NEW ORLEANS — Adrian Peterson called it a blessing in disguise.
Strange way to describe 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.
Manning's own sensational recovery, from four neck surgeries, earned him Comeback Player honors.
"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."
Also honored were:
—Washington's Robert Griffin III, who beat out a strong crop of quarterbacks for the top offensive rookie award.
— Houston end J.J. Watt, who took Defensive Player of the Year, getting 49 of 50 votes.
— Bruce Arians, the first interim coach to win Coach of the Year after leading Indianapolis to a 9-3 record while head man Chuck Pagano was being treated for leukemia. Arians became Arizona's head coach last month.
—Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, the league's leader in tackles with 164, who won the top defensive rookie award.
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.
He received 30 1-2 votes to 19 1-2 for Manning.
"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."
Dickerson predicted Peterson could get back to 2,000 yards.
"I hope he does have a chance to do it again," Dickerson said, adding with a laugh, "but do I want him to break it? No, I do not."
Wearing a burgundy and gold tie in honor of his Redskins, Griffin said his goal is to be ready for the season opener.
"It's truly a blessing to be up there — to be able to stand, first and foremost," said Griffin, who underwent knee surgery last month. He added that next season "you'll see a better Robert Griffin."
Arians moved up from offensive coordinator and helped Indianapolis make the playoffs at 10-6, making him an easy winner in the balloting.
"It's hard to put into words the feelings of this past year," he said. "This was kind of the cherry on the top, whipped cream and everything else you put on top."
Watt swatted the competition as Denver's Von Miller got the only other vote in the most lopsided balloting of all the awards.
"It sets the bar for me," Watt said. He led the NFL with 20 1-2 sacks and also blocked an astounding 16 passes. "I want to go out and do even better. I want to do even bigger things."