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The Winners and Losers From NFL Thanksgiving Day

Minnesota feasted, Los Angeles downed Dallas with a backup kicker, and sweet potato yams got another moment in the spotlight

Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Every week this NFL season, we will celebrate the electric plays, admonish the colossal blunders, and explain the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?

Winner: Tryptophan

Thanksgiving truly starts with a big early feast, and that’s basically what Vikings-Lions was: the marquee matchup of Turkey Day, a clash between two NFC North teams with records above .500 that kicked off right after the Macy’s parade ended. Minnesota opened strong by scoring three first-half touchdowns and having a lovely Thanksgiving meal in the end zone:

With 10 participants—nine seated around the imaginary table, and wide receiver Stefon Diggs and a football serving as a centerpiece—I think this was the largest display in the NFL’s group touchdown celebration era.

Then Detroit rallied, as it always seems to do under Matthew Stafford, allowing columnists everywhere to use “the Lions roared back” as a turn of phrase. After trailing 20-3 and 27-10, the Lions pulled within four points after Marvin Jones Jr. made this amazing grab in the fourth quarter:

The Vikings ultimately held on, 30-23. The whole game was great, and I probably ate too much of it because it was so good.

Thanksgiving dinner is generally followed by pleasant discomfort, when your body rebels against you, but you secretly remain proud of how much you ate. That’s a great way to sum up the Chargers’ 28-6 win over the Cowboys, a low-scoring affair whose outcome was never in doubt. This game was 3-0 at halftime and deeply unexciting throughout; still, seeing the Cowboys share a painful experience with my digestive tract was largely enjoyable.

After pleasant discomfort comes sleep, and that’s exactly what Washington and New York appeared to be doing during the third game of the day. The sub-.500 teams traded traded seven punts and a turnover on downs over their first eight possessions. Washington won 20-10, but both sides played with the coordination and urgency of a napping uncle.

As an NFL fan, the last two games of the day were trash. As a Thanksgiving fan, though, Thursday’s games were a perfect companion to devouring an absurd amount of food. The NFL feasted with you, guided you through the unease caused by your excessive feasting, and provided background noise for your food snooze. I’m thankful.

Loser: The Chargers’ Cursed Kickers

Los Angeles kicker Nick Novak injured his back on a missed field goal attempt in the first quarter of Thursday’s game against the Cowboys. This was a problem, because most teams don’t carry a backup kicker on their roster. Dallas fans have now learned this thrice this season: Safety Jeff Heath stepped in at kicker after Dan Bailey got hurt in Week 7 against the 49ers, booming kickoffs and hitting two extra points; the Eagles’ Jake Elliott went out in last Sunday’s victory over the Cowboys, which may have helped Philadelphia by forcing it to try a ton of two-point conversions; and on Thursday the Chargers had to play most of a game without Novak.

Novak’s backup? Drew Kaser, the team’s punter. You might assume that Kaser would be good at placekicking, because his job consists of kicking footballs anyway. Well, here he is entirely missing a practice net:

This looks like a scene from a sports comedy movie montage. All that was missing was a cutaway shot that showed the ball soaring into the stands, drilling a clumsy vendor in the face, and prompting that vendor to shower the team’s disgruntled owner with popcorn.

If you analyze what Kaser is doing, you can see that he’s attempting to translate his punting motion to kicking a ball that’s on the ground. Look at how his leg finishes, high in the air like he’s trying to sky a punt. Watch any video of a proper field goal kicking motion—like the one below, incidentally taken at Novak’s kicking camp—and you’ll see that a kicker isn’t supposed to finish his motion up near his shoulders.

Most punters have kicked field goals at some level. Kaser simply hadn’t and it showed, as he lacked even the basic fundamentals. Kaser went 1-for-3 on extra points, and the Chargers missed out on other scoring opportunities when they decided not to have Kaser attempt field goals.

The Chargers won to improve to 5-6, and they’d be in first place in the AFC West if not for kicker misfortune. They lost two games on missed kicks by since-released kicker Younghoe Koo, and another when Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo—who the Chargers cut this fall to keep Koo—sunk them in Week 10.

L.A. is following a sports comedy movie script: It started 0-4 and played in front of terrible crowds as a result of a money-grubbing owner making a greed-based move; it has since won five of its past seven and is starting to generate some buzz. If this season were really a movie, the hot streak would keep rolling, the fans would start showing up en masse, and the team would find a kicker who saves it in a huge game. This is reality, though, so expect Kaser to be forced into action in a must-win situation and send a kick that would lift the Chargers to the playoffs directly into a lineman’s butt.

Winner: Yams. Sweet Potato Yams.

I have watched this clip of Vernon Davis saying the phrase “sweet potato yams” 17 million times:

It comes from NBC’s Thanksgiving 2014 broadcast of a game featuring Davis’s former team, the 49ers. There is something about the soothing, rhythmic way that he says “sweet potato yams” that always lulls me into a catatonic delirium. If somebody decided to start a sweet potato yams cult and wanted people to join, this is exactly how he should repeat the phrase “sweet potato yams” to entice prospective members. Luckily, there is no sweet potato yam cult, because if there was, Davis would have convinced me to replace all my earthly desires with an unnatural compulsion for sweet potato yams three years ago.

