Adrian Peterson called it a blessing in disguise.
Strange way to describe a career-threatening major knee surgery.
The Minnesota Vikings' star came back better than ever, just missing Eric Dickerson's longstanding rushing record and closing out the season with two of the top NFL awards from The Associated Press: Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year.
As sort of an added bonus, he beat Peyton Manning for both of them Saturday night.
"My career could have easily been over, just like that," the sensational running back said. "Oh man. The things I've been through throughout my lifetime has made me mentally tough.
"I'm kind of speechless. This is amazing," he said in accepting his awards, along with five others at the "2nd Annual NFL Honors" show on CBS saluting the NFL's best players, performances and plays from the 2012 season. The awards are based on balloting from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL.
Peterson received 30½ votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Manning, who also won the Comeback Player of the Year award, got the other 19½ votes for MVP.
He is the first running back to win MVP since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
The talented running back rushed for 12 touchdowns and averaged 6.0 yards per carry.
Peterson returned better than ever from the left knee surgery, rushing for 2,097 yards, 9 short of breaking Dickerson's record. He also sparked the Vikings' turnaround from 3-13 to 10-6 and a wild-card playoff berth.
"I played my heart out, every opportunity I had," Peterson said. "The result of that is not what I wanted, which is being in the Super Bowl game. But I have a couple of good pieces of hardware to bring back and (put) in my statue area. So it feels good."
Was the knee injury the toughest thing he'd ever overcome?
"Losing my brother at 7, seeing him get hit by a car right in front of me, that was the toughest," he said. "But as far as injuries, yes."
New England QB Tom Brady was the last winner of MVP and Offensive Player in 2010.
"Trying to get two or three like Peyton, trying to get to your level," Peterson said of his first MVP award. "But I won't be there to accept it because I'll be winning with my coach, the most important award, the team award, the Super Bowl."
Defensive Player of the Year
The NFL's sacks leader with 20½ and a pass-blocking fiend, Watt earned 49 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. Denver linebacker Von Miller received the other vote.
Watt, a versatile second-year player with a tremendous burst off the line, also forced four fumbles and recovered two in helping the Texans to their second straight AFC South title. With his long wingspan, he blocked a stunning 16 passes.
Watt is the first Texans player to win the award. Last year, Miller ran away with the top defensive rookie award while Watt was not in contention.
Coach of the Year
Bruce Arians has become the first interim coach to win the top NFL award from The Associated Press, taking the honors for his work with the Indianapolis Colts.
Arians now is head coach in Arizona.
Arians took charge of the Colts in late September after head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. The Colts, 2-14 the previous season, went 9-3 under Arians and made the playoffs.
Pagano coached the final game of the regular season and a wild-card playoff match.
Arians earned 36½ votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Pagano finished second with 5½, while Pete Carroll of Seattle received five and Leslie Frazier of Minnesota got three.
Arians spent only one season in Indy before landing the Cardinals job.
Comeback Player of the Year
Peyton Manning's stunning return from four neck surgeries netted him The Associated Press 2012 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, though not the season's MVP honor.
"This injury was unlike any other," said the only four-time league MVP. "There really was no bar or standard. There were no notes to copy. We were coming up with a rehab plan as we went."
Before sitting out 2011, Manning had never missed a start in his first 13 seasons with Indianapolis. But he was released by the Colts last winter because of his neck issues, signed with Denver and guided the Broncos to the AFC's best record, 13-3.
"Certainly, you have double variables of coming off injury, not playing for over year and joining a new team. That certainly added a lot to my plate, so it was hard to really know what to expect," Manning said. "I can't tell you how grateful and thankful I am. I can't tell you how happy I am to be playing the game of football we all love so much."
Manning received 31½ votes Saturday from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. He easily beat Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who got 17½ votes after his comeback from major knee surgery. Though as a consolation prize, Peterson was named MVP over Manning. Peterson came within 9 yards of the NFL rushing record and helped Minnesota go from 3-13 to 10-6 and a wild-card berth.
Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles got one vote.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Griffin, whose thrill-a-minute combination of running and passing skills led Washington to its first NFC East title in 13 years, pulled away from Andrew Luck of the Colts and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks in a lopsided vote announced Saturday.
RG III earned 29 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. Luck was next with 11 and Wilson got 10.
All three led their teams to the playoffs.
Griffin, who severely injured his right knee in a wild-card loss to the Seahawks, set the NFL record for best passer rating by a rookie QB.
Griffin, who underwent knee surgery last month, says, "It's truly a blessing to be up there -- to be able to stand, first and foremost."
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Linebacker Luke Kuechly, Carolina's tackling machine, has won the Associated Press 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Kuechly, a first-round pick from Boston College, led the league with 164 tackles. He began the season on the outside but moved to middle linebacker five games into the season and the Panthers went from 24th in the league in overall defense to 10th.
He earned 28 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. That easily outdistanced Seattle LB Bobby Wagner with 11.
He is the second Panther to win the award; DE Julius Peppers got it in 2002.
Kuechly accepted his award Saturday night.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.