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2023 NFL season, Week 12: What We Learned from Thanksgiving Day games

Green Bay Packers
2023 · 5-6-0
Detroit Lions
2023 · 8-3-0


Kevin Patra's takeaways. 

  1. Jordan Love coming into his own. Plagued by slow starts this season, Love dialed up a 53-yard bomb to Christian Watson on the first snap, and the Packers were off and running. Green Bay entered Week 12 having scored 20 total first-quarter points, third-fewest in the NFL. They equaled that number on Thursday. Love was sensational, playing calmly in the pocket and slinging darts all day. The third-year QB put up his fourth straight good game, carving up the Lions defense for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Love had the answer every time, finding open receivers over the middle, hitting Watson for a perfect TD lob, and avoiding several sacks. Blessed with stellar pass protection, Love surveyed splendidly and rarely missed an open target. It’s been an up-and-down first starting campaign, but Love has begun to show the positive play and upside that Packers brass believed in entering the season. Slicing up a Lions D that pestered him in Week 4 will give Love and Green Bay confidence they can make a playoff push down the stretch.
  2. Turnovers once again plague Jared Goff. There was no miracle comeback this time in Detroit. Coming off a three-interception game on Sunday, Goff once again couldn’t hang on to the ball, fumbling twice in the first quarter to allow the Packers to open up a big lead. The QB fumbled three times on the day and struggled to manage a muddled pocket. Goff missed a host of throws under pressure, completing 6 of 16 passes when pressured, per Next Gen Stats. When the veteran QB turns the ball over six times in four days, it’s tough to consistently win, particularly with a defense that struggles to get stops. Unlike Sunday against Chicago, Green Bay offered nary a sliver of light for a comeback bid. Down two scores, the Lions attempted an ill-fated fake punt at their own 23-yard-line in the third quarter, and failed twice on fourth down. For the day, Detroit went 0 for 5 on fourth downs. The Lions added a TD at the end, but it was too little, too late. For a young team still trying to win, the miscues came home to roost against a division rival on Thanksgiving.
  3. Rashan Gary propels fierce Packers pass rush. With Green Bay missing key players in the secondary, the Packers front made up the difference. Gary was a menace all game, picking up three sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Seemingly every key Lions offensive play, Gary was in the backfield wreaking havoc. Joe Barry’s defense generated 26 pressures and won nearly every critical down. On the back end, safety Jonathan Owens played splendidly for a depleted unit, scoring on a first-quarter fumble, compiling a team-high 12 tackles, including several crushing ones, and a tackle for loss. The complementary play Thursday against a division rival pushed the Packers to 5-6 and into striking distance in a muddled NFC playoff picture.

Next Gen stat of the game: Kenny Clark generated a season-high seven QB pressures on 40 pass rushes (17.5% pressure rate) -- five pressures occurred in under 2.5 seconds (season high). Five of Clark’s seven pressures came across 20 matchups against Lions right guard Graham Glasgow (25.0%), with all five occurring in one-on-one matchups.

NFL Research: Jordan Love became the third Packers QB in the Super Bowl era with three-plus passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in a Thanksgiving game -- Aaron Rodgers (2009) and Brett Favre (1994, 2007).

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Dallas Cowboys
2023 · 8-3-0
Washington Commanders
2023 · 4-8-0


Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. Cowboys' aerial attack is cooking. Dallas missed a few early shots that may have concerned some folks that Mike McCarthy was falling too deeply in love with the downfield throws. But as we soon learned, he has every reason to buy the ring and prepare an extravagant proposal. Dallas' passing game is thriving right now, powering the Cowboys to 114 points in the last three games. Dak Precsott has thrown for 300-plus yards in four of his last five games, and has racked up a 17-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in that span. He can thank Brandin Cooks' gradual emergence for helping elevate this offense (he led Dallas in receiving with four receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown Thursday), but it's really a sum of its parts. Ten different pass-catchers recorded receptions Thursday, helping an offense that once relied disproportionately on CeeDee Lamb become a full-fledged attack that can hit you from a number of different directions. This bodes well for Dallas' viability as the season enters its final stretch.
  2. Commanders prove to match their record. Washington is 4-8 because they're just that: A losing football team. If you need proof, take one look at how its defense performed after the offense scored a touchdown inside two minutes in the second quarter. Instead of getting a stop, or even forcing Dallas into an uncomfortably hurried scenario, Washington let Dallas cover 75 yards in five plays and 1:25, scoring a touchdown to render Washington's first end-zone trip irrelevant. They seemingly barely even put up a fight in a key spot. And that wasn't even the worst of it. Washington was piecing together a promising drive early in the third quarter of a 10-point game, arriving at a third-and-1 at Dallas' 39-yard line. Washington could have used two plays to gain three feet. Instead, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy treated it like second and short, taking a shot on third-and-1 (it failed), then getting stuffed on fourth-and-1 to kill the Commanders' best opportunity to score. After the third-and-1 deep pass to Terry McLaurin landed incomplete, Bieniemy could have displayed their fourth-down call on the scoreboard, because everyone in AT&T Stadium (and watching across the nation) knew what was coming. For a 4-7 team (that is now 4-8), this fits their record. Getting unnecessarily aggressive, or too cute, is how you lose games. No matter how well they played otherwise, these two sequences defined the Commanders as a team in 2023.
  3. Take a moment to appreciate what DaRon Bland is doing. In what was already a blowout worthy of a celebratory Thanksgiving feast, the Cowboys were simply playing out the remaining clock -- well, everyone but Bland. The interception wasn't quite as impressing as his snag for a pick-six against Carolina a week earlier, and it didn't matter as much to the outcome of the game, but it will forever be remembered because of its historical significance. When Bland slid underneath a late Sam Howell throw toward the sideline, intercepted it and ran through a few opponents into the end zone, he became the first defender in NFL history to record five pick-sixes in a season. Process that for a moment: We've had some great pick artists in the past, but one of the most difficult feats to pull off is returning it for a touchdown -- for a number of reasons. Yet, Bland has now accounted for 30 points and done so in nearly half of Dallas' 11 games. This type of production doesn't happen, so let's enjoy it instead of trying to explain it away.

