If the NFL truly is a quarterback's league -- and there is little evidence to the contrary -- late November is when those who play the position usually demonstrate why.
This is a time of year when some quarterbacks step up while others don't, and the difference often shows itself in the form of teams that are still playing in January -- and those that aren't.
Week 12 was loaded with such examples beyond what we saw from Green Bay's Brett Favre, Dallas' Tony Romo, and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning on Thanksgiving Day.
Quarterbacks who stepped up
Rex Grossman, Chicago: The most dynamic player in the Bears' surprising, 37-34 overtime victory against Denver was Devin Hester, who returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns. But for all of the bashing Grossman takes, it's only right to point out when he delivers in the clutch. He did in this game. No, Grossman's numbers weren't spectacular. But the one touchdown pass he threw, a 3-yarder to Bernard Berrian, tied the game at the end of regulation. The drive was rescued from the brink by an illegal-contact penalty on Dre' Bly on fourth down. After that, Grossman connected on passes of 9 yards to Berrian, 21 yards to Rashied Davis, and 13 yards to Muhsin Muhammad. Grossman also did his part to set up Robbie Gould's winning field goal with a 39-yard connection to Desmond Clark on the first play of overtime. Now, at 5-6, the Bears have made themselves worthy of being mentioned in NFC wild-card talk.
Philip Rivers, San Diego: After coach Norv Turner, the person who has caught the most heat for the Chargers' struggles is Rivers. Plenty of analysts (including this one) have said he has regressed since last season and questioned whether he has what it takes to be a top-level starter on a team loaded with so much talent. Then Rivers has a game like the one he had in San Diego's 32-14 victory over Baltimore, and a lot of us start to rethink our critical opinions of his game. Granted, the Ravens are a horrendous team. But they do have a decent defense, and Rivers shredded it by passing for 249 yards and three touchdowns, two to Antonio Gates. At 6-5, the Chargers are alone in first in the AFC West.
David Garrard, Jacksonville: The NFL's best third-down quarterback was at his very best on third down in the Jaguars' 36-14 victory over Buffalo. Garrard threw for 296 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown to Reggie Williams (on third down, of course) that gave the Jags a 29-14 lead late in the fourth quarter. Garrard was efficient and effective, making precise throws, whether he was zipping the ball or delivering a touch pass. He also made it through his seventh start without an interception. At 8-3, the Jaguars are very much in contention with the Colts for the AFC South crown. But their win also served as a smack-down to one of their challengers for an AFC wild-card spot.
Carson Palmer, Cincinnati: He threw three touchdown passes, all to Chad Johnson, and an interception in the Bengals' 35-6 rout of Tennessee. The Bengals have been one of the league's major disappointments. However, Palmer helped see to it that their remote postseason hopes have at least a hint of a pulse with a 4-7 record. He did so by frequently hooking up with two of the best receivers in the league -- Johnson (12 catches for 103 yards) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (seven catches for 66 yards). At the very least, Palmer's effort contributed to the swoon by the Titans, who have lost three in a row. Despite their 6-5 record, the Titans don't look anything like a playoff contender.
Trent Dilfer, San Francisco: The 49ers' 37-31 victory against Arizona was decided by a mammoth defensive play, Tully Banta-Cain's recovery of a Kurt Warner fumble in the end zone in overtime. But the 49ers were in position to win the game because of something rare for them -- a strong performance by their quarterback. Dilfer, starting in place of injured Alex Smith, threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns.
Drew Brees, New Orleans: He threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns, along with an interception, in the Saints' 31-6 triumph over Carolina. Is there any figuring out this Saints team? Just when it seemed as if they had fallen back to their 0-4 ways, they come up with a huge divisional win. At 5-6, the Saints are alive and kicking in the NFC postseason race.
Derek Anderson, Cleveland: He threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns, along with an interception, in the Browns' 27-17 win over Houston. Anderson was his big-playmaking self, completing a pass of 20 or more yards to three receivers. At 7-4, the Browns solidified their place among wild-card contenders ... and let's not be too quick to discount their chances of overtaking the Steelers for the AFC North crown.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle: The Seahawks' 24-19 victory over the Rams was settled when Gus Frerotte fumbled on fourth-and-goal with a chance to score a potential winning touchdown with 27 seconds left. But it was Hasselbeck who did a great deal to allow the Seahawks to score their third consecutive win and to pull out a critical victory in their division by throwing for 249 yards and a touchdown, along with an interception.
Quarterbacks who didn't
Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants: The Giants seemingly didn't need to have an overwhelmingly great offensive effort to beat the Minnesota Vikings, whose passing game is poor and who didn't have star rookie running back Adrian Peterson. But the Giants couldn't afford a disastrous performance by Manning, and that's what he gave them. He threw four interceptions, with a Giants-record three returned for touchdowns. At 7-4, the Giants remain the cream of the NFC wild-card crop, if there is such a thing. And the 5-6 Vikings, who have won two in a row without Peterson, are very much in the playoff picture. The Lions' three consecutive losses have also done plenty for Minnesota's cause.
J.P. Losman, Buffalo: Without injured running back Marshawn Lynch, the Bills desperately needed Losman to have a big day against Jacksonville. He didn't come close. Losman threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Although he did have a touchdown pass, he was inaccurate on many of his throws and often looked indecisive and uncomfortable.
David Carr, Carolina: With Vinny Testaverde sidelined with back trouble, the Panthers gave Carr the nod for their game against New Orleans. He responded by throwing for a mere 95 yards and had two interceptions before being replaced by Matt Moore in the second half of the Panthers' loss. Moore didn't fare much better.
Jason Campbell, Washington: He threw two fourth-quarter interceptions in the Redskins' 19-13 loss to Tampa Bay. The Redskins needed him to help them take advantage of the fact that Buccaneers starting quarterback Jeff Garcia missed a large portion of the game with a back injury. Instead, the Redskins suffered their third loss in a row. Of course, at 5-6 they are still very much a factor in the wide-open NFC playoff picture.
Brodie Croyle, Kansas City: Even with Kolby Smith injecting much-needed life to their running game, the Chiefs needed Croyle to be a difference-maker. He was in their 20-17 loss to Oakland, but for the wrong reasons. Croyle threw for 145 yards and was intercepted as the Chiefs suffered their fourth loss in a row.
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