The New York Jets (4-7) were the only team that didn’t seem to have any chance to win their must-win match-up on Thanksgiving Thursday as the NFL offered up a huge helping of competitive football before the nightcap dominated by the New England Patriots (8-3) against their arch rivals.
The Patriots are notorious for closing the season on a winning-streak and are undefeated in the second half of the season dating back to 2010. Even after losing tight end Rob Gronkowski to a broken forearm in last Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots laid down an epic 49-19 beating on the Jets Thursday despite missing their first field goal attempt and going scoreless in the first and third quarters.
The Patriots did not rely on any one superstar to carry the team Thursday, as the whole squad seemed to be playing on another level.
The defense forced multiple fumbles, snatched a key interception and kept their opponents to just three points for most of the game. At one point, the defense forced quarterback Mark Sanchez (26-36, 301 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) to scramble, and Sanchez proceeded to run right into the rear end of one of his linemen, falling on his back after losing the football.
Patriots safety Steve Gregory quickly gathered up the fumble and ran it back for a 32-yard touchdown return after one of the game’s most comical moments unfolded. Gregory forced a fumble and recovered another in the game in addition to securing the only interception. His touchdown was part of an electric minute for the Patriots in the 35-point second quarter.
They scored three times in just 56 seconds with the first score coming on an 83-yard touchdown bomb to Shane Vereen. That made Vereen the night’s leading receiver, overshadowing Wes Welker‘s 71 yards on seven catches.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman caught one of Tom Brady‘s (18-28, 323 yards, 3 TDs) three touchdown passes and finished off the magic minute for the Patriots with a fumble return for a touchdown on the kickoff following Gregory’s defensive score.
Vereen and running back Stevan Ridley combined for 139 yards on 31 carries, with Ridley getting the only touchdown on the ground with a nine-yard scoring romp in the fourth quarter.
The Jets finally threatened to score a touchdown nearly halfway through the third quarter, but the Pats stuffed them on four straight downs close to the goal-line. Moments later, the Jets managed to benefit from a chop block thrown to protect Brady in the end zone, resulting in a safety that gave the Jets five total points to 35 for the Patriots. The Jets did mount an impressive follow-up drive capped by a touchdown run from Bilal Powell, but it would all be too little too late.
Earlier in the day, the Turkey Day festivities kicked off with an epic back-and-forth battle between the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans. The two teams traded touchdowns and field goals throughout the contest with the overtime period coming down to the final minutes.
The Texans finally closed out the game with a 32-yard field goal that squeaked inside the left upright with 2:21 left in overtime, giving Houston a 34-31 win, thanks in part to a controversial coaching decision by Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.
Schwartz furiously threw a challenge flag when Houston’s Justin Forsett scored on an 81-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Replays showed Forsett’s left knee and elbow hit the ground near midfield, but NFL rules dictate that throwing the challenge flag on a scoring play cancels the review.
Schwartz’s mistake also cost his team an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Take away that TD, and Houston might have never made it to overtime. Forsett only managed 6 more yards on four more attempts in the game.
Texans running back Arian Foster averaged more than five yards a carry on the way to scoring two touchdowns and amassing 102 rushing yards on 20 touches, but he didn’t have a typical receiving day. He caught just five passes for 15 total yards receiving. Foster still helped seal the win with a 1-yard run with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter to cap a 15-play, 97-yard drive that tied the game at 31.
Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson chalked up nearly 200 yards in reception yardage on just nine grabs, but he didn’t break the plane of the end zone. Wide receiver Owen Daniels scored the team’s only touchdown through the air.
Texans QB Matt Schaub threw for 315 yards with 29 completions on 48 attempts. He matched his one touchdown with an interception and lost a yard in two rushing attempts on the day.
Schaub’s counterpart Matthew Stafford compiled 441 yards passing, managing 31 completions and two scores on 61 attempts. Calvin Johnson was Schaub’s leading receiver with 140 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.
The team’s real weakness on the day, outside of Schwartz’s ill-timed challenge, turned out to be a lousy running game. It took seven yards of scrambling from Schaub to help the team break the 100-yard mark in their ground game.
The defensive highlights were dominated by Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. The crafty and talented end leaped to swat away some of Stafford’s most crucial passing attempts and led the team with three sacks. He also managed to get in five tackles. The Texans are still a solid team, but the Lions definitely tested them Thursday and nearly handed them their second loss of the season.
Thanks to luck, chance and an obscure rule that may be gone before next season, the Texans move to 10-1 while the Lions fall to 4-7.
Dallas QB Tony Romo (37-62, 441 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INT) put up some impressive yardage through the air, but he couldn’t close the gap after going into the locker room at the half down by a score of 28-3.
Dez Bryant led the Cowboys offense in receiving with 145 yards on 8 catches, including an 85-yard touchdown grab. Bryant also scored on a shorter pass from Romo late in the game. Bryant might also be considered the goat of the game after he gave up a crucial fumble that led to a Redskins score.
Rookie Redskins QB Robert Griffin III threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns (to four different receivers) in the game. Washington built a huge halftime lead on the way to a 38-31 victory over Dallas. Griffin threw just one interception and completed 20-out-of-28 attempts. He also scampered for 29 yards on the ground.
The Redskins running game was anchored by Alfred Morris, who put up 113 yards and a touchdown on the day, nearly four times as much as the total combined rushing yardage put up by the Cowboys (34 yards).
Both teams need to improve tremendously to have a hope at a playoff berth this year, but Griffin’s accuracy and poise are truly amazing for his young age and relative inexperience at the professional level. Romo, who went four games without throwing a pick, is going back to his old bad habits.
Both defenses could also stand to improve, though the Redskins dominated against the run. The 69 total points scored in the game were the highest on the day, beating the Jets vs. Patriots game by one point.
Thanksgiving proved bountiful for NFL fans everywhere, and all three games were exciting to watch this year. The winning teams all move closer to playoff possibilities while the losers might be starting to realize this season could be a bust.