Cowboys’ defense dashes Dak Prescott, own playoff hopes

Dak Prescott made it three straight games without a passing touchdown in the Cowboys’ third consecutive blowout loss, a 28-6 defeat to the Chargers on Thanksgiving.

Prescott (20-of-27, 179 yards, 2 INTs 2 sacks, 60.6 passer rating) also threw his third pick-six of the season, a 90-yard TD return by Los Angeles’ Desmond King that sealed Dallas’ fate in Week 12 — and for the 2017 season.

MORE: Cowboys-Chargers box score

With a 5-6 record, the Cowboys need a ton of help to even get back to sniffing true wild-card contention. They’ve lost three straight games without the services of suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott, and he’ll miss three more.

From a glance, it would be easy to put this on Prescott; to say he and the Dallas offense is nothing without Elliott, a dink-and-dunk, predictable passing offense playing off a more respectable than explosive rushing attack. That’s true to a point.

But the bottom line is Prescott isn’t equipped to win when the game flow is so out of hand.

With the Chargers’ output Thursday, the Cowboys have now been outscored 92-22 without Zeke. It’s also been three games mostly without the glue of the defense, outside linebacker Sean Lee.

As Lee watched again from the sideline hamstrung, Philip Rivers ripped Lee’s teammates for 434 yards passing and 3 TDs. The Cowboys tried their best to load up and stop Melvin Gordon and the Chargers’ running game after getting gashed by Atlanta and Philadelphia the past two weeks. The results were just as disastrous, as LA had no problems spreading the ball out and throwing all over the field for several chunk gains.

Dallas’ once-impressive pass rush was non-existent. The bending now comes with total breaking. The bad coverage now comes with even worse tackling. Wide receiver Keenan Allen’s performance (11 catches, 172 yards, TD) was the epitome of a monster game, stamped by a 42-yard scoring catch-and-run during which at least five Cowboys were undressed on the way to the end zone.

The Cowboys were good at playing keep-away with Prescott and Elliott in their magical rookie seasons. Their wide receivers and tight ends, although not putting up huge numbers as a group, came through in tough matchups when needed.

But now the Cowboys’ limitations around Prescott in the passing game have been totally exposed as game flow has gone in the other direction. With Lee no longer available to lead and duct-tape all their issues, the Cowboys have unraveled defensively, and they are simply not built to come back offensively with a one-dimensional attack.

Strangely, Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have done an admirable job running the ball in Elliott’s stead. The issue simply has been one less explosive playmaker (Elliott) for a team devoid of them in the passing game.

Dez Bryant has disappeared in most games. Terrance Williams, a surprise re-sign in the offseason, has only flashed as a shaky No. 2. Cole Beasley hasn’t been close to the slot machine. For some reason, Brice Butler remains criminally underused on the outside. Venerable tight end Jason Witten, who did his best to rally the Cowboys with his pregame meeting, simply has little left in the tank beyond being a reliable very short passing target.

The Cowboys were a perfect complementary team last season, and they were expecting the same kind of things to fall into place this year. With little inspiring depth, they were not prepared for injuries or suspensions throwing one or two wrenches that could derail everything.

There was Elliott, and there was Lee, and there were the two previous games left tackle Tyron Smith missed, too. Earlier in the season, David Irving was a big defensive line loss for four games.

There’s no doubt Prescott has pressed to make up for the defensive ineptitude, and it has backfired. With Elliott not there, Prescott can’t be as effective as an occasional runner. He’s been forced to drop back, and teams are teeing off, not scared by the Cowboys downfield. The Chargers were the worst possible matchup for that, with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram leading the pass rush and cornerback Casey Hayward shutting things down on the back end.

MORE: Updated NFL playoff picture

The Cowboys did their best to upgrade defensively with offseason salary-cap limitations, using their first three draft picks to try to bolster their weakest positions at defensive end (Taco Charlton) and cornerback (Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis). But they’ve regressed in that area.

Given what Bryant, Williams, Beasley and Witten look like as a group, Prescott didn’t get enough credit for making it work with them. He’s trying to make plays that aren’t available, knowing that if a possession goes without a points, it might be pointless.

The Cowboys gave themselves and Prescott little margin for error in 2017, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that unforeseen further setbacks have doomed them.

For Chargers, winless did not mean hopeless; now they have playoffs in…

All 0-4 records are not alike, as it turns out, and the Chargers are reminding the NFL of this more every week.