Anyway, Davis now plays tight end for Washington, and once again played in an NBC Thanksgiving game on Thursday night. And Davis once again got to profess his love for his favorite Thanksgiving food:

My family and I were having a normal conversation when I saw Davis’s face appear in front of that background. I let out a weird yelp and held up both of my arms to call for quiet. Davis said “sweet potato yams,” and then I hollered in euphoria. Everybody remained quiet for about three seconds before resuming the conversation right where I’d halted it. I imagine this is what it must be like to see your favorite band play your favorite obscure song live, except for me it’s an NFL player reenacting an internet meme.

Loser: NFC East Stadia

I’ve previously written about how Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent $1.2 billion building a stadium without first considering where the giant orb of fire in our sky known as “the sun” would be during football games, failing where the prehistoric people who built Stonehenge succeeded. That cost the Cowboys once again on Thursday. Midway through the second quarter, Dallas cornerback Jourdan Lewis perfectly read a route to make a play on a floating Philip Rivers pass. Then he crossed into the part of the field soaked in sun and dropped a would-be interception:

And the Cowboys were not alone in being failed by their building. Aerial shots Thursday night revealed that Washington’s FedEx Field has a poop-colored racing stripe:

This isn’t just ugly—it makes playing football hard, too. Quarterback Kirk Cousins appeared to lose his footing on a simple throw that turned into an interception and the Giants’ lone touchdown of the game:

The turf at FedEx is famously bad. The most memorable moment in its gross grass history came in the 2013 playoffs, when quarterback Robert Griffin III suffered the injury that all but ruined his once-promising career. Chris Clemons tore his ACL in the same game after previously expressing concern about the turf. The franchise claimed to fix the field that offseason, but by the next December players were already complaining about the terrible conditions. Former Washington kicker Kai Forbath claimed that the field was just dirt spray-painted green, and he might not have been exaggerating.

Why is this field so bad? The Bermuda grass used in Washington only grows in warm weather, hence the late-season problems. That issue could be easily fixed if the team owners were willing to spend on resodding the field, as a turf expert explained to Sports Illustrated. No need to rush, Dan Snyder—after all, there’s a 50-50 chance that another team’s quarterback goes down with a serious injury before yours!

Winner: Yams

Sweet potato yams.

Loser: Dak Prescott

Young Dakota threw just four interceptions in his entire rookie season in 2016. On Thursday, he threw his third pick-six of his 2017 campaign:

More troubling than the throw he made was the throw that he didn’t make.

Prescott has played the two worst games of his career in consecutive weeks, going a combined 38-of-58 passing for just 324 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions in losses to the Eagles and Chargers. You could argue that he’s had the three worst games of his pro career in a row if you include Prescott’s 176-yard, no-touchdown outing in a 27-7 loss to the Falcons in Week 10. This all coincides with running back Ezekiel Elliott beginning to serve his six-game suspension, which is now half over. It also syncs up with injury problems sustained by star left tackle Tyron Smith, as his absence led to Prescott taking a ton of sacks against Atlanta.

But does anybody’s absence explain the drop-off between peak Prescott and plays like this?

Prescott is missing throws and making poor decisions, when his strengths as a rookie were his accuracy and his decision-making. As someone who admired Prescott at his best, I worry that he’s at fault for many of the problems here.

Winner: Odell Beckham Jr.

Thursday was the three-year anniversary of Beckham’s most famous catch, and he had another great day for two reasons. For one, the injured receiver didn’t have to play football for the New York Giants, and therefore probably got to relax and eat food with his loved ones instead of exerting physical energy chasing down defenders who just picked off various Eli Manning overthrows. Secondly, his brand is growing, as evidenced by this clip from Thursday night’s Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State:

Boy dogs have been peeing like this for millennia, but celebrating this way didn’t become cool or trendy until OBJ did it earlier this fall. Now all the kids are doing “The Dog Piss,” and they probably think of it as a Beckham move and not a dog move. Before long, people are going to see dogs peeing on the street and yell, “Look, that corgi is doing the Odell!”

Loser: Pete Robertson

Washington’s Robertson downed a punt at approximately the 7-yard line on Thursday night, or at least he thought he did. He continued running after catching the ball on a bounce, though, thinking the play was over. As you can tell by the wild gesticulations of teammate Quinton Dunbar, it wasn’t. When Robertson went into the end zone, the result was a touchback, costing his team 13 yards of field position.

The rules surrounding what happens at the end of a punt are fairly ridiculous. The ball is dead when it’s caught by a player on the kicking team, but the ball isn’t really dead at the moment a player on the kicking team catches it, because the officials are supposed to wait to see if that player’s momentum carries him into the end zone. This is why players hurl the ball back into the field of play when they touch punts at the opposing 1-yard line. Robertson was justified in thinking that the play was over when he caught the ball a minivan’s length away from the end zone; since his momentum carried him past the goal line, though, this was a touchback.

You can laugh at Robertson, because you don’t know who he is. But that’s also why you shouldn’t laugh at Robertson: He was making his NFL debut on Thursday three years after leading the Big 12 in sacks, two years after suffering a freak training incident that left him with no feeling in his left leg and hampered his draft stock, and one year after spending football season working the graveyard shift at UPS. On Thanksgiving, he finally made it onto an NFL roster. Bloopers are funny, but remember that humans are the ones who make them.