The top 10 Thanksgiving day performances in NFL history

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Every holiday season, the National Football League plays three football games on thanksgiving day.

Chris Van Kleeck, Sports Writer

A tradition that has embedded itself within American households for nearly a century: Thanksgiving football. Every year these three games bring families together and give an entire nation some of the most memorable moments in football history. These are 10 times players have put on the most outstanding performances in Thanksgiving football history.
10. Luke Kuechly Goes Back to Back to Protect Perfection (Panthers vs. Cowboys, 2015)
In the reign of the Carolina Panthers’ infamous attempt of the 16-0 season, the Panthers matched up with the Dallas Cowboys in their first Thanksgiving game in team history. In the 2nd quarter, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo looked to keep his underdog team in the game after already throwing an interception earlier in the 1st quarter that was returned for a touchdown. Romo would drop back to throw a deep ball to wide receiver Terrence Williams only for former Defensive Player of the Year, Luke Keuchly to make a play on the ball and intercept it. Not only did Kuechly intercept the ball, he brought it back 39 yards for a touchdown. On the very next play, Kuechly would intercept Romo again, after failing to find tight end Jason Witten down the field. That play sealed the game and crushed all hopes the cowboys had of a comeback.
9. Roger Brown Leads the “Fearceful Foursome” (Cowboys vs. Packers 1962)
Coming in as the oldest entry on this list, Roger Brown and the 1962 Lions defense were ahead of their time. The defense included five future Hall of Famers, including the names of Dick “Night Train” Lane, and Joe Shmidt. However, the heart of their defense was their resilient, terrifying, hard-nose style football playing defensive line. The group earned themselves the nickname “The Fearceful Foursome” and dominated the NFL for a decade. Despite their dominance, they entered this Thanksgiving matchup as severe underdogs. The undefeated Coach Lombardi led Green Bay Packers were the best team in football, outsourcing opponents 309-74 and averaging just over 24 points per game. Brown and his elite group of pass rushers had a field day. Racking up 11 sacks, and Brown being responsible for seven of them, and forcing five turnovers. The “Fearceful Foursome” terrorized the Packers on that cold Thanksgiving day. A victory of 26-14 over the star ridden Packers, would come to be known as the most shocking upset in the Lombardi Era.
8. Robert Griffin III Turns the Ship Around (Redskins vs. Cowboys, 2012)
In a season where playoff hopes were near to none for the 4-6 Washington Redskins, star rookie Quarterback Robert Griffin III (“RG3”), saw an opportunity to make one of the most historical turnarounds in NFL history. How did he start his career-defining playoff run? With some Thanksgiving day mayhem against “America’s Team”, the Dallas Cowboys. “RG3” would complete 20 of 28 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns against their divisional rival, beating the Cowboys 38-31. This performance by the standout rookie out of The University of Baylor would spark a fire in the Redskins, winning out the rest of the season finishing 10-6 and earning themselves a spot in the wildcard game. The rest of RGIII’s career would be injury ridden and sadly underwhelming, often referred to as the “Derrick Rose of Football.” However, it’s no secret that this 2012 rookie RGIII is one of the most entertaining and promising talents people have ever seen.
7. Clint Longley Steps Up (Cowboys vs. Redskins, 1974)
Chances are most people can’t tell you who Clint Longley is. He was an average quarterback out of Abilene Christian University and only played 26 NFL games as a backup for the Dallas Cowboys. Even the papers didn’t know who he was, referring to him as “That Rookie” after his historical performance against the Washington Redskins. If it weren’t for injury, Longley never would’ve set foot on the field that day. The Redskins were one game away from clinching a spot in the 1974 playoff run. The only thing in front of them? A mediocre (at best) Cowboys team led by a quarterback who was just as well known as the waterboy. Trailing by two touchdowns in the 3rd quarter, Longley led the Cowboys on a 70 yard touchdown drive to bring it within one score. He would throw another touchdown the next drive, finding tight end Joe Dupree 35 yards downfield. With 38 seconds left in the 4th quarter, the Cowboys found themselves down 23-17. With no timeouts left, Longley hit wide receiver Drew Pearsons for a 50-yard touchdown that would clinch the game. Clint Longley isn’t a Hall of Famer, a former star or even a well-known name. But “That Rookie” sure did have one amazing Thanksgiving.
6. Emmit Smith’s Farewell Tour (Cowboys vs. Redskins, 2002)
Far out of his prime, Dallas Cowboys running back and future Hall of Famer Emmit Smith was no longer the dominant force he once was. For years, Smith was a hallmark of Thanksgiving football. However, in what would be his last Thanksgiving game ever, he gave people a flashback to his golden years. Smith and the Cowboys would face division rival, the Washington Redskins on that November night. Smith picked up an electrifying 144 yards on 23 carries, leading the Cowboys to a 27-20 victory. Smith never found the endzone that game, he’s even had better games statistically speaking on other Thanksgivings. But when the NFL all-time leading rusher suits up for the last time for Thanksgiving football, respect has to be shown.