The Chargers were not, for example, the same 0-4 the Giants appear to be. Like the Chargers, they played Thursday night to save face, because their 0-4 turned into 0-5, then 2-8 as they headed to Washington. Meanwhile, thanks to the 28-6 beating they handed to the Cowboys in AT&T Stadium, the 5-6 Chargers have a chance to end Sunday one game out of first place in the AFC West with five games left.

The Chargers have won five of seven since their 0-4 start. They’ve beaten their last two opponents, the Bills and Cowboys, both on the road, by a combined 82-30. Most of the points they’ve given up have been in garbage time, and their defense has been nearly as much of a threat to score as a threat to stop the other team. Desmond King’s 90-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter was the Chargers’ third in that span.

GAME CENTER: Chargers-Cowboys stats

Blame Dak Prescott and the absence of Ezekiel Elliott if you want. Add that to the blame last week on Bills novice quarterback Nathan Peterman, and on novice coach Sean McDermott for starting him. Regardless, the Chargers’ defense, that pass rush, the easier life that gives an opportunistic secondary — they’re making the other side look downright inept.

They’re also making sure that they don’t repeat the last-play, heartbreaking losses that defined that 0-4 start. Better to put a game out of reach than to let it stay in reach of the fates in the final seconds, as they did each of their first two games and three of their first four. (Not to mention their last two losses, to the Patriots and Jaguars, before their blowout of the Bills.)

They looked too good in too many games to be 0-4, and to be looking up at every team in the division a month into the season. The players, including Philip Rivers, and coach Anthony Lynn, kept insisting then that things weren’t as bad as they looked , that they were better than the year before when they were losing games in much the same fashion (eight losses by seven points or fewer in 2016), that this wasn’t going to continue.

IYER: Defense dooming Dak’s, Cowboys’ playoff hopes

They were right.

Now, the Chargers hotter than any team there, and, as a bonus, less dysfunctional (a more fitting description for the Broncos and Raiders, who both fired coordinators this week).

The Chiefs started 5-0, and their Week 3 win in Kansas City was the only lopsided Chargers loss this season — but now, after four losses in five games, KC has to beat the Bills on Sunday to give itself some breathing room.

MORE: Imploding Broncos fight twice at practice

The Chargers earned the luxury of resting and watching Sunday. That defense, and Rivers’ 434 yards passing — all of which allowed them to mask a nightmare of a day in the kicking game — gave them a nice cushion with their play Thursday.

They know that what they’re attempting is rare, and there’s no chance they don’t know exactly how rare by now. The only team in NFL history to go from an 0-4 start to a playoff berth is … the 1992 San Diego Chargers, of Junior Seau and Stan Humphries and a top-five defense, who caught and passed the Chiefs to win the West.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: Latest seeding after early Week 12 action

This isn’t karma, though, or a positive omen, or history repeating itself. This is a team that was never as bad as its 0-4 record, and two months later is gradually proving it.

Bears place LB Leonard Floyd on injured reserve

Bears place LB Leonard Floyd on injured reserve

Floyd will miss the rest of the season.


Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

A rough season just got worse for the Bears. The team will place linebacker Leonard Floyd on injured reserve, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Floyd was carted off the field during Sunday’s loss to the Lions. He escaped without an ACL injury, but did sprain his MCL and PCL. He may need surgery to repair the damage, but it could be worse.

“But it was good to hear it wasn’t the ACL. It was MCL, PCL,” head coach John Fox said Wednesday on his weekly radio show on Chicago’s WBBM-AM 780. “It will require some work to get him fixed, but obviously better news that the total reconstruction.”

Floyd shared his thoughts via Twitter after the injury.

Undefeated against adversity

— L8F4➰➰ (@Leonard90Flo) November 20, 2017

The Bears selected Floyd with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft. He had 34 tackles this season, and he was second on the team with 4.5 sacks.

The saxophone national anthem before Vikings vs. Lions was amazing

The saxophone national anthem before Vikings vs. Lions was amazing

Saxophone anthems are the best.

The national anthem should always be played on a saxophone. Michael Phillips’ performance of the anthem before Vikings vs. Lions proves it.

Phillips performed the anthem, and it was flawless.

Phillips played the national anthem on his sax before the divisional round matchup between the Seahawks and the Falcons after the 2016 season. He did it again before the NFC Championship between the Packers and Falcons last year, and drew similar rave reviews both times.

Last year fans were treated to a gorgeous rendition of the anthem courtesy of Aretha Franklin. But people got a little mad online about the length of it.

Nobody was complaining this year, because Phillips’ sax version was perfect.

The Vikings had a very festive Thanksgiving dinner touchdown celebration

The Vikings had a very festive Thanksgiving dinner touchdown celebration

It’s a perfect celebration for Thanksgiving Day.

