Everything You Need to Know: NFL Thanksgiving Day edition
The NFL's Thanksgiving Day slate may not have lived up to all the hype -- just one of the three games really went down to the wire -- but we learned a lot about the six teams that took part.
Green Bay, Dallas and Baltimore all came up with huge victories, while Miami, San Francisco and especially Detroit face a long weekend of contemplation and frustration.
Here's what went down during the NFL's holiday showcase:
1. Ndamukong Suh earned his dirty reputation and hurt his team. Plain and simple, there's just no excuse for what Suh did in the third quarter, stomping on the arm of Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith. Suh, appropriately, was ejected from the game. But making matters even worse for the Lions was that the penalty came after Detroit had stopped Green Bay on a 3rd-and-goal. Suh's error gave the Packers a first down at Detroit's 1, and the Packers turned it into a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
2. Green Bay's defense stepped up with the offense struggling. Aaron Rodgers threw for more than 300 yards and the Packers hung 27 points on the scoreboard, but this was far from a typical offensive performance by Green Bay. If not for a Matthew Stafford interception in the second quarter, the Packers might not have scored in the first half. Green Bay picked off Stafford three times and didn't allow Detroit to do anything downfield.
3. Detroit's injury issues might make Thursday's game linger for a few weeks. The Lions were banged up heading into this game -- they dressed just four cornerbacks -- but the situation went from bad to worse. In addition to dealing with a possible Suh suspension, the Lions lost running back Kevin Smith, safety Louis Delmas, defensive tackle Corey Williams and had several other guys in the secondary hobble on and off the field. Detroit visits New Orleans next Sunday, and Drew Brees must be licking his lips.
4. Matthew Stafford needed to be great, and he didn't get the job done. The Lions had plenty of problems with penalties -- multiple drives in the first half fell apart because Detroit couldn't maintain its discipline -- but Stafford was relegated to underneath routes and check-downs all afternoon. Stafford, playing with gloves on for the second straight game, airmailed a couple of throws early and fired a 2nd-and-15 pass well behind a wide-open Calvin Johnson. Stafford really only tried to go deep once, throwing an incompletion to Johnson in the end zone.
5. The Packers survived one of their last big tests en route to 16-0. This looked like a possible stumbling block for the Packers, hitting the road on a short week against a fired-up Detroit team. Instead, Green Bay rolled and now needs just five more wins to complete a perfect regular season. The scariest part about Thursday: The Packers didn't even play that well and the game was never in doubt after the early moments of the third quarter.
1. Laurent Robinson's emergence has saved the Cowboys' season. It's pretty amazing to think that both the Rams and Chargers passed on Robinson's services this year, only to have him turn into a major part of the Dallas offense. Robinson had seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns Thursday and was Tony Romo's No. 1 target.
2. The Dolphins' red zone troubles cost them the game. Miami has struggled turning red zone trips to touchdowns this season, and that theme bit the Dolphins bad in Dallas. Miami made four trips to the red zone and wound up with just four field goals -- including one midway through the fourth quarter that gave Miami the two-point lead it would lose on Dan Bailey's last-second field goal.
3. Tony Romo improved to 5-0 in Thanksgiving Day starts. This wasn't Romo's best day -- he started off by throwing two interceptions in the Cowboys' first three possessions. Fortunately for Dallas, Miami only cashed those mistakes in for three points, in part because of those aforementioned red zone issues. But Romo bounced back with two TD strikes to Robinson and marched Dallas down the field late on a do-or-die drive.
4. Dallas' pass rush made life miserable for Matt Moore. Miami's QB had another nice outing but DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys' D stayed in his face all game. Ware recovered a Moore fumble to set up Robinson's first TD (which gave Dallas a 10-3 lead), and the Cowboys sacked Moore four times. One of those takedowns came with Miami facing 3rd-and-7 on the Dallas 21. On the next play, Shayne Graham missed a 47-yarder -- suffice it to say, Miami could have used those three points later.
5. Tony Sparano may not keep his job past this year, but he hasn't lost his team. It's hard for a coach to overcome an 0-7 start, and the Dolphins' very long-shot playoff chances died Thursday, but Sparano's team was within a play of bumping its win streak to four games. The possibility that Miami's season would spiral in a Colts-like trajectory was there just before the season's midpoint, but few teams are playing as well as or harder than Miami right now.
1. Baltimore's defensive line -- especially Terrell Suggs -- was dominant. The 49ers don't pretend to be the Packers, Saints or Patriots, and are not going to spread the field and throw 50 times. They want to dominate teams physically on both lines. San Francisco failed miserably on offense, with the Ravens sacking Alex Smith nine times and forcing him from the pocket on almost every pass. Suggs was unblockable, wreaking havoc off the end, while Cory Redding picked up 2.5 sacks and Haloti Ngata added two to the three Suggs recorded.
2. Ray Rice was involved early and often. There have been times this year when Baltimore has, for one reason or another, deserted Rice in its offensive play calling. Not Thursday, when Rice got the call on Baltimore's first two plays and wound up with 21 carries. He didn't have a highlight-reel night, finishing with 59 yards, but Baltimore's commitment to the run game helped wear down San Francisco and opened up its passing attack just enough.
3. San Francisco's receivers are a real concern. The 49ers' 9-1 start masked a lot of the issues they have offensively. Yet for all the positive strides Alex Smith has made this season, he's still not getting much help from his receiving corps. Ted Ginn had just two catches, Kyle Williams dropped a pass and Braylon Edwards was nonexistent.
4. Frank Gore's chop block penalty might have cost the 49ers the game. It was 3-3 in the second quarter when Smith hit Ginn for what looked like a 75-yard touchdown and a lead. Gore was flagged for a chop block on the play, though, negating the touchdown and wiping out what would be one of very few big plays from San Francisco. Between that play and a Smith interception late in the second quarter with the 49ers in field goal range, the 49ers cost themselves at least 10 points.Not many teams could overcome the loss of a player like Ray Lewis, but Baltimore has done it.