5/4. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson Go Out With a Bang (Lions vs. Eagles, 2015)
One of the most dominant connections in football history, Matthew Stafford and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. In what would be their last Thanksgiving game together, they certainly didn’t disappoint. The dynamic duo and their Detroit Lions would take on the Philadelphia Eagles on this historic day. Johnson would catch eight balls for 93 yards and found the endzone on three separate occasions. Stafford would throw two more touchdowns and finish the game with 337 yards and five touchdowns. The Lions would win by a landslide, demolishing the Eagles 45-14. Stafford still holds down the quarterback position for the Lions to this day, but Johnson would retire after that season only playing nine years. There are a lot of “what if’s” you can say about the duo, but some things are for sure- they will both be in the Hall of Fame, in only nine years they solidified themselves as one of the best connections in NFL history, and defenses had no answer for Megatron and Stafford.
3. Peyton Manning Unleashes an Airstrike (Colts vs. Lions, 2004)
Arguably the greatest to ever do it, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was a nightmare for defenses for over 20 years. Against the Detroit Lions in 2004… even worse, and Manning would even be taken out in only the middle of the 3rd quarter out of mercy for the other team. Manning torched the Lions for six touchdowns, four being in the 1st half, setting an NFL Thanksgiving record. On this day he would also set the record for the most consecutive games with four or more passing touchdowns. The Colts would beat the Lions 41-9, and it would’ve been even worse if Manning played the whole game. There isn’t much to say about this one, other than “wow.”
2. Barry Sanders Torches the Bears (Lions vs. Bears, 1997)
Barry Sanders had become America’s annual appetizer every Thanksgiving throughout the 90s. Arguably the greatest football player ever, Sanders would record his most dominant performance in his career against the Chicago Bears on this 1997 Thanksgiving night. Sanders would set a Thanksgiving record with 170 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The Bears had no answer for Sanders, who was barely even touched all night. The Lions would destroy the bears 55-20 in a game that seemed over before it started.
1. Randy Moss’s “Revenge Game” (Vikings vs. Cowboys, 1998)
Randy Moss was good. Very good to be more specific. Some argue him to be the best to ever do it, to be exact. His talent was undeniable, but his attitude, on the other hand, was questionable. Earlier that year in the NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys passed on Randy Moss, not only regarding his attitude but also commenting that he was extremely overrated and not that good of a football player in the first place. It’s safe to say that “America’s Team” regretted that decision deeply. As the Minnesota Vikings would draft him and torment defenses for years to come, Moss and the Vikings would face the Cowboys on Thanksgiving that year, and the wounds still cut deep in Moss’s mind. Moss felt disrespected and had something to prove against the team that insulted his future career. Moss would only catch three passes that game. Disappointing, right? The Cowboys made the right decision passing on Moss? Negative. Three catches were all Moss needed, as all three were touchdowns. Moss would put up one of the most dominant stat lines in NFL history adding 163 yards to his jaw-dropping performance. This outbreak by Moss would lead the Vikings to a 39-22 victory over the Cowboys. Moss displayed his dominance on the highest level that night, and was already looking like one of the greatest. The craziest part was the rookie was only getting started.