What’s better than sitting around with your family and friends, enjoying some great food and football on Thanksgiving? Watching the Vikings celebrate a touchdown by sitting down in the end zone for a Thanksgiving meal.

After a 9-yard rushing touchdown from Case Keenum, the festivities began. Keenum was the first to start dishing up dinner for his teammates.

The Vikings have had some of the league’s most memorable touchdown celebrations this season. They entertained us with duck, duck, goose and a game of leapfrog. But this celebration is their best yet.

Chargers wearing iconic powder blue uniforms for Thanksgiving Day game vs. the Cowboys

Chargers wearing iconic powder blue uniforms for Thanksgiving Day game vs. the Cowboys

The Chargers are making the most of their first Thanksgiving Day game since 1969.

The Chargers will be rocking their best uniforms for their Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Cowboys. For the second time this season, the Chargers will be wearing powder blue.

This is the first time the Chargers have played on Thanksgiving Day since 1969. And they’re making the most of it with these uniforms.

Powder blues for our Thanksgiving game #WhoYouWith@usnikefootballpic.twitter.com/sqJfghRghI

— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) November 21, 2017

Philip Rivers is looking forward to playing on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in his career.

“It’s awesome,” Rivers said, via ESPN’s Eric D. Williams. “That’s one of the first things I noticed when the schedule came out. It’s probably a good chance I will only get this opportunity. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Cornerback Casey Hayward said it is a little different because the whole world is watching.

“I guess it gives you the opportunity to really suck or really be good, and everybody notices,” Hayward said. “So if you’re really good, a lot of good things will come out of it, but if you suck, don’t get on Twitter.”

The Chargers wore some version of the powder blues as their home uniform from 1960 through 1973. Now that they’re back in Los Angeles for the first time since the 1960 season, it would be nice to see them shift back to the powder blues for their home uniform. But at least we get to see them on Thanksgiving.

Matthew Stafford breaks Tony Romo’s record for most passing yards on Thanksgiving

Matthew Stafford breaks Tony Romo’s record for most passing yards on Thanksgiving

The Lions quarterback only needed eight games to break the record Romo set over 10 games with the Cowboys.


The Detroit Lions haven’t always had much to cheer about during their annual Thanksgiving Day game, but quarterback Matthew Stafford has been a bright spot in recent seasons. This year against the Minnesota Vikings, he broke Tony Romo’s record for most passing yards thrown on Thanksgiving.

Romo played 10 games for the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, recording 2,338 passing yards. Coming into Thursday, Stafford had thrown for 2,219 yards and 15 touchdowns in Thanksgiving games. He entered the game needing only 119 yards to tie Romo. He passed the record with this six-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marvin Jones Jr late in the second quarter.

Matthew Stafford Marvin Jones Jr. for the @Lions TD! #OnePridepic.twitter.com/ymgGthbGxQ

— Sporting News (@sportingnews) November 23, 2017

As a historically moribund franchise that happens to play on Thanksgiving every year, the Lions haven’t always provided much entertainment for their fans and neutral viewers. Even after adding Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Detroit lost its first four Thanksgiving games with him on the roster (he missed the 2010 game with an injury).

However, the Lions rebounded in recent years, winning their last four Thanksgiving games heading into the 2017 season. Last year, Detroit knocked off the Vikings, 16-13. Unfortunately for the Lions, the Vikings have a 20-10 lead at halftime.

Would Lions’ overturned TD have stood if they had snapped the ball sooner for the PAT attempt?

Would Lions’ overturned TD have stood if they had snapped the ball sooner for the PAT attempt?

This may not have been the Lions’ fault.

Matthew Stafford hit Darren Fells for what looked like a 14-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Vikings on Thursday. And the play would have stood if the Lions would have attempted the PAT sooner.

It was ruled a catch for a touchdown initially. The ruling was confirmed, according to the broadcast. But it wasn’t a catch.

The Lions lined up to attempt the PAT, but took their sweet time snapping the ball. It gave officials a chance to take another look at the play. The ruling on the field was changed, and the Lions had to settle for a field goal.

If the ruling was confirmed and the Lions had gotten the go ahead to try the PAT, this is on them. But maybe this actually wasn’t the Lions’ fault.

On not quick snapping after the Fells overturned touchdown, Lions were told that the score was confirmed before officials changed their mind.

— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) November 23, 2017

If the Lions thought the score was already confirmed, there was not really any reason to rush the snap. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t confirmed.

