What We Learned

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2021 NFL season, Week 12: What we learned from Thanksgiving tripleheader 

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Thursday's action in Week 12 of the 2021 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

Buffalo Bills
2021 · 7-4-0
New Orleans Saints
2021 · 5-6-0


Michael Baca's takeaways:

  1. Josh Allen gets Bills back on track. Avoiding a losing streak for the fourth time this season, Allen followed up last week's disappointing loss with a four-touchdown game against the Saints on Thanksgiving, and the Bills star QB celebrated with teammates Stefon Diggs and Dawson Knox by biting into turkey legs after the victory. Allen completed 23 of 28 passes for 260 yards for a 115.2 QB rating to go along with his four passing TDs, but his night wasn't perfect. Two first-half interceptions gave the Saints a glimmer hope early on, but Allen proved to have a short memory by throwing three TDs in the second half to ensure a rout thanks to a dominant effort from the Bills defense. Diggs had a game-high seven receptions for 74 yards and a score while Knox set the single-season franchise record with his two TD receptions. Knox's seven TDs on the season broke a three-way tie between Pete Metzelaars (1992), Jay Riemersma (1998) and Scott Chandler (2011 and 2012).
  2. Bills defense suffocates short-handed Saints. A true catalyst to their stress-free night, Buffalo's defense allowed just 190 total yards from a Saints offense that simply had no answers. Defensive lineman Ed Oliver had himself a game with four tackles, two QB hits, a pass deflection and 0.5 sacks. Efe Obada and Mario Addison joined Oliver in filling the gaps and wreaking havoc on Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian, who commanded an offense that mustered a total of 12 first downs. Holding the running back-strapped Saints to just 44 yards on the ground made defending the pass all that more easier for the Bills D, who needed a boost in confidence after last week's shellacking from the Colts. The Bills defense didn't go unscathed in the win, however, as top cornerback Tre'Davious White suffered a non-contact knee injury early in the second quarter and was ruled out by game's end.
  3. Feeble offense leaves Saints starved on Thanksgiving. On a night where the Saints honored Drew Brees at halftime, the offense in New Orleans didn't nearly reflect the greatness of those in year's past. The Saints had 64 total yards off 27 plays at the half and were held scoreless after two quarters for the third time this season. Of course, Sean Payton's offense was hamstrung with running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram out due to injury, which exemplified and continued the Saints' injury-laden season. New Orleans doubled their yardage total after a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, but a failed two-point attempt continued their frustrations and let the air out of a Superdome that was begging to celebrate. Siemien completed 17 of 29 passes for 163 yards with a TD and one interception and Lil'Jordan Humphrey's 47 receiving yards (three receptions) led the entire team in scrimmage yards. Saints fans may go home with a lasting memory of Brees addressing the packed house at halftime, but they will go home hungry for success as the Saints extend their losing streak to four.
  4. Stout Saints defense is going to waste. Dennis Allen's defense played well, holding the Bills to 10 first-half points and forcing two turnovers to somehow keep New Orleans in the game at halftime. Cornerback Bradley Roby found his first interception as a Saint and Kwon Alexander made a spectacular effort to get an INT off an errant throw caused by Cameron Jordan. Young defensive lineman Carl Granderson and Kaden Elliss stepped up with Marcus Davenport out with injury. The two had a sack apiece for a unit that found eight tackles for loss on the evening. Ultimately, as it has been all season, the Saints defense was failed by its offense and left drained by the Bills' 24 unanswered points to start the game.

Next Gen stat of the Game: Josh Allen went 11-14 for 136 yards, 3 TDs, INT on play-action passes.

NFL Research: Josh Allen threw 4 passing TDs against the Saints on Thanksgiving. It was his sixth career game with 4-plus passing TDs and all have come in the last two seasons. Since 2020, only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have more games with 4-plus pass TD than Allen (both have 9).

