Thanksgiving Day provided plenty of memorable outcomes and performances. Chase Daniel guided the Chicago Bears to victory and the Dak Prescott-Amari Cooper connection helped the Dallas Cowboys overwhelm the Washington Redskins' defense. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints extended their winning streak to 10 games with a convincing win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Here's what we learned from Thursday's games:
Daniel's familiarity with head coach Matt Nagy's offensive scheme allowed the signal-caller to quickly settle in and connect with eight different receivers. And for the most part, Daniel made good decisions and managed the game well by taking what the defense gave him and picking his spots to throw it deep. His best pass came on a 14-yard touchdown to running back Tarik Cohen out of the backfield. Cohen easily beat cornerback Nevin Lawson and Daniel dropped the ball inside with touch where Cohen could haul it in as he crossed the goal line. Daniel even caught an 8-yard pass.
Thursday's victory extended the Bears' winning streak to five games and the team improved to 8-3 on the season following the two-game sweep against their divisional foe.
- With Daniel playing clean football, the Bears defense complemented him well by holding the Lions offense in check for most of the game. The Lions actually outgained the Bears in total net yards of offense (333-264), but Detroit couldn't overcome costly mistakes against one of the league's best defensive units.
As a team, the Bears totaled two sacks and four quarterback hits. The Bears then flexed their muscles by securing two game-changing turnovers in a 4:53 span late in the fourth quarter. The first came with the game tied at 16 and the Lions lining up for a first-down play. At the snap, safety Eddie Jackson read the play perfectly and jumped Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford's pass to pick it off and return it 41 yards for a touchdown. The second interception occurred late in the fourth quarter with the Lions driving for a potential game-tying scenario. Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, however, picked off Stafford in the end zone.
- The Lions were without two big weapons on offense in rookie running back Kerryon Johnson (knee) and wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. (knee), and it appeared to affect the play calling. The Lions played conservatively through the first half, and Stafford completed 17 of 23 passes for 92 yards, averaging a paltry 4 yards per pass, through the team's first seven possessions of the game.
Stafford finished the game completing 28 of 38 passes for 236 yards, but made mistakes at the worst times with the pick-six and the game-sealing interception. The loss dropped the Lions to 4-7 on the season and entrenched in last place in the NFC North.
-- Herbie Teope
- This game highlighted the big play. Early on, it was the back-and-forth nature of big plays that kept it interesting, with Trey Quinn setting the table for his own touchdown reception with a long punt return. Another long run put Washington in position to add more points when down by multiple scores. And of course, there was Amari Cooper's second-half explosion, first on a 40-yard touchdown reception created by a well-run route, and later on a 91-yard catch in which he made a pair of defenders miss and outran fellow former Alabama star Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the end zone. It was a pleasant surprise from two teams that haven't really won with the big play for much of the season.
- Cooper is such a massive addition for this Cowboys team, which has turned almost completely around since his arrival at the trading deadline. His inclusion has allowed Dallas to spread the offense out more, resulting in an increase in usage of 11 personnel (more on that here), more space for Ezekiel Elliott to work and more places for Prescott to go with the ball. Cooper's aforementioned pair of big plays were the clear difference Thursday, but his impact goes beyond the big play -- and has the Cowboys looking night-and-day better in both production and capability moving forward. Look no further than the play of Prescott for proof.
- This game was billed as one that could have been decisive in the way the NFC East shakes out, and it feels even more like a fork in the road for two teams after the fact. What was a close game quickly became a blowout, and with it went the Redskins' reputation as a threatening opponent. Without Alex Smith, Washington becomes a team that needs to grab an early lead and pound it out on the ground with Adrian Peterson, or else run the risk of placing the ball in the hands of Colt McCoy. Pro tip: You don't want to do that. We still have more than a month of football left, but this sure felt like Washington's first-place swan song.
Dallas, meanwhile, is rolling. I won't venture to say I have them making a deep run in the playoffs, but they look like the clear favorite to win the division at this point, with none of the other three members figuring out enough to move beyond a trot. The Cowboys, though, are galloping and seem to be getting more comfortable with their own identity with each week.
-- Nick Shook
The Saints defense set the tone in the first half, limiting Atlanta's ground game to 12 yards rushing on eight carries and making the Falcons one dimensional by jumping out to 17-3 halftime lead. The Saints totaled a season-high six sacks in a single game, garnered 13 quarterback hits, recovered three fumbles and notched an interception.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins led the defensive charge by recording his seventh sack of the season. He has a three-game streak with at least one sack. Saints free safety Marcus Williams arguably came up with the defensive play of the game when he recovered the fumble off his own strip-sack to turn back the Falcons deep in Saints territory.
In a modern NFL era where offenses shine, such as the Saints, the team in The Big Easy is showing they can play complementary football on both sides of the ball. The Saints have allowed 38 points over the past three games, an average of 12.6 per game, behind their defense and extended a winning streak to a league-best 10 games.
- Saints quarterback Drew Brees showed for a second straight game he doesn't have to rely heavily on wide receiver Michael Thomas in the passing game. Sure, Thomas is the clear No. 1 threat and he had his moments, including a circus catch between three defenders, but Brees made sure to get others involved.
With Brandon Marshall and rookie Tre'Quan Smith (foot) inactive, opportunities were there for second-year pro Austin Carr, Tommylee Lewis, rookie Keith Kirkwood and tight end Dan Arnold. Carr recorded a touchdown, his second in as many weeks; Lewis, fresh off injured receiver, hauled in a 28-yard score; and Arnold, whom the Saints converted from wide receiver to tight end during the offseason, came up with a highlight-reel worthy diving 25-yard grab; and Kirkwood snagged a 5-yard touchdown.
Know what really makes their productions unique? All four entered the league as undrafted free agents.
Against the Falcons, Brees threw for a modest 174 yards to go along with four touchdowns, and threw to eight different players. The running game gashed the Falcons with 150 yards on 31 carries. Second-year running back Alvin Kamara paced the attack on the ground with 89 yards on 14 attempts, while Mark Ingram chipped in with 48 yards rushing.
And as pointed out earlier, the defense played exceptional. When the Saints are firing on all cylinders like they were Thursday night, this is an extremely tough team to beat.
-- Herbie Teope