The NFL certainly had a strong Thanksgiving slate in store this season, which made the annual holiday games even better than most years. Five of the six teams had winning records headed into their Thanksgiving Day games, tying a league-high set in 2011 and 2014 (the NFL started having three Thanksgiving Day games in 2006).
The combined record of the six teams playing this Thanksgiving is 39-21, and the .650 win percentage between the teams is the second-highest since the Thanksgiving schedule went to three games. The highest win percentage was .682 in 2011.
Fans were treated to a thriller in the first game of the day, as Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills held off the Detroit Lions with a last-second field goal in a back-and-forth affair that was a Thanksgiving classic. In the second game, the Dallas Cowboys came back from a halftime deficit to sweep the New York Giants behind big games from CeeDee Lamb and Ezekiel Elliott. And in the nightcap, Kirk Cousins played well in the prime-time lights -- as did Justin Jefferson -- as the Vikings beat the Patriots to go to 9-2. Here are our grades for every team that played on Thanksgiving:
Buffalo 28-25 over Detroit
The Bills weren't perfect on this day, but Josh Allen made sure Buffalo wasn't losing to the upset-minded Lions. Allen was excellent in the fourth quarter, going 10 of 14 for 90 yards with a touchdown pass (112.2 rating) along with five carries for 37 yards. When the Bills needed Allen to step up, he made sure Stefon Diggs was involved in the offense (Diggs had five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown in the final quarter), hitting him on the touchdown pass with 2:40 left and the 36-yard strike with 23 seconds to go.
Allen started the game only 16 of 33 before going 8 of 9 on the final two possessions. The Bills were able to counter that slow start by running for 164 yards and averaging 5.7 yards per carry (Allen had 10 of the 29 carries). Tyler Bass missed an extra point that could have cost Buffalo with 2:40 left in the game, keeping the Lions down by only a field goal, but made up for it with the winning 45-yard kick. He also made a 47-yarder before halftime.
Overall, the Bills win another one-score game and keep pace in the AFC East race. This was a massive win for Buffalo.
The Lions certainly aren't a pushover anymore, as they had a golden opportunity to end their five-game losing streak on Thanksgiving Day while extending their three-game winning streak. Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson had an excellent game plan and were creative in the play-calling throughout the contest. Four fumbles (two lost) hurt the Lions, yet they still held a lead in the fourth quarter against one of the best teams in the NFL.
Clock management did the Lions in, costing Detroit the opportunity at the upset. Campbell didn't take a timeout right away after a 15-yard reception by Amon-Ra St. Brown with 37 seconds left in a 25-25 game -- letting the clock run 10 seconds before a review was made by the officials to determine if the Lions got a first down. Detroit didn't get a first down on the play, as Lions quarterback Jared Goff then decided to throw a deep pass to D.J. Chark on third-and-1 from the Bills' 33-yard line with 32 seconds left. The Lions could have ran a play, got the first down, called a timeout, and had another set of downs for a closer field goal situation -- or go for the winning touchdown -- and kept time from running off the clock.
Campbell could have called a run play on third-and-1 or have Goff go underneath and get the first down (the Lions still had two timeouts left). There was no need for Goff to go deep on third-and-1, even if Chark appeared to be open on the route. The poor clock management and failure to use the timeouts cost Detroit -- allowing Allen and the Bills offense to win the game in the final 30 seconds.
The Lions can compete with the best teams in the NFL. They just have to learn how to finish them.
Bills-Lions grades by Jeff Kerr (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Dallas 28-20 over New York Giants
It was a rough night for the Giants' offense, particularly in the second half, as they got swept in the regular season by their heated rival. Saquon Barkley had just 39 yards on 11 carries in the game. Darius Slayton had just one catch for five yards in the second half. Daniel Jones threw for a mere 105 yards in the second half, which a good chunk of those yards coming with the Giants trailing by double digits. Without getting much help from their offense, the Giants' defense wilted in the second half. They couldn't get off the field, as the Cowboys were 7 of 11 on third down. New York also allowed touchdowns on each of Dallas' trips inside the 20-yard-line.
As they did in their Week 3 win over the Giants, the Cowboys dominated on the ground. Ezekiel Elliott rumbled for 92 yards and a score on 16 carries. Tony Pollard added 60 yards; in all, the Cowboys rumbled for 169 yards and two scores on 39 carries. Dak Prescott rebounded after a so-so first half. He went 11 of 14 for 145 yards and two touchdowns and no picks. Prescott, who has now won 10 straight games over the Giants, had a ton of success getting the ball to CeeDee Lamb, who pulled down six passes for 106 yards. Prescott also had success getting the ball to tight ends Jake Ferguson and Dalton Shultz, who caught a combined seven passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, the Cowboys' dominated possession downs. They held the Giants to 3 of 11 on third down and 0 of 2 on fourth down. Per usual, the Cowboys enjoyed a stellar game from Micah Parsons, who had two sacks and two tackles for loss.
Giants-Cowboys grades by Bryan DeArdo (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Minnesota 33-26 over New England
Mac Jones played his best game of the season in Minnesota, completing 28 of 39 for 382 yards and two touchdowns. He seemed to enjoy throwing the deep ball as four different Patriots pass catchers had receptions of at least 34 yards. While the offense flashed some of its potential, issues inside the red zone continue to plague this team. Coming into Week 12, New England ranked 31st in the NFL in touchdown rate when in the red zone. Against the Vikings, they went 0-3 in the red area, albeit with a controversial non-touchdown by Hunter Henry. Still, this is an area that needs to improve if they wish to reach the postseason. The biggest problem for the Patriots on this night, however, was on special teams. Bill Belichick's team had a rare poor showing, allowing a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and had a running into the kicker penalty that extended what turned into Minnesota's go-ahead touchdown drive.
At the very least, we can now point to Week 12 against the Patriots on Thanksgiving as a primetime game where Kirk Cousins was good. While the Vikings QB did have a rough interception in this game, he was largely efficient with the football, completing 30 of his 37 passes for 299 and three touchdowns along with that pick. With the ground game not providing much in terms of moving the chains, Minnesota had to rely on Cousins to keep them in the game even as New England continued to match them score-for-score. Of course, a big part of his success was thanks to Justin Jefferson, who continues to be a cheat code against opposing secondaries. He had 139 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. Arguably his biggest reception of the night came on a second-and-2 pass from Cousins at midfield where he brought the Vikings inside the red zone to eventually get the go-ahead touchdown. Minnesota also had contributions from all three phases as Kene Nwangwu took a kickoff 97 yards to the house in the second half, Meanwhile, the defense shut the Patriots down the stretch, forcing two three-and-outs, a turnover on downs and kept them at bay as they clock hit zero on the final four drives.
Patriots-Vikings grades by Tyler Sullivan (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)