NFL Research: With his 63-yard interception return for a touchdown, Da'Ron Bland became the Cowboys franchise leader in pick-sixes with five.

Next Gen Stat of the game: Dak Prescott completed 7 of 12 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns on vertical routes Thursday, increasing his touchdown pass total to 16 on such routes.

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San Francisco 49ers
2023 · 8-3-0
Seattle Seahawks
2023 · 6-5-0


Eric Edholm's takeaways:

  1. 49ers dominate early, weather Seahawks’ surge. Kyle Shanahan seemed to smell a Seattle comeback when he told NBC’s Melissa Stark at halftime that “this one is coming down to the wire.” It was 24-3 Niners at that point. The Seahawks started manifesting Shanahan’s prediction, turning the tide with a pick-six and field goal in the third quarter. Suddenly, the game was interesting. But the Seahawks’ defense -- as tough as it was for spurts -- needed the offense to score a touchdown there. Brock Purdy shook off a slow start to the second half by hitting Brandon Aiyuk on a terrific TD strike to put the game away at 31-13, San Fran. The 49ers took their foot off the gas after halftime, but they were dominant early. The 49ers had the first 12 first downs of the game. Purdy didn’t hit a lot of big passes, but the 49ers’ offense hummed on three TD drives led by Christian McCaffrey (114 yards, two TDs) and Deebo Samuel (79 yards, rushing TD), who shredded Seattle all night.
  2. Geno Smith looked rusty early, couldn’t rally Seahawks. Smith was listed as questionable with an elbow injury he suffered in Sunday’s loss to the Rams. He was able to practice part of the week, but Smith struggled to find any rhythm early against the 49ers’ early pressure, tripping for a sack (and near safety) and telegraphing a pick. Seattle had negative pass yards entering the final minute of the first half. The 49ers’ first-half time-of-possession edge was more than a 3:1 ratio. Smith started getting in a groove late in the first half and carried it through on a field-goal drive in the third quarter, spurred by an incredible 34-yard catch from Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Smith also rallied the Seahawks with a few quality scrambles, but he took a sack on third and goal, keeping it a two-score game, and the 49ers scored a touchdown three minutes later. Smith showed some real toughness battling back after the tough start. It couldn’t have been fun trying to get loose with a badly swollen elbow -- and six 49ers sacks likely didn’t help.
  3. 49ers make big plays early on defense, special teams. After allowing a 66-yard kickoff return by Dee Eskridge, the 49ers’ special teams settled in nicely with a few big plays early. Their first two punts buried the Seahawks inside their own 10-yard line twice, including once at the Seattle 1-yard line. That punt came after the 49ers’ Ambry Thomas picked off Smith, reading his eyes the whole way. The 49ers also were able to tack on three bonus points before halftime after Seattle’s DeeJay Dallas muffed a punt, and Jason Myers missed a try at the end of the half, resulting in a six-point swing. That would have helped later when the Seahawks found some third-quarter life, but San Francisco’s defense finished the job. They looked to jump on Smith’s passes early, and Thomas and Charvarius Ward (who was banged up late) combined for five passes defended. The pass rush racked up six sacks on only 33 dropbacks, with four of them coming on third downs and one knocking the Seahawks out of field-goal range. 

NFL Research: Brandon Aiyuk’s fourth-quarter receiving touchdown was his fifth of the season, which gives him five or more in each of his first four NFL seasons -- the first 49ers WR to achieve that. Aiyuk joins Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens as the only 49ers wide receivers in the past 40 seasons to have five or more receiving TDs in four straight seasons.

Next Gen stat of the game: Christian McCaffrey generated +45 rushing yards over expected against the Seahawks in Week 12, his second-most in a game this season. McCaffrey exceeded his expected rushing yards on 61.1% of his carries and had a 52.6% rush success rate against the Seahawks. McCaffrey has now generated +158 rushing yards over expected on the season, the third-most in the NFL.

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