The three hottest teams in the NFL through Week 11 are the Cowboys, Giants and Dolphins.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that those teams are led by three of Week 11’s rising quarterbacks.
Rising: Ryan Tannehill
Could Ryan Tannehill be turning into one of those quarterbacks who opponents dread facing when they’re trying to protect a fourth-quarter lead?
Tannehill threw two touchdown passes in the final five minutes in guiding the Dolphins to a 14-10 road win over the Rams Sunday. The Dolphins (6-4) have won five straight for the first time since 2008. Sunday’s victory was the fourth straight in which the Dolphins have trailed at some point in the second half, and it was the most dramatic comeback of the bunch.
The Dolphins punted on 10 of their first 11 possessions. Tannehill spiced things up with an interception in the third quarter.
Then, just as the Dolphins were staring at a 10-0 loss to the Jared Goff-led Rams, Tannehill completed 12 of his last 13 passes. He threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry with 4:02 left in the game. Landry had to fight for the final five yards to put the Dolphins on the board.
The Dolphins got the ball back with 2:11 left, and Tannehill moved them 75 yards on seven plays. DeVante Parker caught the winning 9-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds left.
Tannehill completed 24 of 34 passes for 172 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His dismal three-and-a-half quarters are somewhat excusable considering the Rams are 12th in passer rating allowed (87.6) and tied for fifth in yards per attempt (6.5). When it mattered most, however, Tannehill did what had to be done to deliver the win.
Falling: Cam Newton
The Panthers’ 23-20 win over the Saints Thursday night doesn’t spare Cam Newton from the “Falling” label.
Against a defense ranked 26th overall and 29th against the pass, Newton completed 14 of 33 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown. That’s his lowest passing yardage since he threw for 161 yards in last year’s 31-24 divisional playoff win over the Seahawks. The Panthers nearly blew both that victory and their win over the Saints on Thursday.
The Panthers (4-6) led the Saints 23-3 midway through the third quarter. The Saints scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, but their rally fell short.
Newton can’t be blamed for the Panthers’ defense letting the Saints back in the game or for his shoddy offensive line. But the fact remains that the Panthers have scored three second-half points in the last two games. They just hung on against the Saints after blowing a 17-0 lead in their Week 10 loss at Kansas City.
The Panthers’ first win over the Saints, a 41-38 decision in Week 6, was the last time Newton threw more than one touchdown pass in a game. After throwing 35 touchdown passes as the league MVP last season, Newton has thrown just 11 this season with seven interceptions. His touchdown percentage of 3.5 would be the lowest of his career.
It’s only November, however. The Panthers are two games out of first place in the NFC South and Newton has led them to the playoffs from worse midseason positions.
Rising: Eli Manning
Just when it looked like the Giants’ surge was a mirage, Eli Manning led a second-half comeback for the second time in six days as the Giants edged the lowly Bears 22-16 at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants (7-3) trailed the Bears 16-6 in the second quarter. Then Robbie Gould kicked a 46-yard field goal against his old team to make it 16-9 at halftime, and Manning threw touchdown passes to Will Tye and Sterling Shepard in the third quarter to put the Giants ahead and lead them to their fifth straight win.
Manning completed 21 of 36 passes with the two touchdowns and turned in his first interception-free game since Week 7. He had thrown two in each of the last two games. The Giants scored touchdowns on all three trips inside the red zone.
Since the Giants’ bye week, Manning has thrown nine touchdown passes and four interceptions.
Falling: Marcus Mariota
Marcus Mariota did some good things Sunday. He completed 25 of 38 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s thrown 31 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his career in the red zone, according to Andrew Siciliano of the NFL Network.
Mariota continues to mature as a quarterback. However, he raised his standards with last week’s dismantling of the Packers. He’s past the point in his career in which he’s measured by progress. The second-year man’s success is now judged by wins, and he couldn’t pull one out Sunday. The Titans fell to the Colts 24-17 and missed a chance to move within a game of the Texans in the AFC South.
Mariota and the Titans (5-6) didn’t start or finish well. The Colts (5-5) led 21-0 by the time Tennessee converted its first third down with 1:58 left in the first half. The Titans pulled to within 21-17, but only 39 of Mariota’s passing yards came in the fourth quarter against a defense that entered the game allowing 287.9 passing yards per game, the most in the league. Mariota also took five sacks in the game.
