Happy Thanksgiving and welcome to the end of your day. Hopefully you were as lucky as I was and made it to the third slice of pie (this year I went pumpkin pie -> pumpkin roll -> apple pie in that order).
There was some football going on during that whole feast, and we’re here to bring you up to speed on what happened.
We’ll start with the Cowboys, who took down a gritty divisional opponent in Dallas during the 4 pm ET window. The Giants scored with eight seconds left, bringing the game closer to a touchdown and a two-point conversion, so it was a little closer than the score indicated.
This is what we learned:
• This may be the beginning of the end for the Giants, and there’s no shame in saying that. There are two games left each against the Eagles and Commanders, a matchup with the Vikings and a tilt against the remaining Colts. The Giants currently sit at 7–4 and, according to fivethirtyeight they have fallen below 50% playoff chance for the first time this season. Head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka are among the best coaches in the NFL at creating bigger, more meaningful plays out of bigger formations and in tighter windows. We saw that again on Thursday, and despite being heavily armed, they managed to hang out with Dallas all afternoon.
• Why didn’t anyone make a big offer for Darius Slayton at the trade deadline? Since Halloween, he’s been a huge part of the team’s downfield passing game. After a great rookie season, we essentially forgot he could play.
• There are so many teams that tried to harness the power of an elite backfield with two defensemen this season. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt with the Browns. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon in Green Bay. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon of the Broncos. Travis Etienne and James Robinson of Jacksonville. But it’s going to be the Cowboys, with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, who end up seeing this roster-building pay dividends. There’s a lot more efficiency in their running game with (basically) an even split between Elliott and Pollard. And it might just be me (I don’t just watch the Cowboys, after all), but this rotation seems to have brought out the best in Elliott. He’s back to rookie level, empowered by Mjolnir in every run.
This is what we saw on Thanksgiving Day
• Von Miller suffered a sprained knee Thursday, according to a report by NFL Network. Considering the alternatives for a 33-year-old who makes a living with speed and finesse, this is something the Bills should be thankful for. Lions center Frank Ragnow ended up lying on Miller’s leg, as he was stretched out in a vulnerable position. Given his weight disparity, this could have been catastrophic. I think we all assumed the Bills would continue to face adversity through the second half of the season, but would regroup in time for the playoffs. Without Miller, I don’t think that’s possible. He’s such an essential part of helping them close out games against elite quarterbacks.
• I liked the way the Lions sometimes played Josh Allen, trying to collapse the pocket and then, when forced to move, spying with a faster defensive tackle; someone with some weight. One of the reasons Allen has been able to sweep most of the NFL this season was because he has a plus-Cam Newton effect. He scares defenses with his mass and speed (and scares them with his arm talent much more than Newton). But, with Allen having some injury issues late in the season, teams could find ways to make him pay to leave the pocket.
• I don’t rule out going 9–8 for the Lions this year. The rest of their schedule, if they play like they did Thursday, is conducive to saving Dan Campbell. If he were in an ownership position, it would give Campbell a third year with more weight in the defensive coordinator pick. I think this Lions team is so close to turning the corner.
• Yes, Kirk Cousins threw a football in frustration after the Vikings called timeout, so we’re not saying the displays of frustration are unique. However, Mac Jones poking his helmet after time ran out felt like the surface of real frustration. This was a very non-Belichickian game. Expensive penalties, mental errors, coverage lapses and an opposing team’s elite wide receiver going for nine catches and 139 yards. The Patriots’ offense down the stretch was basically Rhamondre Stevenson at the controls. It’s strange that this offense still has a pedestrian air to it on a night when Jones throws for 400 yards.
• Has anyone heard Jason Garrett disagree with Bill Belichick’s decision not to use his timeout immediately on the Vikings’ final offensive possession and then, after the strategy worked brilliantly, say “well, yeah, Of course, that’s why he did it.” Garrett genuflected appropriately to Belichick before launching the criticism, but there’s a reason one coach is in the booth and the other is still on the sidelines.
• Watching Justin Jefferson draw what is, essentially, a triple coverage was a big moment on that Adam Thielen touchdown run. And I’m not sure it’s a “bust” either. With some depth from Jalen Mills on that play, he comes out of the back of the end zone. Still, he shows the respect the players have for Jefferson when the veteran players decide to leave Adam Thielen alone to prevent something worse from happening.
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