The 38-year-old quarterback led New York to a 36-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins -- his first win as the Giants' starter this season -- and was widely celebrated when he walked off the field with two minutes left in the game. Manning received a prolonged standing ovation that lasted through the remainder of the game and well after.
Manning struggled early in the season and was benched for rookie Daniel Jones prior to Week 3. The 16th-year pro remained the backup until Jones suffered an ankle injury in Week 13, putting Manning back in the starting lineup for the past two weeks. With Jones fully participating in practice on Wednesday -- and taking most of the first-team reps -- it appears the rookie is ready to take the reins again, sending the two-time Super Bowl MVP back to the sideline.
Eli's overall decline prompts an obvious question: Is he still good enough to be an NFL starter next season?
Of quarterbacks who are 35 years old and older (I'll get to the rest of the lot in a minute), Manning is the player with the most physical limitations. I could see a QB-needy team signing him as a bridge quarterback until a young guy is ready -- like the Giants originally envisioned this season -- but that's pretty much where it ends. He doesn't have the mobility to buy time in the pocket, and there's not a ton of zip on his throws. I know Eli wants to play -- and mentally, he knows the game better at this point in his career than he ever has. But his aging body might not allow him to do so.
Eight more notable quarterbacks will be at least 35 years old by the start of the 2020 regular season: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. Rodgers, Roethlisberger and Ryan still have several years and lots of dough on their respective contracts, so I expect those three will be starters next season barring health issues. (Big Ben's ongoing recovery from September elbow surgery will obviously be something to monitor in the spring and summer.)
But what about the others? Which veteran QBs are still good enough to start in the NFL next season? The simple answer is all of them. But let's look at each remaining player individually.
Tom Brady (currently age 42): The oldest of the bunch, Brady is far from his prime, but I'm not convinced that his time's up. Think back to when Peyton Manning was nearing the end. It was clear and obvious. I don't see that with Brady -- even with this reported elbow injury. The GOAT still has zip on the ball, can buy time in the pocket and go above the X's and O's to continue drives and games. His biggest issues are that he doesn't possess the mobility young quarterbacks do and he's not on the same page with his current crop of receivers. New England runs a complicated system, and it's apparent that many guys are still adjusting -- notably trade acquisition Mohamed Sanu and rookie N'Keal Harry, who didn't see game action for the Patriots until the middle of the season. And now the one guy who has a great rapport with Brady, Julian Edelman, is battling an injury.
Regardless, Brady is still a starting NFL quarterback in my book, whether he's playing in New England or somewhere else. A younger QB could certainly possess more arm talent and mobility than the six-time Super Bowl champion, but there isn't a young guy who will come in and be better than Brady from a leadership and mental standpoint.
Drew Brees (40): After watching the Drew Brees show on Monday night, I'm not sure what more I can say that will convey what he brings to an NFL team. At 40 years old, Brees is still playing at an unbelievable level. In his transcendent performance against the Colts on Monday night, Brees not only broke the NFL record for career touchdown passes, but he set the NFL single-game completion percentage record (96.7), completing 29 of his 30 pass attempts and finishing the game with 22 consecutive completions. According to Next Gen Stats, he had a 0.0048 percent chance of completing those 22 passes consecutively. Yeah, I'm confident saying he'll be welcomed back by the Saints for as long as he's doing this sort of thing. Wow!
Philip Rivers (38): Now, Rivers is another story. He's a turnover machine, having coughed the ball up 21 times (including 18 interceptions), with four coming in Sunday's loss to Minnesota. Rivers can still make some outstanding throws, but he consistently undermines those with poor passes. Quarterback play permeates throughout the offense, so if he's not careful, the entire unit and team will suffer -- like the Bolts often have this season. In October of last season, Rivers made a comment that struck me:
"Whatever the numbers are, I really don't care anymore. I do, in that if you play well, you give your team a chance to win. But where you stack up and all of those things, unless there's a direct correlation to winning, that's really what it's all about."
