AP FILE PHOTO In this Sept. 24 photo, a replacement official signals a touchdown by Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate, obscured, on the last play of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Seattle. The Seahawks won 14-12.
By BARRY WILNER
The Associated Press
The MVP, Coach of the Year and Comeback Player awards will be handed out by The Associated Press the night before the Super Bowl. On national television. Hosted by Alec Baldwin.
The following aren’t official awards in any manner. Nor are some of them coveted. Nonetheless, some offbeat honors (and dishonors) for 2012:
Redskins 31, Ravens 28, OT, Dec. 9
A scintillating back-and-forth game with lots of playoff implications.
AFC North leader Baltimore built a 28-20 lead on Ray Rice’s 7-yard run with 4:52 remaining. Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III led his team downfield despite hurting his right knee, hitting Pierre Garcon for 22 yards. Griffin then was called for intentional grounding and could no longer continue. RG3 eventually limped to the sideline as another rookie, Kirk Cousins, replaced him.
Bang — Cousins connects with Leonard Hankerson for 15 yards, then Garcon for an 11-yard TD with 36 seconds remaining. The untested QB ran in the 2-point conversion to tie it.
Richard Crawford returned an OT punt 64 yards to set up Kai Forbath’s 34-yard field goal for the win.
Runner-up: San Francisco blew a 31-3 second-half lead at New England, then wakes up to beat the Patriots 41-34.
Browns 20, Steelers 14, Nov. 25
The Steelers turned it over eight times — yes eight — including five fumbles and three interceptions from backup quarterback Charlie Batch, playing for injured starter Ben Roethlisberger and No. 2 QB Byron Leftwich. Yet the Browns were so inept that Pittsburgh still had a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh fumbled on the final play during a series of laterals.
Runner-up: The Monday night mess when Tennessee outlasted the New York Jets 14-10 as Mark Sanchez was responsible for five giveaways.
BEST PLAY OF THE YEAR
Ravens 16, Chargers 13, OT, Nov. 25
Fourth-and-29, or fourth-and-hopeless in most cases. Not this one. Not against the San Diego defense.
Joe Flacco looked downfield hoping for a big play to keep the Ravens alive. Nothing doing, so he dumped the ball to Rice just past the line. At his swiveling best, Rice avoided three defenders at the 50, kept going around another handful of Chargers, then slammed into two defensive backs.
The ball was spotted at the 33. After a long video review, it was moved back to the 34, but still was good for a first down. Officially, it was a 29-yard gain.
Justin Tucker’s 38-yard field goal tied it and he made a 38-yarder in overtime for the win.
Runner-up: RG3 again, with his stunning 76-yard TD sprint against Minnesota that showed off his world-class speed as well as his moves and power.
WORST PLAY OF THE YEAR
Seahawks 14, Packers 12, Sept. 24
The demise of the replacement officials.
Do we really need to recount all the problems with this play and call, the last one made by the replacements before the NFL ended its lockout of the regular officials?
Suffice to say it will be celebrated in Seattle and slammed in Green Bay forever.
Runner-up: Sanchez colliding with Jets guard Brandon Moore’s butt, knocking the QB down and sending the ball to the ground, where Steve Gregory grabbed it and went 32 yards for a Patriots touchdown in a Thanksgiving night rout.
BIGGEST SURPRISE (PLAYER)
Adrian Peterson isn’t just back from major left knee surgery, he may be better than ever as he pursues 2,000 yards rushing and carries an outside shot at Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 heading into the finale against Green Bay.
BIGGEST SURPRISE (TEAM)
Anytime a team goes from earning the top overall draft pick with a 2-14 record to earning a playoff berth with a 10-5 record, it’s stunning. And sensational, which the Indianapolis Colts’ turnaround has been — especially considering coach Chuck Pagano began treatments for leukemia in late September and only returned this week.
Indy was the lowest-ranked team in the AP Pro32 power rankings when the season began. Now, it is the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (PLAYER)
Tim Tebow. This one is not his fault entirely, of course. Why, exactly, did the Jets trade for him? One season after practically willing the Broncos into the playoffs, he was a headline-drawing nonentity in New Jersey.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (TEAM)
Eagles. What a sad way the Andy Reid era is about to end in Philadelphia. With so much talent, such a strong recent history of success and, it appeared, a solid coaching staff, the Eagles looked like an NFC East power. Instead, they fell apart, with most of their alleged stars (Michael Vick, Nnadmi Asomugha, Jason Babin, DeSean Jackson) disappearing.
BEST COACHING DECISION
Pete Carroll picking third-round rookie Russell Wilson as his quarterback over high-priced free-agent signee Matt Flynn.
WORST COACHING DECISION
Detroit’s Jim Schwartz knew the rule, he said. Yet he threw his red flag to challenge a call that automatically would be reviewed, and came away red-faced.
Schwartz negated the video review that almost certainly would have overturned the officials’ call that Houston’s Justin Forsett was not tackled on an 81-yard TD run. That score pulled the Texans within three points in the third quarter of what would be an overtime win.
BEST FREE AGENT SIGNING
Peyton Manning, Denver. No need to say more.
WORST FREE AGENT SIGNING
Brandon Jacobs, San Francisco. Barely saw the field, had five carries, got suspended and publicly expressed his annoyance at the 49ers on Twitter.
BEST PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER (TV)
Mike Tirico, hands down. No one is more prepared or understands the rules and game situations better than the ESPN lead man. Smooth, enlightening and not afraid to express an opinion. His call to finish the Jets-Titans game was a classic.
BEST PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER (RADIO)
Kevin Harlan, who does the Monday night games nationally. His descriptions — unlike so many other radio voices who prefer to simply count down the yardages rather than explain what is happening — are an invaluable service to listeners. Harlan’s announcing is almost as good as watching the games.
BEST ANALYST (TV)
Tim Ryan. Too bad Ryan, a former pro defensive lineman, doesn’t get more national exposure from Fox. He’s insightful, funny and has great rapport with players. Want to know how something happened on the field? He’s the best at telling you.
BEST ANALYST (RADIO)
Hall of Fame receiver James Lofton is just quirky enough to make the Sunday night games worth tuning in to even after a long day of football.
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