it was virtually unwatchable.

Seattle was without QB Tarvaris Jackson, then lost RB Marshawn Lynch to a back injury—during pregame warmups. That the Seahawks even managed to score with 1:37 yards of offense was remarkable. The teams combined for 15 penalties, three turnovers, and only Phil Dawson’s two field goals of over 50 yards stood out.


Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, among the most exciting rookies to enter the league in a long time, has run back four punts for touchdowns, tying an NFL record. His 99-yarder to beat the Rams in overtime tops them all. Peterson fielded the ball at the 1, avoided and then bounced off tacklers over the next 30 yards, then sped past everyone.

“I was like, ‘This team needs a play,’” Peterson said. “I decided to catch the ball and just run for my life.”


The shift from also-ran and nonplayoff team since 2002 began when the 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh from Stanford. He brought a fresh, competitive attitude, found a way to make QB Alex Smith more than functional and had San Francisco believing in itself from Day 1 of training camp.


Tampa Bay went from 10-6 as the youngest team in the league to still young, but 4-11 and in total disrepair. Even the Bucs’ best players regressed this year.


The Eagles “won” free agency with the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Steve Smith and Vince Young. That had them, uh, dreaming of big things.

They wound up being big busts, by far the most underachieving squad in the league—and in Andy Reid’s tenure.


A rookie quarterback (Andy Dalton) throwing to a rookie wideout (A.J. Green) after much offseason turmoil is not the recipe for success in the NFL. Yet, if the lowly regarded Bengals beat Baltimore on Sunday, they head to the playoffs. Give a ton of credit to the coaching staff led by Marvin Lewis.


It’s hard to distinguish between Steelers LB James Harrison, the first player suspended (one game) for an illegal hit (on Browns QB Colt McCoy) under the NFL’s stricter guidelines, or Lions DT Ndamukong Suh (two games) for his stomping on Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving Day.


Making like an Olympic gymnast, Bengals WR Jerome Simpson vaulted over Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington, landed on his feet for a touchdown, then raised both arms for sticking the landing.

“A lot of the guys gave me a 10 on it,” Simpson said. “I think it was like a 9 maybe, because I touched the ground (with the hand) a little bit.”



Since ESPN put together its Monday night trio of Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski, this has been no contest. Tirico is the smoothest of play-by-play announcers who also offers some insight and raises controversial issues. He brings out the best in his highly opinionated and insightful partners, and their sense of humor isn’t forced.


NBC’s “Football Night in America,” in part because it’s no yukfest, as are nearly all the other shows, but mainly for its willingness to tackle tough topics. Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison have no peers as commentators about the games and the sport itself.


“It’s chaos out there. A lot is going on more than you see. It’s like ‘The Matrix’ out there with a little bit of ‘Inception.’ It’s a little bit crazy.”—Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs, a movie buff, describing the action after he had three sacks in a 24-10 win over Indianapolis.

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