With the 2012 Indianapolis Colts season officially over, it is time to reflect on what a truly remarkable year it was. An 11 win season came basically out of nowhere. Here we take a moment to reflect on some of the players and moments that made a playoff berth possible with my 2012 Colts’ awards. Which ones do you agree with? Which ones do you disagree with? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.
Most Valuable Player: Andrew Luck, Quarterback
The Colts won 2 games a year ago, which also won them the chance to take this phenomenal prospect. The Stanford graduate immediately made his impact felt and under his leadership the Colts won 11 games this year, a 9 game improvement from last year. Say what you want about Reggie Wayne and his tremendous play and leadership, but no player was more valuable to the Colts in 2012 than Andrew Luck. I mean, he threw 627 passes (plus another 54 in the wild-card loss to the Ravens). He carried the Colts and somehow led them to the playoffs. He wasn’t perfect – but he was still pretty dang good. I will have an in-depth look at his entire season coming in the next day or two, so be looking for it – but for now, there is no doubt in my mind that Andrew Luck was the Colts’ 2012 MVP. The team went from 2 wins to 11 in large part due to a change in quarterback. Enough said.
Offensive Player of the Year: Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver
The Colts’ longest tenured player, Reggie Wayne was close to leaving in the offseason. He decided to come back to an inexperienced team and help the transition from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time to another quarterback that will be very good. If it weren’t for Reggie, that transition wouldn’t have happened so quickly and the Colts most likely would not have made the playoffs. Reggie caught 106 passes (73 of which went for first downs) for 1,355 yards and 5 touchdowns. In the playoff loss to Baltimore, he caught another 9 balls for 114 yards. Reggie Wayne all year was Andrew Luck’s go-to guy and was really the only choice here for OPOY.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jerrell Freeman, Inside Linebacker
Back in the offseason when no one was talking about this young linebacker signed out of the Canadian Football League by general manager Ryan Grigson, I mentioned that he could actually be a good player. I said the same thing, only more confidently, in the preseason when, still, nobody was talking about Jerrell Freeman. But even I was hugely surprised at the season he had. Freeman earned the starting spot in preseason due to Pat Angerer’s foot injury and never gave it up. In 16 games this year, Freeman recorded a team-leading 145 tackles (the next highest was 100 by Antoine Bethea), notched 2 sacks, forced a fumble, batted down two passes and picked off another – taking it back the four yards for the touchdown (the Colts’ first score of the year). In eight of the sixteen games, Freeman recorded double-digit tackles. He was a huge player and a huge pickup for the Colts, and he was their defensive player of the year.
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Luck, Quarterback
See the MVP above for the reason why Luck was also the Colts’ rookie of the year. He may be (or at least should be) the NFL’s rookie of the year. There were many other rookies who had tremendous seasons for the Colts (namely wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Dwayne Allen and running back Vick Ballard), but Luck wins this one as well. But if you don’t want to give him both MVP and rookie of the year, then I would give this one to Dwayne Allen.
Most Improved: Anthony Castonzo, Left Tackle
I know, I know – you are probably asking right now how in the world I could give this award to an offensive lineman, which was by far the Colts’ worst unit this year. But the play of second-year left tackle Anthony Castonzo often went unnoticed due to how awful the rest of the line was. In reality, Castonzo actually had a pretty good year and improved a lot in both run and pass protection. Remember when the Colts ran almost exclusively to the left side of the line at times this year? Yeah, a lot of that was because of Castonzo. It’s a shame that he gets lumped into a unit in which the other 4 positions were less than impressive. The Colts need help at 4 of the 5 offensive line positions – but left tackle Anthony Castonzo appears to have taken a step forward and hopefully the unit around him gets better so it will become more noticeable.
Biggest Surprise: T.Y. Hilton, Wide Receiver; Dwayne Allen, Tight End; Vick Ballard, Running Back
This award is split three ways because I decided to take the cheap way out and not split hairs trying to pick one of them. Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton were both third round choices in April’s draft while Vick Ballard was a fifth rounder. Allen grabbed 45 passes for 521 yards and 3 touchdowns, while also consistently providing great blocking in both the run and pass game. Allen was a huge, huge part of the Colts’ success this year, especially since fellow rookie tight end Coby Fleener struggled at times. Hilton caught 50 passes for 861 yards and a team-high 7 scores, providing a huge deep threat for the Colts and coming on very strong late in the season. Hilton also averaged 11.5 yards per punt return, a very respectable number (especially for a Colt). Ballard led the team with 814 yards rushing on 211 carries and scored twice on the ground, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown (the game-winner in overtime at Tennessee in week 8). Ballard was an incredibly dependable back and had a great year, considering the offensive line issues and the number of times the Colts were throwing the football. All three of these rookies were major surprises and all three can (and will) be building blocks for the future.
