Division rivals battle on Thanksgiving day

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson had 11 catches for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Lions' 34-17 victory over the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving day. Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press/MCT

This year’s Thanksgiving NFL football games featured three matchups with real ramifications. The Chicago Bears (5-7), desperate for a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, traveled to Ford Field to play the Detroit Lions (8-4), a team with a long history of late-season implosions desperately clinging to a winning record. Next, the Dallas Cowboys (8-4) hosted the Philadelphia Eagles (9-3) at AT&T Stadium to determine which team would lead the NFC East. Finally, the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks (8-4) traveled to Levi’s Stadium to play NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers (7-5).

In the early game, the Lions defeated the Bears 34-17 despite falling behind early. On the defensive end, the Lions demolished the Bears’ running game. The Bears rushed only eight times despite their season average of 23.1 attempts per game. The Lions’ front seven, the most dominant in the league, gave up only 13 yards on the ground. The Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler had a familiar line, passing for 280 yards on a measly 5.8 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Alshon Jeffery caught both touchdowns, and Detroit’s Glover Quinn and James Ihedigbo each picked Cutler off. Despite averaging the ninth most passes per game in the league (38.1), the Bears passing attack, led by quarterback Jay Cutler and receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, is only 14th best in the league. The Bears did not score a touchdown after the first quarter.

The Detroit Lions have the 30th ranked rushing attack and eighth best passing game, but injuries to transcendent receiver Calvin Johnson and running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush have deflated the Lions’ offensive production. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has struggled without Johnson, his number one option, but questionable offensive line play (Stafford has been sacked 35 times, second only to the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick), hasn’t helped his cause. Offseason acquisition, receiver Golden Tate, admirably plugged the gap in Johnson’s absence. Against the Bears, Johnson dominated en route to 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Tate added eight catches for 89 yards. Stafford finished with a highly efficient 390 yards on 45 attempts with no interceptions. Lions running back Joique Bell rushed 23 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Bell’s fourth quarter, one-yard goal line plunge clinched the game for the Lions. The two teams play again in Week 16 to potentially decide which team will play in the postseason.

In the afternoon game, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Dallas Cowboys 33-10 at home. The Cowboys’ power running scheme didn’t necessarily fail, but against stacked eight-man boxes, running back DeMarco Murray was only able to garner 73 yards on the ground in 20 attempts. That is by no means a bad number, but considering the record-breaking pace Murray has been on this season, this game is comparatively a disappointment. Yet for the Eagles, the running game has certainly been an issue. Due to suspension and injury, their league best offensive line from last season has been devastated. LeSean McCoy, who had struggled earlier in the season, exploded up the soft middle of the Cowboys defense for 159 yards and a touchdown on 25 attempts. Thanks to the general effectiveness of the run game, Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez threw only 29 passes but completed 20 for 217 yards and a touchdown, which rookie receiver Jordan Matthews caught. Tony Romo displayed his usual evasiveness and mobility in the pocket, a good sign for a quarterback coming off of back surgery, but his performance was otherwise uninspiring. Unable to sustain long drives, the Cowboys had 58 plays to the Eagles’ 75, translating to only 29 pass attempts for Romo despite a growing deficit on the scoreboard. Romo completed 18 passes for 199 yards and two interceptions. Cary Williams and Nate Allen each picked off Romo once. These teams face off again in Week 15, in a game that could potentially decide the division.

The Seattle Seahawks, much less dangerous on the road than at home, suffocated rival San Francisco 49ers 19-3 in front of the 49ers’ fans in the night game. The 49ers are now in danger of missing the post-season for the first time in three seasons. They had clawed to a 7-4 record in the stacked NFC West before dropping this game to the now 8-4 Seahawks. The Seahawks started the season looking just as dominant as the team that routed the Broncos in the Super Bowl, but injuries on the defensive side of the ball and the exposing of Marshawn Lynch have led to questions about the viability of a repeat champion. Still a top secondary, the “Legion of Boom” hasn’t inspired as much fear this year and the loss of defensive lineman Brandon Mebane to a hamstring injury exposed the Seahawks’ run defense. However, Mebane returned in time to play the 49ers. Despite the outcome of the game, both the Seahawks and 49ers are still chasing the Arizona Cardinals (9-2) for first place in the division.

In a performance reminiscent of last season’s postseason dominance, the Seahawks prevented the 49ers from achieving even a semblance of offense. Colin Kaepernick threw for just 121 yards with two interceptions in 29 attempts, although he did add 17 yards on the ground. Offensive centerpiece Frank Gore rushed for a paltry 28 yards on 10 attempts, and rookie running back Carlos Hyde couldn’t get it going either, rushing for just 19 yards. Top receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin struggled for a combined six receptions and 28 yards. Seattle, in contrast, rushed for 157 yards, of which Lynch accounted for 104. Quarterback Russell Wilson, a model of efficiency, threw for 226 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts. Sherman caught both of Kaepernick’s interceptions. This was Seattle at its best, with Lynch grinding the game away on the ground, Wilson keeping the chains moving and the defense shutting down the opposing run game without compromising lockdown coverage. These rivals face off again in Week 15 to likely decide which will enter the postseason.

Although all three games ended somewhat lopsidedly, the Lions and Eagles displayed plenty of offense for fans and the Seahawks grinding style offered entertainment to NFL traditionalists. With plenty of postseason ramifications, this season’s Thanksgiving games were an excellent distraction from the pain of a bloated post-turkey stomach.