Las Vegas Raiders
2021 · 5-5-0
Dallas Cowboys
2021 · 7-3-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Raiders overcome Cowboys comeback to celebrate OT win in Dallas. Daniel Carlson nailed a 29-yard field goal in overtime to send Vegas to a big road win to move to 6-5. It was Carlson's fifth made field goal in the tight game -- standing in contrast to the Cowboys missing a PAT and an FG. Derek Carr tossed a deep shot to Zay Jones on third-and-18 from near midfield that drew defensive pass interference on Cowboys DB Anthony Brown. It was Brown's fourth defensive pass interference penalty of the game, all coming on third downs. None was bigger than the final flag that squashed the Cowboys' chance of notching a double-digit comeback.
  2. Carr divebombs Cowboys with a host of big plays. After struggling to put up points during their three-game losing streak, the Raiders opened the game with a big play and continued to pepper the Dallas D with big shots. Carr hit DeSean Jackson with a 56-yard bomb on the game's third play to start the sprint. Carr played phenomenally, avoiding pressure and continuing to take shots. The QB completed passes of 56, 55, 35, 31, and 30 yards on the afternoon. Carr went 24-of-39 passing for 373 yards and a TD. Perhaps most importantly, the Raiders did not turn the ball over. Vegas churned out 509 total yards on 77 plays, grinding through a Dallas D that outside of Micah Parsons had no answers. The Raiders ate the Cowboys alive on yards after the catch, turning short throws into chunk gains. After not surpassing 16 points each of the past three games, the Raiders offense looked like the one we'd seen earlier in the season. That Carr & Co. continued to pile up yards after losing Darrell Waller for much of the contest due to injury was impressive.
  3. Slow start dooms Cowboys. The Cowboys got off to a tryptophan-induced start through three quarters, leading to a double-digit deficit midway. The Dallas offense lacked rhythm, couldn't generate holes in the run game, and Dak Prescott was just a tad off early. Then the fourth quarter hit, and the Cowboy caught fire. Prescott made several gorgeous dimes as the Cowboys drove down the field in the fourth quarter, generating 198 net yards in the period. However, Dallas only punched one of those drives into the end zone -- with a TD wiped off the board by a Tyron Smith holding call -- eventually leading to overtime. The insistence on running the ball on first downs handcuffed the Dallas offense early. However, once the Cowboys leaned on Dak late, they moved the ball even without Amari Cooper or CeeDee Lamb. Michael Gallup made several massive catches late, including 41- and 32-yarders. However, it was too little too late.
  4. DeSean Jackson feasts vs. Cowboys once again. DJax opened the game with a 56-yard TD catch and run. The wideout was a pest for Cowboys defenders all night, catching three passes for 102 yards and earning several DPIs. The early TD was his 34th career touchdown of 50-plus yards, the second-most in NFL history -- only two behind Jerry Rice for most all-time. It was also his fourth career receiving TD of 50-plus yards at AT&T Stadium, tied with Dez Bryant and Cooper for the most such touchdowns in stadium history. Jackson entered with 58 catches for 1,228 yards and five touchdowns versus the Cowboys in 17 regular-season matchups.
  5. More flags than napkins at a Thanksgiving cleanup. The tenor of the game was characterized by penalties from start to finish. For the tilt, the clubs were flagged for a combined 28 accepted penalties for 226 total yards. The Raiders were flagged 14 times for 110 yards. The Cowboys, 14 for 166. The Raiders earned seven of their 28 first downs by penalty. The Cowboys, four of 23. None were more significant than the massive flags on Brown that kept Raiders drives alive and put them in position to bang in the winning FG.

Next Gen stat of the game: Tony Pollard reached 20.97 MPH max speed on 100-yard kickoff return TD in the third quarter (fastest max speed of Pollard's career). The 116.4 yards covered by Pollard were the second-most distance covered by a DAL ball-carrier this season.

NFL Research: Thursday's game marked the third time in Thanksgiving history that opposing QBs have both passed for 350-plus yards, joining 1998 (Troy Aikman had 455 pass yards, Randall Cunningham had 359) and 1995 (Scott Mitchell had 410, Warren Moon had 384). Carr's 373 passing yards are the most by a Raiders QB on Thanksgiving in team history (passed HOF Tom Flores, 286 yards in 1966).