Last week’s four-touchdown performance against the Packers was a major step forward for Mariota. Sunday’s defeat was a small step back.
Rising: Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston led the Buccaneers to three road wins in his rookie season. He has four road wins under his belt this year, and there’s a chance one of them could be against a playoff team.
Winston completed 24 of 39 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown in the Bucs’ 19-17 win over the Chiefs. It was the Chiefs’ first home loss in more than a year. Winston’s most impressive road win comes as he is becoming more and more of an inspiring leader in the locker room.
The Buccaneers (5-5) couldn’t crack the end zone for three quarters but led 12-10 on four field goals. Chris Conte intercepted Alex Smith in the Tampa Bay end zone and returned it to the Buccaneers’ 48. Winston needed nine plays to turn that takeaway into a touchdown, converting three third downs along the way including his 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Alan Cross.
It was the rookie’s second career catch, and it extended the Bucs’ lead to 19-10 with 6:26 left.
Tampa Bay converted 11 of 16 third downs. Winston has thrown 12 touchdown passes and two interceptions in the last six games. Entering Sunday night’s games, Winston was tied for fifth in the NFL with 20 touchdown passes.
Falling: Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer and the Cardinals already were having a disappointing 2016 season, but it reached a new level Sunday when the Vikings snapped a four-game losing streak at their expense.
A team that had Super Bowl aspirations entering the season probably didn’t envision being a get-well opponent.
Palmer went 20-for-38 for 198 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was up against the Vikings’ fourth-ranked passing defense, but it might not have made a difference. Palmer threw two interceptions in Week 10 when the Cardinals (4-5-1) barely beat the 49ers 23-20.
One of Palmer’s interceptions in Sunday’s 30-24 loss was returned 100 yards by Xavier Rhodes for a touchdown and a 20-10 Vikings lead in the second quarter. Rhodes intercepted him again in the third quarter.
Palmer’s 10 interceptions ties him for fifth in the league with two rising quarterbacks this week. But he has just 13 touchdown passes while Eli Manning has 17 and Jameis Winston has 20, and five of Palmer’s interceptions have come in the last three games.
Rising: Dak Prescott
After the Cowboys’ epic comeback win at Pittsburgh last week, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys looked like they were in for a letdown Sunday at home against the Ravens.
The Cowboys didn’t lead in the first half and Prescott completed just eight of his first 16 passes in his first game with Tony Romo’s blessing as the starting quarterback.
Only one of Prescott’s last 20 passes was incomplete.
In the second half, Prescott threw two touchdown passes to Dez Bryant and the Cowboys went on to defeat the Ravens 27-17. Prescott threw three touchdown passes in the game and has eight in the last three games with no interceptions. He threw for 301 yards, breaking the 300-yard barrier for the second straight game.
Prescott and the Cowboys (9-1) did all this against the league’s fifth-ranked passing defense and top-ranked run defense. Prescott has thrown 17 touchdown passes and two interceptions this season and according to ESPN.com his nine straight wins is second only to Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie record of 13 straight wins in 2004.
Prescott beat Roethlisberger head-to-head last week. Could Roethlisberger’s record be next?
Falling: Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton lost his best receiver, A.J. Green, to a torn hamstring less than a minute into Sunday’s 16-12 home loss to the Bills.
It wasn’t all Dalton’s fault that the Bengals (3-6-1) couldn’t overcome Green’s loss, but he deserves part of the blame.
Dalton completed only 24 of 43 passes for 207 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. His passer rating of 57.0 was his lowest since 2014.
The Bengals led 12-1o at halftime, but didn’t score after halftime and had just five first downs in the second half. They punted on every possession except their last, when Dalton’s shot at the end zone from the Bills’ 27 fell incomplete. The Bengals could have lined up for the winning field goal in that situation, but Mike Nugent missed two extra points.
Despite all that went against Dalton, a quarterback who has helped his team make the playoffs in five straight seasons should find a way to beat a team that committed nine penalties and lost its top running back in the first half.
It looks like Dalton and the Bengals won’t have to figure out how to win a wild-card game this year.