NFL fans were treated to a football feast on Thursday, with three competetive games, one of which featured the wildest Thanksgiving finish in years. A rundown of the day's action:
The appetizer: New England Patriots 45, Detroit Lions 24
When this game was announced in March, we ran the following headline about the game: "Patriots get to maul Lions on Thanksgiving." Judging by the score of Thursday's game in the Motor City, you'd think we were a mix of Nostradamus and Jimmy the Greek. But despite the 21-point margin of victory, this game was a pretty competitive affair that was in doubt for the first 45 minutes.
The Pats only pulled away after a 79-yard touchdown on third down tied the game and broke the Lions' spirits. Second-year veteran Alphonso Smith(notes) played the role of turkey on that play, getting burned by Deion Branch(notes) and wildly flailing all over the field in his pursuit.
Tom Brady(notes) finished the game 21 for 27 with 341 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, giving him a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 (the second time in his career he's achieved that mark).
Detroit lost its seventh straight Thanksgiving Day game, the longest streak in franchise history. The team has been outscored by an average of 23 points in those games.
The main course: New Orleans Saints 30, Dallas Cowboys 27
New Orleans stormed to an early 17-point lead and it looked like Thanksgiving in Dallas would be as exciting as your typical Turkey Day in Detroit. But a late first-half field goal gave the Cowboys a bit of momentum headed into the locker room and the team rallied in the second half to take a 27-23 lead.
It was to be one of Dallas' great Thanksgiving comebacks, on par with Clint Longley's 1974 miracle against the Washington Redskins. When Roy Williams snagged a key third-down catch, the game appeared all but over. New Orleans had one timeout and Dallas could have run down the clock to under a minute. But before Williams went down, the Saints' Malcolm Jenkins(notes) somehow wrestled the ball away from him (above). The Saints recovered and Drew Brees(notes) quickly led the team 89 yards en route to a touchdown and a 30-27 lead.
New Orleans left 1:55 for Dallas to score, but the team mismanaged the two-minute drill (maybe it was poor cardiovascular endurance) and couldn't get close enough for kicker David Buehler(notes), who yanked a potentially game-tying 59-yard field goal a little left. That let Saints coach Sean Payton breathe a sigh of relief. The coach has tried to take one of those pesky pre-field goal timeouts, but it went unseen by the refs. Had an official seen it, Buehler would have had another chance to win the game. Instead, the defending champs got a much-needed victory in their battle with Atlanta for the NFC South crown.
An ugly first half, possibly affected by too much turkey and stuffing, was followed by an explosive second. The lowly Bengals took a 7-3 lead into the locker room, but two Brad Smith(notes) touchdowns -- one of an end around to start the third quarter and another on a kick return in which his shoe popped off -- helped the Jets to what became an easy victory. At 9-2, Rex Ryan and the Jets are living up to the preseason expectations they helped set.
It's the second-best start in team history.