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Dallas done, other takeaways from Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving felt like the end of the road for two NFC East teams. For the Green Bay Packers, it was yet another humbling loss to a division rival.

Tony Romo re-injured his left clavicle during Dallas' disastrous 33-14 loss to the Panthers on Thursday, but the Cowboys season felt over even before the injury. The Cowboys, a true Super Bowl threat a year ago, is nowhere near the same class as the undefeated Panthers. At 3-8, we can stop stretching to come up with ways that they could go on a run in a mediocre NFC East. Carolina has outscored the three NFC East teams they've played by a combined score of 104-46. 16-0 is very much on the table.

The Eagles, now 4-7, look similarly hopeless. Their formerly fearsome defense has collapsed in the last few weeks and Chip Kelly's offense looks stale. Losing 45-14 in Detroit was the lowest moment of the Kelly era. Then again, we thought that about last week's loss to the Bucs. Philadelphia is all but 4-8 with a trip to New England up next.

The Packers are not in such dire shape after losing 17-13 at home to the Bears, but they need to course correct to be a Super Bowl contender again. Aaron Rodgers is too often not on the same page as receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Last week's win over the Vikings only provided temporary relief. The NFC North title is far from guaranteed after four losses in five weeks.

The Bears, meanwhile, should be favored at home the next two weeks with a chance to get to 7-6. They aren't out of it yet. As we learned once again Thursday, anything is possible in this NFL season.

Here's what else we learned during the three Thanksgiving games:

  1. Any questions about Matthew Stafford's future in Detroit should be silenced after Thanksgiving. The Lions' quarterback was flawless, picking apart a limp Eagles defense for a Lions' Thanksgiving record five touchdown passes. Protected well, Stafford made quick decisions, got the ball out on time and didn't let the few pass rushes pester him. Stafford's dart-game was on point, getting chunk gains to receivers and finding elusive backs in space -- even a handful of his incompletions were beautiful passes dropped. In Jim Bob Cooter's offense, Stafford has put together his three best games of the season in consecutive weeks.
  1. What is the Eagles identity? Chip Kelly's offense can't run the ball -- for the love of life, please stop running DeMarco Murray on stretch plays. Receivers can't get open and no one can stretch a defense. The quarterbacking is inept regardless of who is under center. The defensive line was manhandled Thursday by a mediocre offensive line. The defensive backfield is atrocious. Kelly designed this team. It's a dumpster fire. Get ready for a long week of questions about Chip's future, anonymous sources and players quitting stories.
  1. Jim Bob Cooter did a marvelous job getting the shifty Lions' running backs in space. Theo Riddick was unguardable out of the backfield -- Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks will have nightmares of the jitterbug all week -- catching five passes for 62 yards and a TD. Ameer Abdullah saw his most action this season, setting a career high with 63 rushing yards. The speedy duo can create havoc for defenses. This is the type of offense we expected entering the season.
  1. Some Eagles fans wanted Mark Sanchez. He's not the answer. Sanchez was erratic from the start, missing receivers high, low and in the turf. The Lions' pass rush got to him early and stayed in his head all game. Sanchez never found his check downs and looked terrified of getting hit on every drop back. Sam Bradford isn't long-term, but he's better than Sanchez. Kelly will be in the market again for a quarterback next season -- if he's still in Philly.
  1. Ziggy Ansah terrorized the beat-up Eagles offensive line, which lost left tackle Jason Peters early. Ansah was in Sanchez's grill all game. The former first-round pick gobbled up 3.5 sacks -- momentarily tying J.J. Watt for the NFL lead -- and recovered his own forced fumble. Ziggy has been a beast flying under the radar all season.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. Carolina's defense dominated Dallas' vaunted defensive line while generating pick-sixes from All Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Kurt Coleman. Kuechly added a second interception late in the second quarter, as the Panthers tagged Romo with one of his worst games in a stellar career. Josh Norman's box score won't share Kuechly's crooked numbers, but the lockdown corner was the clear victor in his one-on-one battle with Dez Bryant. Although J.J. Watt remains the game's unparalleled force on defense, Kuechly and Norman are compiling strong credentials for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

The star power of Kuechly, Norman, Thomas Davis and Kawann Short has overshadowed a breakouts season from Coleman, who has emerged as a consistent playmaker in a secondary led by defensive coordinator Steve McDermott and assistant head coach Steve Wilks. McDermott should draw heavy interest for head-coaching vacancies in January.

