What a day of football the NFL served up with Thursday’s Thanksgiving tripleheader – and hopefully you overcame your tryptophan coma to enjoy all three games in their entirety.
The Buffalo Bills defeated the Detroit Lions, 28-25 on a last-second field goal, the Dallas Cowboys completed a season sweep of the New York Giants with a 28-20 decision that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates, and the Minnesota Vikings – four days after getting embarrassed at home 40-3 by Dallas – rebounded with a 33-26 triumph over the New England Patriots. It marked the first time since 1926 that Turkey Day featured a trio of games that all finished with one-score margins.
Yet beyond the quality of the contests and the results on the scoreboard, Thursday offered up more winners and losers like so many Thanksgiving sides.
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Let’s dig in:
Micah Parsons: The legend continues to grow. The Cowboys’ pass rusher extraordinaire picked up another pair of sacks Thursday, his ninth career multi-sack game tying him with Aldon Smith for the most in any player’s first two seasons. Parsons also joined Smith and Hall of Famer Reggie White as the only players to notch at least a dozen QB takedowns in each of their first two seasons since the stat became official in 1982. Parsons would seem to be on the very short list for 2022 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Josh Allen: Buffalo’s quarterback is hardly 100% as he continues to recover from the UCL injury to this throwing elbow – and that was apparent at times on a day when he only completed 24 of 42 passes (for 253 yards, 2 TDs, INT passing plus one rush TD). But Allen was at his best in the final 30 seconds, right when the Bills needed him to be. With the game tied 25-25 following a Lions field goal, he rifled a ball 36 yards down the middle to WR Stefon Diggs. Allen ran the ball himself the next two plays for 12 yards, getting K Tyler Bass just enough room to sneak a decisive 45-yard field goal inside the left upright with two seconds to go. By day’s end, Buffalo was back atop the AFC East thanks in large part to their leader’s effort.
New York Jets: Despite all the adversity they’re navigating after getting swept by the Patriots and subsequently grounding second-year QB Zach Wilson, New England’s loss to Minnesota elevates New York back into the AFC’s projected playoff field as its third wild card. The Pats – for now – drop out.
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Odell Beckham Jr.: As he continues recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in the first half of Super Bowl 56, speculation about where OBJ will land this season is reaching a fevered pitch. Thursday, he got a chance to see five teams he’d potentially fit well with, including Buffalo and buddy Von Miller, whom he played with last year for the Los Angeles Rams. But it seems like the Cowboys and Giants could become the finalists for Beckham’s services – and if their game did indeed serve as the “Beckham Bowl” … welp, we’ve got our answer.
Justin Jefferson: Like OBJ, a game-changing wideout with LSU pedigree, Jefferson’s star continued its ascent in prime time. He caught nine passes for 139 yards and a score Thursday, when he also overtook OBJ and Hall of Famer Randy Moss with the most receiving yards (4,248) in a player’s first three NFL seasons – and Jefferson has another half-dozen games to pad that total. His league-high 1,232 yards this season continue to make him a threat to become the NFL’s first player to crack 2,000 in a single campaign.
Kirk Cousins and Kevin O’Connell: Minnesota’s veteran quarterback and rookie head coach are closing in on a shared experience – their first NFC North crown as Vikings, who haven’t won the division since 2017. It’s possible a win over the Jets in Week 13 will clinch it for Minnesota. Cousins had a big game Thursday, serving up three TD passes, and O’Connell could be collecting Coach of the Year votes with Minnesota currently one of just two teams (along with Philadelphia) in possession of nine wins.
Dallas tight ends: Dalton Schultz (2 receiving TDs) and Peyton Hendershot (2-yard TD run) accounted for three of the Cowboys’ four scores … and a fantastic celebration with The Salvation Army kettle.
Jim Nantz: The CBS play-by-play man proved the announcer’s jinx is alive and well, playfully invoking it as Lions K Michael Badgley lined up a 29-yard field-goal try. Badgley, who hadn’t missed a kick all year entering the game (perfect on 10 FGs and 12 PATs in a 2022 season split between Chicago and Detroit) naturally missed wide left, to Nantz’s chagrin. Nantz also made mention of Bass’ extra-point streak … which was snapped at 104 when he botched a fourth-quarter PAT.
Tre’Davious White: The Bills’ Pro Bowl corner started Thursday, playing for the first time in 364 days since he tore an ACL on Thanksgiving night last year.
John Madden: The NFL played its Thanksgiving slate for the first time since the legendary Hall of Fame coach/analyst died last December. But Madden’s presence was apparent Thursday, the players wearing commemorative stickers in the shape of the NFL shield on their helmets while spots of Madden devouring his beloved turduckens ran during breaks in the action.
Bills at Ford Field: They won their second game in the Lions’ building in five days, beating the Cleveland Browns, 31-23, in Detroit in Week 11 after a blizzard in Western New York forced the game to be relocated.
Bills on Thanksgiving: They’ve played on the holiday three of the past four seasons, improving to 3-0 in that stretch.
Bills on Thanksgiving: They’ve played on the holiday three of the past four seasons, none of those games back home in Orchard Park, N.Y. As if being on the road wasn’t bad enough, Buffalo players won’t even get the benefit of a mini-bye this week, as the Bills are back in action on Thursday night in Week 13 – and again on the road, in Foxborough, Mass., against some sure-to-be salty Patriots.
Lions at Ford Field: They dropped to 2-4 at home this season as their three-game winning streak overall – Detroit’s longest since 2017 – was snapped.
Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones: For the second straight week – coinciding with a pair of Giants losses – New York’s most important offensive players, both headed for free agency after the season, failed to deliver. Barkley did score a TD on Thursday, but 52 yards from scrimmage aren’t going to cut it against Dallas. On the game’s pivotal play late in the third quarter, the Cowboys leading 14-13, Jones threw behind Barkley on fourth-and-1 from the Giants’ 45-yard line, and the talented back couldn’t corral it. Six plays later, Dallas scored another touchdown, and the game was never in doubt again.
Von Miller: The Buffalo pass rusher, who signed a six-year, $120 million deal in the offseason – ostensibly as the final piece to a championship puzzle for the title-starved Bills – suffered a first-half knee injury and was quickly ruled out of the game. The extent of Miller’s injury is not yet known, though NFL Network reported the initial diagnosis was a sprain with further tests upcoming. But if it turns out to be serious, Thursday’s win could very well prove a Pyrrhic victory for the AFC East leaders.
Jonas Brothers: No thank you, NFL. Never again. Please. (Admittedly, a “get off my lawn” / “get off the field” / “get off my TV” moment, but I’m grateful I grew up appreciating quality music after being subjected to the “JoBros” halftime, uh, show from AT&T Stadium … which didn’t seem to be going crazy with adulation at intermission.)
Sam Martin: The Bills punter kicked a season-high four times Thursday, which was also the first time Buffalo was forced to punt on three consecutive drives this season. Ice up, son.
Patriots special teams: A big reason New England dropped from a projected wild-card spot into the AFC East’s basement. The Pats relinquished a 97-yard kickoff return for a TD to Minnesota’s Kene Nwangwu. Worse, rookie RB Pierre Strong Jr. ran into Minnesota P Ryan Wright in the fourth quarter, incurring a 5-yard penalty and extending what turned out to be the Vikings’ game-winning touchdown drive.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.