Chicago Bears
2021 · 4-7-0
Detroit Lions
2021 · 0-10-1


Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Happy Thanksgiving, Chicago: Bears snap five-game losing streak. Andy Dalton messed around and passed for 317 yards, a touchdown and an interception as the Bears milked the final 8:30 off the clock to kick a game-winning field goal. It wasn't pretty for Chicago, as the ground game was stymied most of the contest. Dalton, starting for an injured Justin Fields, went through ups and downs, missing badly at times, and could have thrown more than the one red zone pick. But a 52-yard bomb to Darnell Mooney (5/123) followed by a 17-yard TD strike to TE Jimmy Graham sparked life in a sagging Bears offense in the first half. Chicago's offense struggled in the second half, allowing the Lions to hang around and take a late lead. But needing a drive late in the game, the Bears drove 69 yards on 18 plays to set up the chip-shot field goal for a needed win. The turkey on Thanksgiving always tastes better after a win, even if it wasn't beautiful.
  2. Lions offense dinks and dunks its way into oblivion. Jared Goff played through an oblique injury that forced the starter to miss last week's loss. While he didn't appear to struggle due to the injury, the Lions' offense was an inconsistent mess, particularly after running back D'Andre Swift left with a shoulder sprain. Goff continually threw short of the sticks, and the Lions called repeated handoffs on second- and third-and-longs. Detroit ran just 45 total plays on the game for 239 yards and went three-and-out on four of nine drives. Goff completed 21-of-25 passing for 171 yards and two TDs. Sure, the completion percentage (84.0) might have been pretty, but frequent throws for negative or short gains did nothing to puncture a Bears defense missing several key starters. Of his 25 attempts, Goff threw eight behind the line of scrimmage, 12 between 0-9 yards, and five beyond 10 air yards (3/5 for 72 yards, 2 TDs). The lack of chance-taking by the winless Lions offense was maddening, particularly after Detroit's first drive of the game ended with a pretty 39-yard TD bomb to Josh Reynolds. Take a chance. Be somebody.
  3. Matt Nagy clings to his job. With questions swirling about Nagy's job status, the Bears coach eked out a victory against a winless division rival. Not putting away Detroit early when it had the chance to go up multiple scores doesn't bode well for Nagy. But it should be noted that the Bears were playing without their dynamic rookie QB (Justin Fields), No. 1 receiver (Allen Robinson), star pass rusher (Khalil Mack), interior bully (Akiem Hicks), lost star linebacker Roquan Smith during the game, and had several other key contributors go down. In that context, any win is a positive for a struggling team. Thankfully for Chicago's D, Robert Quinn played like a Pro Bowler (sack, five tackles, TFL), helping stuff the Lions' offense. In the end, Nagy's team made fewer errors than its opponent and came away with a road win. It could have been worse.
  4. Time running out on Lions. Dan Campbell's club is finding new ways to lose -- or at least not win. This week it was self-inflicted errors. Detroit was flagged 10 times for 67 yards. Twice on the day, the Lions were penalized on three straight plays to kill promising drives. It's rare to see a team with a third-and-32. Detroit was in that situation twice Thursday. Then, with the lead and the Bears facing a third-and-9 from the Detroit 16 with 1:54 left, the Lions called back-to-back timeouts, which is a penalty. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn -- whose unit kept Detroit in the game -- was seen jumping up and down on the sideline as his D was confused ahead of the snap. Campbell then called the illegal timeout. It was a brutal error by the Lions coaching staff in front of a national audience. The burned timeout and associated penalty allowed Chicago to convert an easy first down and drain the rest of the clock for the win. The talent on the Detroit roster isn't enough to overcome errors, whether on-field or from the sidelines.

Next Gen stat of the game: Robert Quinn generated three QB pressures and a sack on 20 pass rushes (15.0 %).

NFL Research: Bears WR Darnell Mooney recorded his third game with 120-plus receiving yards this season (Only Cooper Kupp, four, has more such games).

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