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PFW's Lighthouse Awards 2012
But a part of the mourning period is left to looking back on the year that was, including all the hope and joy that came in the long, eventually disappointing NFL campaign. After that, fans can properly turn their attention to the new season. And that's what this issue of Patriots Football Weekly is all about - looking back while preparing to leap ahead.
The best way to do that is to recall all that was good, bad and simply memorable from 2012. So without further delay, PFW presents the 2012 Lighthouse Awards to recognize all that's worthy from the now fading fall season.
Gronk proved his value twofold in 2012. He dominated when on the field with 11 touchdowns in 11 games. He was a glaring absence in the home title-game loss to the Ravens, sitting out with the second break of his left forearm in two months.
Offensive Player of the Year
No. 12 continues to be the No. 1 catalyst on the Patriots No. 1-ranked offensive attack as he paced the passing game with 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns with just eight interceptions in another MVP-caliber season.
Defensive Player of the Year
Moving back to his college position of defensive end, Ninkovich proved himself New England's most effective, consistent defensive playmaker. He tied for the NFL lead with four fumble recoveries, tied for sixth in the league in forced fumbles and led the team with eight sacks.
Rookie of the Year
While injuries limited the team's top pick late in the year, Jones still had an impressive six sacks to go along with a team-best 12 QB hits, three forced fumbles and five passes defensed. He's the clear athletic, playmaking future on the edge of the defense.
Offensive Play of the Year
Shane Vereen's 83-yard TD catch
Vereen had just eight catches for 149 yards during the regular season, but his only touchdown of the year was the Patriots biggest play of the season and the longest pass play in the AFC, displaying the former second-round pick's speed and big-play potential.
Defensive Play of the Year
Brandon Spikes' goal line forced fumble on C.J. Spiller in Buffalo
New England was staring down a potential 21-7 halftime deficit in Buffalo, as well as a possible three-game losing streak in the first four weeks, when Spikes blew up Spiller on the goal line and forced the ball free to kickstart an eventual 52-28 Patriots blowout victory.
Photo of the Year
Brandon Lloyd's TD catch in Buffalo
Lloyd was all smiles as he went vertical to haul in Tom Brady's 25-yard touchdown, the fourth of New England's four fourth-quarter scores. PFW photographer Keith Nordstrom was in the right place at the right time for one of the greatest sports photos we'll ever see.
Chandler Jones/Dont'a Hightower strip-sack, scoop-and-score TD
New England's two first-round picks couldn't have drawn up a better start to their careers than Jones' sack and forced fumble that was swiftly scooped up by Hightower for the touchdown in Tennessee on opening day.
Tom Brady's sliding kick of Ed Reed
People have always said NFL quarterbacks should wear skirts. Brady added the kick to go with it after a slide in the AFC title game, for which the NFL fined him $10,000.
TD Celebration of the Year
Gronkowski Nutcracker impersonation in London
New England's dynamic tight end duo of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have brought new flare to Patriots touchdowns. Gronk took that to a new level across the pond when he mimicked "that little nutcracker dude" before his trademark spike in the Wembley end zone.
Mark Sanchez' inexplicable "Butt Fumble"
In what has become the infamous image of a debacle of a season for Sanchez and the Jets, the quarterback ran smack into the butt of guard Brandon Moore and lost the ball. Steve Gregory returned it 32 yards for a touchdown in the most inexplicable play in the NFL this season.
Replacement ref-fueled loss in Baltimore
The replacement referees were a major embarrassment for the NFL this season, and that led to a lot of anger for Bill Belichick and the rest of Patriots Nation in the loss in Baltimore. Some still wonder if the Ravens game-winning field goal was actually good.
New Coke Award
Wes Welker's diminishing role to start season
In the worst idea since Coke tried to redo its winning formula, the Patriots supposedly began the season with a plan to lessen Welker's role in the passing game. Injuries to Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman altered that plan as No. 83 notched his fifth 100-catch season as the consistent cog in the NFL's top offense.
How the West was lost Award
Pats 1-3 against pathetic NFC West
Some thought the NFC West - which ended up with a Super Bowl runner-up as well as a divisional NFC playoff team -was a terrible division yet again. Hard for the Patriots to say that, though, after losing to the Cardinals, Seahawks and 49ers, including home failures against Arizona and San Francisco.
U Mad Bro? Award
Richard Sherman's postgame Brady tweet
Seahawks corner Richard Sherman talked the talk with Brady on the field in the Seahawks victory as Seattle walked the walk in the upset. The big-mouthed pass defender then extended the feud with a postgame photo on Twitter of he and Brady with the words "U MAD BRO?" superimposed on it.
Oh Brother Award
Harbaugh brothers dominate Patriots
John Harbaugh's Ravens got the victory over New England in Week 3 before Jim Harbaugh's 49ers ventured into Foxborough to beat up the Patriots in Week 15. Baltimore then got the job done again in convincing fashion in the AFC Championship as three of New England's five losses on the year came against the league's Super Bowl family.
Sibling Rivalry Award
McCourty and Jones brothers
Twice during the season the Patriots had players battle their sibling, as Chandler Jones twice faced off against Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones, while Devin McCourty and twin Jason McCourty did battle on opening day forcing their mother to don a split-jersey.
