Some offbeat awards for NFL season

The official NFL awards will be handed out during Super Bowl

week. The offbeat ones are being handed out now.

MOST MEMORABLE GAME

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 Buffalo’s wild 34-31 victory

against New England in Week 3, or Detroit’s stunning rally for a

34-30 win at Dallas in Week 4.

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.

MOST FORGETTABLE GAME

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.

PLAY OF THE YEAR

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.”

BEST TURNAROUND

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.

Runner-up: Denver, at 2-5 and headed for oblivion, revamped the

offense to fit Tim Tebow’s skills, and surged to the top of the AFC

West.

WORST TURNAROUND

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.

Runner-up: Indianapolis. Of course, Peyton Manning’s absence put

a huge disclaimer on this one.

BEST FREE AGENT SIGNING

Contract values aside, the choices are two 49ers, kicker David

Akers and CB Carlos Rogers, Eagles DE Jason Babin, Saints RB-KR

Darren Sproles and Texans CB Johnathan Joseph.

We’ll go with Akers, who has set a league record with 42 field

goals, has shown range as well as accuracy (7 for 9 from 50-plus

yards) and has helped the league’s worst red-zone team go 12-3.

WORST FREE AGENT SIGNING

See next award.

MOST OVERRATED TEAM

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.

MOST UNDERRATED TEAM

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.

MOST MEMORABLE POST-GAME HANDSHAKE

Harbaugh might have done a sensational coaching job, but his

postgame greeting style could use some work. The blowup with Lions

coach Jim Schwartz provided the best (and worst) handshake moment

since Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini.

BEST DECISION

The NFL and NFLPA finally getting together on a new collective

bargaining agreement, ensuring 10 years of labor peace.

WORST DECISION

Falcons coach Mike Smith going for a fourth-and-inches at

Atlanta’s 29 in overtime. Michael Turner’s run was stuffed by the

Saints, who then kicked a winning field goal.

LAW AND DISORDER

Barring a complete reversal of conduct, the Raiders will break

the NFL mark for penalty yards, needing 12 against San Diego –

which they could get on the coin toss if they misbehave.

Individually, 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.

BEST ASSISTANT COACH

Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips again proved why he

is among the best at coaching one unit. Houston’s defensive

improvement, even without Mario Williams for much of the season,

has been sensational. And when Phillips was sidelined for

kidney/gall bladder surgery in December, Houston promptly lost two

straight.

BEST MOVE INTO END ZONE

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.”

WORST MOVE INTO END ZONE

Tony Romo going back to pass against the Giants, avoiding Jason

Pierre-Paul’s sack attempt near the goal line, then going down to

all fours and sprawling into the end zone for a New York

safety.

BEST NFL BROADCAST CREW

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.

Gruden’s best moment: toying with crutches in the booth and

threatening Jaworski with them as Gruden tried to figure out how

Sean Payton could coach while using them.

BEST NFL STUDIO SHOW

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.

UNDER-THE-RADAR STARS

Every one of these guys was a major contributor this year, even

without much fanfare. In alphabetical order: PK David Akers, 49ers;

T Jeff Backus, Lions; WR Doug Baldwin, Seahawks; TE Jake Ballard,

Giants; LB Connor Barwin, Texans; WR Antonio Brown, Steelers;

CB Brandon Browner, Seahawks; G Chris Kuper, Broncos; P Andy

Lee, 49ers;

DE Chris Long, Rams; RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers; LB Jerod Mayo,

Patriots; PK-RB Joe McKnight, Jets; C Chris Myers, Texans; C

Dominic Raiola, Lions; WR Nate Washington, Titans.

BEST QUOTE

”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.

AP Sports Writer Richard Rosenblatt in New York and Joe Kay in

Cincinnati contributed to this story.