The Lions really needed seven points instead of a field goal. They’re trailing the Vikings 27-13.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford limps off after getting rolled up on TD pass vs. Vikings

Lions QB Matthew Stafford limps off after getting rolled up on TD pass vs. Vikings

Matthew Stafford appeared to suffer a lower leg injury in the fourth quarter.


Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford got rolled up on in a Thanksgiving game against the Minnesota Vikings and appeared to suffer a lower leg injury.

Stafford, 29, has started 106 consecutive games for the Lions and became the highest paid player in the NFL earlier this year when he signed a six-year, $135 million contract with the team. A loss of the quarterback would be devastating for a team that is top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns. Luckily for the Lions, that’s not the case.

The touchdown meant Stafford was able to go to the sideline and get his ankle taped, and he was attempting to walk off injury while the Vikings were on offense. By the time Minnesota finished a lengthy field goal drive, Stafford re-entered the game on Detroit’s next offensive possession.

Stafford has a history of playing through injuries, including a dislocated finger in the last month of the 2016 season and a bruised rib in 2015. The last time he missed games was due to a pair of shoulder dislocations in 2010.

The backup quarterback for the Lions is Jake Rudock, a second-round quarterback taken in the sixth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He has never thrown a pass in an NFL regular season game.

At the time of his injury, Stafford had 17 completions on 29 attempts against the highly-touted Vikings defense for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has 21 touchdowns and five interceptions on the season.

4 winners and 2 losers from Vikings’ 30-23 Thanksgiving Day win over the Lions

4 winners and 2 losers from Vikings’ 30-23 Thanksgiving Day win over the Lions

The Lions almost pulled off a late-game comeback, but the Vikings held them off.

The Lions hadn’t lost a Thanksgiving Day matchup since 2012. That changed on Thursday when they fell 30-23 to the Vikings.

The Lions closed the gap on a 17-point lead the Vikings had early in the third quarter and made it a game late. It looked like they might pull off one of those classic fourth-quarter comebacks that Matthew Stafford’s so well known for. But Stafford’s only interception of the day came when the Vikings were pushing to score on their last drive, and it killed their chances.

The Lions fall to 6-5 with the loss, which hurts their postseason chances. The Vikings improved to 9-2 and shored up their stronghold on the NFC North.

Winner: This Thanksgiving dinner touchdown celebration

You never know what the Vikings are going to do when they score a touchdown. They’ve played duck, duck, goose and leapfrog in the end zone. But there’s no more perfect celebration for Thanksgiving Day than sitting down after a score for a nice, big Thanksgiving dinner.

Winner: Everson Griffen, who had a baby boy and a big game

Griffen’s wife gave birth to the couple’s brand new baby son shortly before the game kicked off. And Griffen was instrumental in the Vikings’ defensive effort. He had two of the Vikings’ three sacks.

Griffen even asked America what he should name their new baby.

Fox

Winner: Matthew Stafford

No, he didn’t win the game. But Stafford almost pulled off one of his trademark fourth-quarter comeback attempts. He also broke Tony Romo’s record for the most passing yards all-time in Thanksgiving games with this 6-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones.

Matthew Stafford Marvin Jones Jr. for the @Lions TD! #OnePridepic.twitter.com/ymgGthbGxQ

— Sporting News (@sportingnews) November 23, 2017

Stafford finished the game 20-of-35 for 236 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick. The pick didn’t come until the fourth quarter

Loser: This snap from Vikings center Pat Elflein

Oh, dear.

I don’t think Elflein snapped it, uh, exactly where he was hoping to: pic.twitter.com/7iTq1A4hYI

— Brandon Warne (@Brandon_Warne) November 23, 2017

Winner: Adam Thielen

Thielen passed an important milestone for himself and the Vikings.

Adam Thielen is the @Vikings first 1,000-yard receiver this decade.

Every other NFL team already had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2010.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 23, 2017

Thielen’s rapport with Case Keenum has been a tremendous factor for the Vikings offense this season. He caught eight of 11 targets for 89 yards against the Lions.

Loser: The refs

The NFL rules define taunting, in part, as participating in a celebration on the ground. But Case Keenum wasn’t celebrating when he tossed the ball in Ezekiel Ansah’s general direction after being sacked.

The refs became the story of the day.

“No team has ever come back from 17 points down to win on Thanksgiving.”

No team has ever gotten this much help from the officials, either.

— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) November 23, 2017

There were plenty of blown calls, bad spots, and just plain questionable flags in this one. A lot of the bad calls in the second half went in the Lions’ favor, but it didn’t help them enough to pull off the win.


Things we’re thankful for this NFL season