Patriots no-huddle against Denver
Brady and the New England offense has used a no-huddle, hurry-up attack often over the years, but the unit took it to a new level of supposedly Chip Kelly-inspired urgency in an October home victory over the ill-prepared Broncos defense.
Fail Mary Award
Patriots big-plays allowed
New England allowed a league-worst 74 pass plays of 20 yards or longer during the season, with 15 such touchdowns. The most memorable/forgetabble was Russell Wilson's game-winning 46-yard touchdown to Sidney Rice in Seattle's comeback upset.
Stevan Ridley's unique attire
Ridley had a breakout second season with 1,200 yards, but was just as notable off the field for frequently wearing an adult-sized hooded onesie in the Gillette Stadium locker room. He went so far as to distribute them to many of his teammates and even wore one in a TV commercial for a local car dealership.
Aqib Talib trade
Belichick pulled the trigger on a trading-deadline deal to fill his team's biggest need by tossing Talib into the secondary mix. The move paid off: when Talib was healthy he matched up with opposing top receivers and allowed Devin McCourty to move to free safety.
Quote of the Year
Scarnecchia chastises media
The highlight of the joint practices in Tampa Bay during the summer was New England veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia defending his offensive line, a group for which the media was seemingly already writing a preseason obituary. "There's no cliff I'm throwing myself off right now. I'm telling you the truth. Believe it or not, that glass is half full and filling up. That's just how I see it. With every position, all I ask is the best. They're giving it to us, and we'll improve," Scarnecchia said in Tampa. And, he was right.
Houston Texans letterman jackets
The Texans donned old fashioned letterman jackets for their December trip north to Gillette Stadium but performed more like Vanna White in the blowout loss to New England that led to their season unraveling.
Moving up in first round
Showing a draft-day aggression unseen in New England in quite some time, Bill Belichick twice traded up in the first round to add playmakers to his defense in the form of Jones and Hightower.
Big and Rich Award
Gronkowski/Hernandez contract extensions
Looking to lock up its dynamic tight end duo to remain the heart of the Patriots passing attack for the foreseeable future, New England invested nearly $100 million last summer in extensions for Gronkowski and Hernandez.
Don't Call it a Comeback Award
Rallying from 28-point deficit against 49ers
Technically the Patriots erased a 28-point deficit on the scoreboard against San Francisco, but really the game felt more like the 49ers defense let its foot off the gas and lost some fire when Justin Smith left with injury. This tie game in the fourth quarter wasn't that close.
Escape from London Award
Patriots operations staff and Virgin Atlantic
After the Patriots wiped the Wembley field with the Rams, New England was in a race to get home safely as Hurricane Sandy made its way up the east coast. A lot of hard work put the Patriots on the ground in Boston safely ahead of the storm.
Bryan Cox Award
Taped racquets to prepare for Houston
A big deal was made of Belichick using taped racquets to simulate pass defenders as Brady and the Patriots prepared to take on J.J. ‘Swat' Watt and the Texans. Of course New England has been using such practice tools for more than a decade, making stories of their use as overrated as Cox' supposed season-altering hit against the Colts back in Week 3, 2001.
Master Plumber Award
Gil Santos retiring
Only a master plumber works with better pipes than Santos, who walked away from the Patriots radio broadcast booth this winter after 36 years as the voice of the team.
Lightning Strikes Twice Award
Gronkowski broken arm, twice
Lightning may not strike twice, but apparently a broken arm can as Gronkowski snapped his left forearm twice in less than two months.
Center of Attention Award
There were a lot of injuries and movement on the Patriots offensive line in 2012, but through it all the first-year starting center Wendell was a solid force in the middle of Brady's front line. The quiet professional beat out former Pro Bowler Dan Koppen for the job in camp and never looked back.
What the Eph? Award
Jonathan Fanene, Visanthe Shiancoe, Kellen Winslow, Joseph Addai
Hard to explain the Williams College mascot, the Ephs - aka the Purple Cows - and equally difficult to figure out exactly how things went so strangely wrong with a large group of veteran free agent additions in 2012.
Best Seat in the House Award
The Kraft family and Gillette Stadium dedicated a black permanently empty seat in the south end zone to recognize the more than 90,000 soldiers since World War I who are POW/MIA.
Donte' Stallworth, Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney
Much of the summer people wondered which of New England's veteran recurring receivers would make the roster this fall. When September rolled around all three were looking for work after being cut by the Patriots. While Branch and Stallworth returned in limited roles during the season, none had much of an impact on the year.
Social Media Award
This inaugural award is also being retired because no one will take it away from Spikes and his unique, unpredictable, controversial and frequent forays into the Twitterverse.
Balancing Act Award
Ridley's 1,200-yard season
Josh McDaniels made it quite clear he wanted the running game to be a complementary factor in his return to New England and Ridley made that happen with 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns working in concert with the NFL's top passing attack to balance things out.
This feature was originally published in the February 6, 2013 edition of Patriots Football Weekly. Learn how to subscribe here!