Biggest Disappointment: Dwight Freeney, Outside Linebacker
Let me start off by saying that I didn’t enter the season with high expectations for Freeney, one of the league’s best pass rushers in recent memory but who was switching from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. I wrote in the preseason that I was concerned about Freeney’s lack of production, for which I was criticized by many saying essentially that "it’s only preseason – Freeney will turn it on when it gets to the regular season". Yeah, ok - look how that turned out. For the entire regular season, Freeney made 12 tackles, 5 sacks, batted down 1 pass and forced 1 fumble. Ouch. Sure, his play was better than that, but still it’s not saying much. Perhaps the most disappointing part was that he rushed with his hand on the ground much of the time, nothing different than in the past. It appears that Dwight Freeney has played his last game with the Colts (as he is a free agent this offseason), and his final season was a very disappointing likely end to a tremendous career in Indianapolis.
Best Individual Performance: Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver, Week 5 vs. Green Bay
In the Colts’ first game since head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, they played the Green Bay Packers at home. The home team fell behind by 18 points but came back to win 30-27 on a final-minute touchdown pass. The player of the game was Reggie Wayne, hands down, who also turned in the performance of the year. He caught 13 passes for 212 yards and the game winning touchdown – which, by the way, was a spectacular effort by Wayne to get into the end zone. Wayne and Pagano are good friends, and Reggie wore orange gloves to support Pagano. But his play on the field was #ChuckStrong enough. I wrote at the time that "It was the greatest receiving performance a Colt has ever had, and I truly believe that, especially when you consider the circumstances." I still believe that today. What a game by Reggie Wayne, basically willing the Colts’ to victory against a very good Packers’ team.
Best Team Performance: Week 17 vs. Houston
Chuck Pagano returned to the sidelines, the Colts defense held the Texans’ offense to only 16 points, the Colts got scores from both the offense and special teams, Lucas Oil Stadium was as loud as it has been in years, and the Colts knocked the division rival from the AFC’s number one seed all the way down to the AFC’s number 3 seed – costing them a bye week. The most complete game came in the final week of the regular season, and it resulted in a pretty dominant 28-16 victory.
Best Play: Andrew Luck touchdown pass to Donnie Avery, Week 13 at Detroit
If you want to watch an improbable comeback, just look at the Colts’ week 13 game at Detroit. The Colts’ trailed the Lions by two scores very late in the fourth quarter and were playing poorly. Then, all of the sudden, Andrew Luck turned it on – first throwing a 42 yard touchdown to rookie LaVon Brazill with just under 3 minutes left and then leading a drive with the game nearing an end. The Colts finally reached the Detriot 14 yard line, facing a 4th and 10 but more importantly with only 4 seconds in a game the Colts trailed by 5. Luck stepped up, bought time, and then rolled right. Donnie Avery was coming across the field at the same time, and Luck dumped it off short to him. Luck then took off to block for him, but it wasn’t needed. Avery split two defenders as he crossed the goal line with no time on the clock, giving the Colts a 35-33 win – an incredibly improbable one, at that.
Best Moment: Chuck Pagano’s Return, Week 17 vs. Houston
Basically, the entire #ChuckStrong campaign was the best moment of the season. From the incredible comeback against Green Bay to the shaved heads (which included Colts’ players, high school players, and even cheerleaders) to the #ChuckStrong t-shirts, wristbands, signs, blood drives – the way Indianapolis and the state of Indiana rallied behind a coach that had been on their sidelines for only 3 games was remarkable. The entire emotion, however, was captured when Chuck Pagano made his return in week 17. Just before kickoff, the Colts played a video commemorating the #ChuckStrong season, and then the video boards switched to a live view of Pagano on the sidelines. And Lucas Oil Stadium erupted. The applause and cheers were tremendous and lasted a while. That moment was perhaps the most special of the season – more so than any of the incredible wins, because it summed up perfectly what the season was about. It was about a fan base and a team rallying around a great guy and a great coach. It was the loudest I can ever remembering Lucas Oil Stadium. It was a moment no Colts fan will ever forget, and it has to go down as one of the great moments in franchise (maybe even NFL) history. It was definitely the best moment of the 2012 season.