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Sorting the Thanksgiving Pile: Lions peaking is a pretty sight

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

The Lions are the type of team to make you wonder what they could do in the playoffs. That's not to say they're a dominant and complete team. It's quite the opposite. They're actually an up-and-down squad but, man, when they're up they're really up.

Matthew Stafford's got one of the best arms in the NFL -- if not the best -- and he's throwing to unarguably the top wideout in the NFL in Calvin Johnson. Reggie Bush is the missing piece on the offense when he's not fumbling.

"When we get out of our own way, we can be pretty special," Bush said.

Let's make sure and acknowledge the Packers defense didn't play well. That's a bad unit that got gashed by just about every member of Detroit's offense. And this was a Lions team led by a quarterback who had never beaten the Packers. The Lions just don't win on Thanksgiving. They won handily on Thursday though, whipping the Packers by 30 points.

And there were stretches that really showed a glimpse of what the Lions can be when they're clicking on all cylinders. Bush and Joique Bell were carving up the Green Bay defense and Stafford made all the right decisions for a lengthy stretch of the game. It's incredible to watch. You also hold your breath knowing it might not last -- Stafford had a brutal pick and a fumble to the house earlier in the game.

Who knows if they can flick the switch at the right time and keep things rolling at the right time. That's hard to do and having a football team that isn't consistent -- and the Lions aren't -- makes it even more difficult. But if they hit their stride going into the postseason it might be fun to watch.

Some more observations from a full -- literally -- day of football and food.

Detroit 40, Green Bay 10

1) How much does one guy really matter? In the case of Aaron Rodgers it's almost impossible to really calculate. The Packers are in freefall without him, winless in their last five games since Rodgers got hurt. Green Bay's averaged 16.4 points per game since Rodgers went down in the first quarter against the Bears and have promptly dipped from 5-2 and a team in control of their division to 5-6-1 and a team on the cusp of being eliminated from postseason contention.

There's a trickle-down effect of Rodgers whereby the running game, the offensive line and even the defense are worse when he's not in the game. It's not as bad as the 2011 Colts and Peyton Manning but it's not that far off either.

2) What a performance from the Lions defense. Granted they went against Matt Flynn, but the pressure Detriot put on the Packers was pretty incredible. Flynn got sacked seven times including a pair from rookie Ezekial Ansah and a safety-inducing sack from Ndamukong Suh. The five seconds where Suh grabbed Flynn and then gently set him down in the end zone felt like it lasted 20 minutes and it definitely felt like Suh was going to do something stupid and keep the Packers alive. Good for him for keeping it clean.

3) Reggie Bush can be an effective feature back. He's proved that plenty of times. But he's so, so effective when paired with a grinder. That's not insult Bell, who's pretty versatile in his own right. But Bush -- when you can get him in space both in the running game and the passing game -- is so ridiculously effective. He showed that routinely on Thursday.

4) The Lions outgained the Packers 561-126 on Thanksgiving, for Detroit's first Turkey Day win in nine years. That is an absolute bloodbathing of a divisional rival in the most prime of primetimes.

Dallas 31, Oakland 24

1) What a nearly devastating loss for the Cowboys. Jerry Jones Luxury Box -- aka The GIF Machine -- was warmed up for some absolute nightmarish television shots. The Cowboys were staring a game that would put them behind the ball in the NFC East. Instead they rallied and handled the Raiders effectively. I'm firmly of the belief that Dallas won't find a way to close anything out until the final possession in Week 17 against the Eagles with the division on the line. It's the Dallas way.

2) Tony Romo is clearly a choker. Just look at his Thanksgiving record. The most-scrutinized quarterback in the NFL is now 6-1 on Thanksgiving day games. He's also got 18 passing touchdowns on Thanksgiving day games, which is the most all time. Dallas looked like a disaster during the second quarter but a critical drive led by Romo -- culminating in a DeMarco Murray touchdown -- turned that game around. Rip Romo all you want but give the dude credit when he plays well, please. He did that on Thursday.

3) Just two Cowboys running backs in NFL history have three rushing touchdowns on Thanksgiving now. DeMarco Murray joins Emmitt Smith, who pulled the feat off twice in both 1996 and 1998.

4) Give Matt McGloin credit for continuing to play well. He underthrew the ball that Brandon Carr picked -- basically a game-sealing throw -- but he also made some particularly nice throws as well. He wasn't that sharp in the second half and unfortunately you've got to finish games. But for an undrafted rookie? It doesn't look like the stage is too big for him at times. He's probably just a guy in the end but he could be just a guy who can start some games for the Raiders.

5) The Cowboys offensive line can be a pretty big problem for Dallas at times. Kudos to them for mauling the Raiders during a large portion of the game. Murray and Lance Dunbar had huge holes to rumble through for big yardage and Romo had the necessary time to throw when he needed it. Jerry Jones praised Tyron Smith highly and Smith deserves the praise.

Baltimore 22, Pittsburgh 20

1) One of the biggest stories that will come out of this game, over the long haul, will be Mike Tomlin appearing to try and trip Ravens return man Jacoby Jones. Tomlin was looking at the big screen and appeared to check behind him as Jones was coming up on the sideline. He just got out of the way in time and said after the game that he didn't mean to be there when Jones came up behind him.

"I always watch the returns on the Jumbotron to provide a better perspective, and I obviously lost my placement," Tomlin said.

It's going to be interesting to see what the NFL does about Tomlin's move on the sidelines. It wasn't tripping in the Sal Alosi style but it was a pretty big deal. I'd venture a guess that he gets tagged by the NFL.

2) Unsung in all this? The Ravens, at least temporarily, hopped into the sixth AFC playoff seed. Their team isn't that great. Joe Flacco's been average all season but if Jacoby Jones is healthy and Dennis Pitta comes back suddenly he's got something to work with. The offensive line is a mess but could gel. Ray Rice didn't get going on Thursday so maybe his one good game was an anomaly? The Ravens have been so "meh" all season it's easy to write them off. But that's what we said last year too when they limped into the playoffs.

3) What a garbage rule in place for the loss of a helmet. Le'Veon Bell got destroyed by Jimmy Smith while making an impossibly physical move towards the end zone. Bell's helmet came flying off and the play was dead immediately after his helmet came off. So Smith goes helmet-to-helmet (not illegal because Bell's a runner, but it should be, right?) and Bell loses his helmet before crossing the goal line -- even though he crossed the goal line with the momentum of his dive -- and it's ruled no touchdown? It's kind of ridiculous.

4) The Steelers are effectively finished now. This game isn't a referendum on a season and Steelers-Ravens games shouldn't ever be that sort of thing. But Le'Veon Bell is injured and the offensive line is struggling to get healthy. The Steelers have too many teams to hop in order to make a move at the playoffs.

5) Justin Tucker's been pretty good this year. He went 5-for-5 on Thursday night against the Steelers and ended up eating turkey legs with Michelle Tafoya on NBC as a result.

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