Itâ€™s the most wonderful time of the year. While the Rose Bowl draws near for Mark Dantonio and the Spartans, the NFL regular season has ended, ushering in an exciting month of postseason play. But before 2014 arrives, letâ€™s take a look back at how the season went for the 20 Spartans who played in the NFL this year.
One of the most successful Spartan this season was LeVeon Bell. Selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the rookie exceeded all expectations. Bell set a franchise record for most yards from scrimmage by a rookie, held by Franco Harris since 1972. Bell rushed for 860 rushing yards and added 399 receiving yards to set the record at 1,259 total yards. The rookie ended the year strong with a solid performance in a 20-7 win over the Browns. Bell carried the ball 18 times, picking up 90 yards and reaching the end zone on a 5-yard touchdown run. Bell finished the year with eight rushing touchdowns.
Kirk Cousins had an interesting sophomore campaign. The backup to Robert Griffin III, Cousins saw significant time at quarterback. He appeared in five games, starring at times and struggling at others on a dysfunctional Redskins team. Cousins ended the year with 854 passing yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions. The second-year signal caller stumbled in his teamâ€™s season finale against the Giants, throwing for 169 yards and two interceptions. But the future is bright for Cousins, who is one of the most promising young backups in the NFL.
Fellow Redskin Trenton Robinson also saw some action as a second stringer this season. The safety played in 11 games, recording 10 tackles. One of the tackles came on Sunday, as Robinson also added two passes defensed in the loss.
A model of consistency, Brandon Fields was one of the best punters in the NFL again in 2013. The veteran punted a career-high 85 times for an average of 48.8 yards. He placed 33 of his punts inside the 20-yard line. For his spectacular effort this year, Fields was awarded with a Pro Bowl selection.
Fellow Spartan and Dolphin Dion Sims performed well in his rookie season. The fourth round draft pick hauled in six passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. The Dolphins were eliminated from the playoffs following a 20-7 loss to the Jets on Sunday.
Nick Foles enjoyed a breakout season in 2013. With Michael Vick out due to injury, Foles commanded the Eagles offense and guided the squad to a playoff appearance. Starting each of Philadelphiaâ€™s last eight games at quarterback, Foles was exceptional. He completed 64% of his passes for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. The Eagles finished the year at 10-6, winning seven of their last eight games. Folesâ€™ spectacular season culminated in a 24-22 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday evening, as the second-year signalcaller threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles will host the Saints in the first round of the playoffs.
Defensive tackle Domata Peko was a key cog for the Bengals on defense, racking up 52 total tackles and a career-high three sacks. Peko and the Bengals will be heading to the postseason with an 11-5 record, destined for a matchup with the San Diego Chargers. Cincinnati secured the No. 3 seed with a 34-17 win over the Ravens on Sunday, as Peko and the Bengals defense shut down quarterback Joe Flacco. Peko tallied eight total tackles in the victory.
Teammate Kyle Cook also enjoyed a successful and injury-free season. The veteran center started each of the teamâ€™s 16 games after missing 12 regular season contests in 2012.
Texans wide receiver Keshawn Martin posted a solid season, but he could only watch as Houston flew into a tailspin as the season progressed. The Texans lost 14 in a row to end a disappointing season. Martin managed 253 receiving yards and two touchdowns despite an unstable situation at quarterback.
Edwin Baker found a home in Cleveland late in the season after bouncing around the league for the past season and a half. The second-year running back appeared in three games, collecting 171 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 43 carries. Bakerâ€™s aggressiveness and toughness showed, especially against the Steelers on Sunday. Baker earned 69 yards on 18 carries, with a long rush of 20 yards.
Tight end Kellen Davis ended up in Seattle this season after the Browns dumped him on Sept. 1. He did not have the ball thrown his way too often, but he took advantage of his opportunities. Davis tallied three receptions for 32 yards and a touchdown on the year. Seattle is headed to the playoffs after grabbing the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record. The team will have a bye before its Divisional matchup.
Backup quarterback Drew Stanton spent the season on the bench for the Cardinals. The 29-year old did not throw a pass this year, as starter Carson Palmer held onto the starting role for the entire season.
Will Gholston transitioned well to the NFL, becoming an impact player at defensive end for the Buccaneers. Drafted in the fourth round, Gholston played in 12 games for Tampa Bay this year. The rookie recorded 31 total tackles, two sacks and three passes defensed.
Garrett Celek is again headed to the playoffs. The 49ers backup tight end will be traveling with the team to Green Bay to take on the NFC North champion after San Francisco made it to the Super Bowl last season. Celek had a quiet but productive sophomore year, with two catches for 38 yards as the teamâ€™s blocking tight end.
Non-active players on NFL rosters: DT Jerel Worthy, Packers; CB Johnny Adams, Raiders; DB Ross Weaver, Giants; WR B.J. Cunningham, Eagles
Players who ended the season on injured reserve: QB Brian Hoyer, Browns (torn ACL); DT Kevin Vickerson, Broncos (dislocated hip)