Adrian Peterson, running back, Minnesota Vikings: Needing a win to get into the playoffs, the Vikings needed a big performance from Peterson. Their best player would deliver, carrying the ball a season-high 34 times for 199 yards and a touchdown and scored his first receiving touchdown of the 2012 season in the Vikings’ 37-34 win over the Green Bay Packers. Peterson finished his MVP season with 2,097 rushing yards, nine shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record, but Peterson will take a playoff appearance over an individual milestone any day.
Alfred Morris, running back, Washington Redskins: The sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic topped his stellar rookie season with a career night, carrying the ball 33 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the Redskins’ 28-18 win over the Dallas Cowboys that allowed the franchise to clinch their first NFC East title since 1999. Morris finished his rookie campaign with 1,613 rushing yards, second only to Peterson, and 13 rushing touchdowns, second behind Houston Texans Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster (15).
Eli Manning, quarterback, New York Giants: Coming off two sub-par performances that helped put the Giants in a position where they would need a win over the Philadelphia Eagles and help to make a return trip to the playoffs, Manning looked as good as he had all season in a 42-7 win. Manning completed 11-of-16 pass attempts for 196 yards and four touchdowns in the first half against the Eagles, matching a career-high for touchdown passes in a game. Manning would break that personal mark with a one-yard touchdown pass to fullback Henry Hynoski in the fourth quarter. The Giants would be eliminated from playoff contention when the Chicago Bears defeated the Detroit Lions, but Manning ended his 2012 season on a high note.
DeAngelo Williams/Mike Tolbert, running backs, Carolina Panthers: Granted, the Panthers were playing the New Orleans Saints, who officially became the worst defense in NFL history (in terms of yardage allowed) on Sunday, but Williams and Tolbert combined for 31 carries for 235 yards and five touchdowns in the Panthers’ 44-38 win over New Orleans. Williams set a franchise-record with 210 rushing yards on Sunday, a game that could have been his last with the team. Williams is the Panthers’ all-time leader in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns. Tolbert had three of the duo’s five touchdowns, increasing his season total to seven after scoring five times in the last three weeks. Tolbert’s former team, the San Diego Chargers, could have used him this season, but let him walk in free agency, opting to divert funds to bring in wide receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, who combined for three scores…on the season.
Michael Crabtree, wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers: In the 49ers’ NFC West-clinching 27-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Crabtree caught eight passes for a career-high 172 yards and two touchdowns, the first coming on a 49-yard catch-and-run midway through the second quarter that gave the 49ers a 7-6 lead. Crabtree finishes his 2012 season with career-highs in receptions (85), receiving yards (1,105) and receiving touchdowns (nine). Crabtree had four 100+ receiving yard games this season after having just three 100+ yard games in his first three seasons in the NFL.