I understand what he's saying to a certain extent, but he is playing recklessly and it's affecting his team. The "numbers" might not bother Rivers, but they should. If he doesn't start holding himself accountable and playing better, he's going to bury himself just like Brett Favre did with extremely reckless play toward the end of his career.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (37): Fitzpatrick is enjoying one of the best campaigns of this entire group because he's doing more with less. He brings an X-factor to every offense he's been part of over the years, and the same has been true in Miami. Fitzpatrick's completion percentage this season (61.6) is higher than his career average, and he's still a student of the game in terms of reading defenses. He's not going to be a long-term answer for any club, but he'll find a way to win some games. It feels like the bearded journeyman might play forever at this rate.
Joe Flacco (34): This leaves Flacco, who is a player with an above-average arm and experience. But the Super Bowl XLVII MVP certainly has his limitations. He doesn't do as much as Ryan does above the X's and O's, and he can't offer what Brady brings from a game-management standpoint. As expected, rookie Drew Lock has gone through ups and downs in his three starts, but he's shown enough promise to keep rolling him out there. Whether Flacco is the Broncos QB1 next season will depend largely on Lock's progress in the offseason.
Each week in the 2019 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 16 pecking order is below.
Wilson strung together an impressive performance on the road against the Panthers, completing 20 of 26 pass attempts for 286 yards, two TDs and a 137.7 passer rating. The Seahawks were without several key defensive players, but Wilson and the offense did a great job of getting an early lead and keeping it throughout. With the win, the Seahawks earned their seventh road victory of the season (a franchise best) and more importantly, clinched a playoff berth with the Rams' loss to Dallas. A lot of this season's success should be attributed to the QB play of Wilson.
The Ravens look like Super Bowl favorites after THAT Week 15 win. Wow! Jackson looked every bit of the unstoppable force Thursday against the Jets that he's been over the last couple months. The second-year QB broke Michael Vick's single-season QB rushing record -- he's now at 1,103 yards ... with two games left to play! This wasn't a shocking development, seeing how electric a runner Jackson has been all along, but I'm not sure anyone expected the Ravens QB to be leading the league in passing TDs (33) at this point in the season. I sure didn't.
The Panthers are out of playoff contention, but McCaffrey's season feels far from over. With another monster outing against the Seahawks, Run CMC broke his own franchise record for most scrimmage yards in a season (1,965 in 2018) and became the first Panthers player with at least 2,000 scrimmage yards in a year (2,121). His 2019 campaign is one for the record books.
Drew Brees wasn't the only Saint breaking records Monday night, as Thomas recorded 128 yards and a TD on 12 receptions (and 12 targets). His 133 catches are the most in NFL history by a player through his team's first 14 games, and he needs to average just 5.5 catches over the last two games to surpass Marvin Harrison's single-season record (143). He's gonna do it.
Mahomes told my colleague James Palmer after Sunday's game that he feels like he has an advantage playing in snow. That's rarely said by quarterbacks -- I know first-hand just how tough it can be -- but Mahomes didn't look fazed whatsoever against the Broncos while completing 79.4 percent of his passes for 340 yards and two TDs. It's too bad Mahomes missed games due to injury because he's playing well enough to be league MVP for the second straight season.
The most notable part of Watson's Week 15 performance was how he responded after the Titans tied the score early in the fourth quarter. He stayed composed and orchestrated a pair of successful drives to put the Texans ahead by two scores late. There are still some things Watson must clean up, but winning a division game on the road with first place on the line is what's important.
In a 44-21 win over the Rams, the Cowboys' offense got back to doing what it does best: running the football. Dallas controlled the clock by riding the legs of its best player, and as a result, the 'Boys dominated the Rams in a must-win game ahead of this week's season-defining showdown with the Eagles. Zeke finished Sunday's game with 160 scrimmage yards (117 rushing) and two rush TDs, with 78 rush yards and both TDs coming in the first half. A performance like this every week from Zeke could get the Cowboys where they want to go.
