Before we preview this year’s slate of Thanksgiving Day games, let’s look back on the great Thanksgiving performances in NFL history. We’ve found the very best holiday performances by QBs, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, the secondary and the D-line. It’s a collection of Hall-of-Famers, future Hall-of-Famers, disgraced Hall-of-Famers, the former NFL Fumble King, the son of a Hall-of-Famer, and one dude who’s a bit of a nobody.
QBs – Tom Brady (2010) and Dave Krieg (1994) are the only two QB’s in history to post a perfect 158.3 passer rating on Thanksgiving. Brady completed 21 of 27 for 341 yards, 4 TDs and 0 picks en route to the Patriots’ 45-24 win over Detroit. Meanwhile, former Lions QB Krieg lit up the Bills, going 20-for-25 for 351 yards 3 TDs and 0 picks in a 35-21 victory. Krieg was perhaps best known as the NFL’s all-time leader in fumbles with 153, until 1997, when Warren Moon blew by him (Moon would hold the record only a few years before giving way to Brett Farve, who remains #1 with 166).
WRs – There have been a number of great Thanksgiving performances from receivers, but one of the best took place just last year when newly-acquired Cowboys WR Amari Cooper hauled in 8 catches for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the final season of his injury-shortened career, Packers WR Sterling Sharpe had a monster game on Turkey Day against the Cowboys. Sharpe caught 9 passes for 122 yards and all four of the Packers’ TDs.
However, if you go all the way back to Thanksgiving 1945, Browns receiver Jim Benton had one of the greatest games in NFL history. Benton caught 10 passes for a mind-blowing 303 yards, a record that stood for 40 years. It’s still the fourth most receiving yards in a single game; amazingly, the Benton and the Browns only scored one touchdown in their 6-3 win over the Lions.
RBs – Orenthal James Simpson put on a clinic on Thanksgiving Day 1976, rolling for 273 yards on 29 carries and scoring 2 TDs in the Bills’ 27-14 loss to the Lions. If you’re looking for a winning performance, Barry Sanders’ 167 yards and 3 TDs on 19 carries in the Lions’ 55-20 shellacking of the 1997 Bears is a solid choice.
But if you dig deep in the history books, you’ll uncover one of the league’s most singularly remarkable performances. A month after the stock market crash of 1929, Chicago Cardinals fullback Ernie Nevers scored all 40 points in Chicago’s win over, uh, the Chicago Bears. These were the wacky days of football when players played multiple positions, so Nevers not only rushed for 6 TDs, he kicked 4 extra points. The Hall-of-Famer’s 40 points is still a record for the most points put up by a single player in one game.
TEs – Before disgracing his family name, Kellen Winslow II made his father proud with 10 catches for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Browns’ 34-30 loss to the Broncos on Thanksgiving 2008. His dad’s best Thanksgiving performance was a measly 7 catches for 53 in 1980, but at least his Chargers won, beating the Dolphins 27-24.
DBs – Charles Woodson was a force on Thanksgiving 2009 (the year he won Defensive Player of the Year), with 7 tackles, a sack, 2 interceptions returned for 38 yards and a touchdown, a forced fumble and recovery, plus 4 passes defended in the Packers’ 34-12 win over Detroit.
D-Line – After getting passed over by Philly in the draft, Ezekiel Anash vowed to make them pay on Thanksgiving. Boy did he deliver: Anash sacked the Eagles’ Mark Sanchez a Thanksgiving-record 3.5 times and in the 3rd quarter forced and recovered a fumble on the Philly 15 that resulted in a Detroit touchdown in the Lions’ 45-12 win over the 2015 Eagles.
Now, onto our Thanksgiving Football Menu…
Chicago Bears vs Detroit Lions
12:30pm ET on FOX
It’s The Battle for the Basement as these two NFC Central rivals square off for a rematch. The Bears took the first game, back on Nov. 10th, as Mitch Trubisky shook off 5 sacks to have a solid day, completing 16 of 23 for 173 yards and 3 touchdowns to lead them to a 20-13 victory. Will he recover in time from his mysterious hip injury? Tune in!
New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons
8:20pm ET on NBC
And this one is another rematch of a Nov. 10 game, this time with NFC South rivals. The Saints had been humming along at 7-1 when they got ambushed by the 1-7 Falcons, losing 26-9. The Falcons managed to take down Drew Brees 6 times that day and kept New Orleans out of the end zone for the full 60 minutes, while Atlanta placekicker Younghoe Koo led all scorers with 14 points.
Stats through Week 11, courtesy Pro-Football-Reference.com