  1. Tony Romo's season is almost certainly over after re-injuring his left clavicle on a Thomas Davis sack to close out the third quarter. Romo immediately pounded the turf in frustration, ending up in the locker room for X-Rays a few minutes later. The Cowboys immediately announced that he was out for the game. Romo ended up tossing five interceptions over seven quarters following his return from the Week 2 clavicle fracture. His injury, combined with the blowout loss, effectively extinguishes Dallas' already dim playoff hopes. Editor's note: Jerry Jones said Friday that Romo is in fact out for the rest of the season with a hairline fracture.
  1. Cam Newton did nothing to diminish his MVP campaign, coming through with a string of third-and-long conversions and three field-goal drives. He added a rushing touchdowns, taking full advantage of a Byron Jones field-goal attempt penalty that gave the Panthers a new set of downs inside the red zone. Newton has tied Tom Brady and Carson Palmer for the NFL lead with 27 touchdowns, via the run and the pass. Five years into his career, he's already within three of Steve Young's record (43) for touchdown runs by a quarterback.
  1. The Panthers extended their streak of 100-yard rushing games to 22, the longest streak since the "Luv Ya Blue" Houston Oilers, led by coach Bum Phillips and Hall of Fame power back Earl Campbell. Jonathan Stewart is on pace for career-high in rushing yards, while leading all NFL runners in forced missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus.
  1. Dez Bryant has yet to recapture All-Pro form since his return from an early season foot injury. He has been rendered a non-factor by Norman and Richard Sherman in two of the past four games.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Cheers to Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase for keeping his unit in motion against a solid Packers team amid a torrential downpour. Jay Cutler was not phenomenal -- 19 of 31 for 200 yards and a touchdown -- but a mix of bubble screens and quick ins kept him efficient while highlighting the big-play ability of Alshon Jeffery. Gase has also done a nice job of bringing along the 6-4 Marquess Wilson, who had more than a few flashes on Thursday night.
  1. This loss proves that the Packers' supposedly convincing win over the Vikings was just a moment of respite. There is a real problem brewing in Green Bay and Mike McCarthy's team now has four losses in their last five games to prove it. Eddie Lacy was equal parts dominant and clumsy and apparently has not earned the trust of his coaching staff. Davante Adams -- speaking of fractured trust -- is a matchup nightmare and significant drop risk all at once. James Jones is showing signs of slowing down. Is this team just too banged up -- and perhaps too fundamentally flawed -- to continue winning games on the strength of brilliant quarterback play?
  1. Tracy Porter was unstoppable on Thursday (thrown at 10 times, only three receptions allowed) and, oddly enough, it was a night that was supposed to be about Brett Favre. Favre certainly remembers the pesky defensive back and Rodgers won't forget him either. His fourth-quarter interception was not a dagger -- Rodgers had another chance to win the game -- but it was a nice heads up play. His pass breakup on James Jones with 30 seconds remaining, though? That was a dagger.
  1. With Vic Fangio in the booth coordinating Chicago's defense, it goes to show just how talented a staff Jim Harbaugh had in San Francisco. Greg Roman, despite his inability to get Sammy Watkins rolling, is making lemonade with a flawed offense in Buffalo and in Chicago, Fangio has turned Pernell McPhee into a star and Shea McClellin into an inside linebacker. This Bears team is 5-6 at the moment, which is unbelievable when you think about it. Just as unbelievable was the way Fangio handled the Packers' final drive. Fangio was not stingy with deploying a rush, but he was smart on the back end as well.
  1. Where does Green Bay go from here? Sure, we can all R-E-L-A-X. The Packers get another crack at the Lions a week from now before hosting the miserable Cowboys at home. Then they go to Oakland and Arizona before hosting Minnesota in the finale. That game has the potential to be epic, but a lot has to happen between now and then. Namely, the Packers need to rediscover their identity.

*-- Conor Orr *

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