Cook left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury, something that has bothered him for several weeks, and had just 27 yards on nine carries prior to his exit. With playoff standings, including the division, still on the line, the Vikings need their star running back in Monday night's clash with Green Bay. He's a home-run hitter from anywhere on the field and a weapon this unit desperately needs in order to keep pace with the top offenses in the NFC.
Like teammate Mahomes, Kelce almost looked better playing in snow. He totaled 11 catches for a season-high 142 yards Sunday, becoming the first tight end in NFL history to record four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, breaking a tie at three with Greg Olsen. The Mahomes-Kelce connection looks as good as it's ever been.
How many record-breaking nights can this guy have in his career? It feels like his name is stamped in the record books every time he takes the field, and he broke a pair of big-time league marks on Monday night. After finishing the night 29-of-30 for 307 yards and four passing TDs, Brees passed Peyton Manning for most passing TDs in NFL history (541) and his 96.7 completion percentage set a single-game NFL record (min. of 20 attempts). The poor Colts never had a chance in this one.
Kareem Hunt*told reporters* after Sunday's loss to Arizona that he felt there were some Browns players taking plays off. From the looks of it, Chubb wasn't one of those players. The NFL rushing leader racked up 127 rush yards and a TD on 17 carries (7.5 ypc). The weird thing is, that wasn't the best RB performance in the game (Arizona's Kenyan Drake ran for 137 yards and four TDs).
Kittle hauled in 13 receptions for 134 receiving yards (both season highs) in Sunday's shocking loss to the Falcons. Despite the defeat that knocked the 49ers down to the fifth seed in the NFC, it was a memorable day for the 49ers star, as he passed Hall of Famer Mike Ditka (2,774) for the most receiving yards by a tight end in his first three seasons. Kittle currently has 2,780 receiving yards in this span, with two games left in the 2019 regular season.
With so many mouths to feed on the Saints' offense, Kamara is hovering right around 19 touches per game -- and he hasn't been quite the same since returning from his midseason injury. Monday night was all about Drew Brees, and rightfully so, but I believe Kamara will get back to being the X-factor for New Orleans in the playoffs.
The Packers clinched a playoff spot Sunday -- thanks to a win over the Bears and a Rams loss -- but once again, it wasn't Rodgers who demanded the spotlight. In fact, Rodgers had fewer than 250 pass yards for the sixth straight game (the longest such streak of career), which was enough, thanks to another big day by Aaron Jones and the defense. That probably won't be enough against Minnesota on Monday, but I could be wrong.
With pressure applied from the Eagles, who won prior to the Cowboys- Rams kickoff, Prescott answered the call with a big game when Dallas needed it most. He received a HUGE boost from the rushing attack, but also got the job done in the pass game, completing 65 percent of his passes for 212 yards, two TDs and a 123.8 passer rating. I'm sure Dallas would happily take this kind of outing again Sunday vs. Philly.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans:Hopkins told my colleague Tom Pelissero after the Texans' win that teams should know he's getting the ball in the fourth quarter. It is quite puzzling that defenses continue to let one of the best receivers in the league get open late in close games. Hopkins had 98 of his 119 receiving yards in the final frame against the Titans, and has been more productive in the fourth quarter than in any other quarter this season, with 32 receptions for 456 yards. His confidence and production late in the game show this is a guy Watson should lean on.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Vikings: Cousins played OK for most of Sunday's blowout of the Chargers, with the exception of a pick late in the first half. (Honestly, though, Melvin Ingram made a great play on the screen pass.) The Vikings QB1 earned his 10th win of the season (the most in any season of his career), but his sights are set on bigger things. The Vikings still have a chance to climb up the NFC playoff ranks (or fall completely out of them), and I think they will ascend, given how the quarterback and team as a whole are playing.
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans: Henry's production dropped off Sunday thanks to a pesky hamstring injury he initially suffered in Week 14. Henry had 86 yards on 21 carries (4.1 yards per carry) in
Sunday's loss to the Texans. Every game counts for this team -- Tennessee can't afford for its best offensive player to be compromised heading into games against the Saints and Texans to finish the year.