Thanksgiving Day in America is a day to give thanks, eat turkey and watch NFL football. With this year's triple-header, the thanking, the eating and the football-watching continued well into the night. Also, we were able to learn something important about each team playing. After all, the NFL season starts for real on Thanksgiving.
Here are a few lessons that we learned Thursday:
Houston Texans have what it takes
In the best contest of the day, the Texans taught us that they have the mental toughness to win two overtime games in five days, beating the Detroit Lions, 34-31, after outlasting the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. The Texans should have been mentally and physically fatigued after playing 10 periods of football in such a short time span, but they were still able to concentrate, focus and win. With receiver Andre Johnson finally fully healthy again and looking like his old self, the Texans overcame a double-digit deficit for the second straight week. Instead of folding in overtime on Thursday, Houston rallied.
The Texans were extremely fortunate that Lions coach Jim Schwartz made the mistake of challenging a third-quarter scoring play, precluding the official review of Justin Forsett's bogus rushing touchdown. That mistake allowed what should have been an eight-yard run to stay on the books as an 81-yard scoring jaunt, and shaved seven points off the Lions' 10-point advantage.
Was the fact that the Texans were down early a sign of weakness? Or was their ability to come back a sign of strength? I'd say it was a little of both.
The Texans have allowed 791 passing yards over their past two games. If they are to go deep into the playoffs, they must get more production from the edges. The Brooks Reed injury certainly doesn't help, so Connor Barwin must step up. Even when their best cornerback, Johnathan Joseph, is healthy and back on the field, the Texans will need someone to put additional pressure on the quarterback. Otherwise, it'll be tough for Houston to outscore the best teams in the AFC.
Dallas Cowboys' true colors aren't pretty
In Dallas, we learned something that I've suspected has been true all along: The Cowboys are not a good offensive team. Their limitations on the offensive line, as well as a general lack of attention to detail, both on the field and in the team's design, make it hard to believe they're a playoff squad.
At one time, I thought the Cowboys might have been capable of making the postseason. But that was more because of how their schedule looked than because of the strength of the overall team. And that was also with a healthy DeMarco Murray in mind. After watching the Cowboys struggle to beat the Cleveland Browns at home and fall behind, 28-3, in the first half against the Washington Redskins, it's clear to me that Dallas is not playoff-bound.
New England Patriots poised for something big
The Patriots, on the other hand, are a playoff team, and they seem to have hit their stride at the right time. Even without Pro Bowl players in their starting lineup, the Patriots have been scoring massive amounts of points. Pats quarterback Tom Brady has set the bar so high with his past performances that as great as his season has been, he's never mentioned as an MVP candidate. But he should be.
The Patriots have become more balanced; their run game has improved, and they don't always have to rely on Brady's arm to power their offense. But they still rely on his mind. Brady might not change plays as dramatically as Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, but he makes sure the Pats never run a bad play, ramping up the potency of an already-dangerous unit.
So let's recap ...
Now we know the Texans are a really good team missing an edge pass rush. We know the Patriots are a really good team with increased offensive diversity. We know that if the Redskins can continue to play consistently on defense, giving quarterback Robert Griffin III a little help, they can be playoff contenders. We know the Cowboys need Murray to get healthy and return to the field, and that they must greatly improve their offensive line. Finally, we know the Jets and Lions are playing for next season.
Can't wait to learn more on Sunday ...
Ten thoughts around the NFL
1) Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey seems to have finally seen enough of Blaine Gabbert, who was placed on injured reserve this week. Gabbert has not developed through two years in Jacksonville; the former first-round pick is not willing to stand firm in the pocket and throw the ball downfield. Mularkey's attempts to turn Gabbert into a player might still cost him his job, as the Jags are having a horrible season. But at least with Chad Henne at quarterback, Mularkey can run his offense and compete to win games. Gabbert gave him no chance.
2) Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has 12 interceptions, eight of which came in just two games: three against the Oakland Raiders in Week 6 and five against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11. However, the Falcons won both contests despite all those turnovers. In addition to cutting back on picks, the key for Ryan is to continue making throws up the field, keeping his yards-per-attempt at 7.7, one of the highest in the NFL.
4) I'm not sure why the Pittsburgh Steelers thought either Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch would play well or stay healthy as backup quarterbacks. Both have durability issues. After one game as the starter, Leftwich is out, and Batch will have to lead the Steelers. Can the veteran stay healthy against the Cleveland Browns this week? He must, or the Steelers' playoff hopes might get washed away.
5) Gabe Carimi became the latest former first-round pick to lose his job on the Chicago Bears' offensive line, following in the footsteps of Chris Williams last season. Williams was finally released this year; now Carimi will take a seat in favor of Steelers castoff Jonathan Scott. Whoever plays quarterback for the Bears this week will have a tough time against the Minnesota Vikings' defensive front.
6) Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer will visit his old team as a member of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Ironically, the man who brought Palmer to Oakland, former Raiders coach Hue Jackson, will be roaming the Bengals' sideline as a special teams/defensive backs assistant. Palmer has put up good numbers this year, but he's done so mostly while playing from behind. The Raiders' defense has gone from good to bad to horrible, already allowing 322 points this year. The unit can't cover, can't rush and can't tackle. For coach Dennis Allen to fix those problems, he'll need an infusion of new talent.
7) The Seattle Seahawks are in a must-win position, and Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins and their normally stout run defense will be tough. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson must bring his "A" game; if he does, then Seattle will continue to compete for a playoff spot. This contest will be a good one to watch; both teams need to make a statement. A direct flight from Seattle to Miami, by the way, is about 700 miles less than a flight from New York to London, making the idea of a future franchise in London seem plausible.
8) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made for a great story all season, but they'll need to play their best to beat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Specifically, the Bucs must excel in their two-minute defense, because the Falcons' offense is always in two-minute mode. This will be a tough matchup for the Buccaneers' defense.
Jeremiah: Top matchups in Week 12
9) Can the Baltimore Ravens play well after winning a tough and physical game last week on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers? The Ravens must get their offense in gear if they want to beat the San Diego Chargers, and that starts with quarterback Joe Flacco, who has not been at his best of late. Flacco needs to return to the form he showed earlier this season, when he threw seven touchdown passes in four games. Flacco has connected on just four scoring passes in his last three contests, and three of those came against a bad Raiders defense.
10) Sunday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants will be a great way to end the holiday weekend. If the Giants are to win, they must dominate with their defensive front. We'll see if the Giants' defensive line is back, or if the Packers are able to survive despite losing right tackle Bryan Bulaga to injury. I cannot wait to learn the answer.