To start, though it’s been said before I would like to echo how thankful football fans everywhere were that, if only just this once, the Detroit Lions played a meaningful game on Thanksgiving Day. It’s hard to even say the Lions are back, because even during the Barry Sanders years the Lions weren’t always world-beaters.
Of course, the real stars of the early game on Thursday were the Green Bay Packers. While it’s still too soon to talk about what record they might finish with, the Packers just went through three tough weeks and came out looking better than ever.
Two weeks ago, Green Bay played Minnesota on Monday night, a division rivalry even if the Vikings aren’t exactly formidable this season. After that, the Packers had to host a young and unrefined (yet dangerous enough to beat the Saints and Falcons) Tampa Bay team that desperately needed an upset to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The Packers got all they could handle from these teams, having to fend off Adrian Peterson, then needing to match LeGarrette Blount and Josh Freeman’s desperate scramble, leading into the largest game so far on the schedule: the Thanksgiving matchup on the road against Detroit.
Aaron Rodgers was not the star on Thursday afternoon. Rodgers had his time in the previous two games, all but carrying the Packers past two teams who could have used an upset as a turning point. Like we all had hoped, the Lions provided a new challenge for Green Bay, and yesterday the challenge was to win with balance.
In the first half, the Packers gained fewer than a hundred yards, especially major as they were playing against the fourth highest scoring team in the NFL. Yet it was the Packer defense—the unit occasionally seen as the one thing holding Green Bay back—that stood tall and kept the Lions struggling on offense long enough for the Packer offense to get going late in the game. Given enough time, Green Bay pulled away and kept their winning streak alive. At this point, they certainly look like they could beat anybody. Even on short rest.
-It seems like every year that an offense starts out excellent, until somebody figures out that they are susceptible to the blitz and everything comes crashing down. The 49ers might be at the mid-point of that process after last night, facing their most aggressive defensive opponents and not faring particularly well. Alex Smith was put on the ground a lot. The Ravens’ game plan was to keep Smith under pressure and to force San Francisco to deal with the blitz.
San Francisco has not run into many blitz-heavy teams so far this season. The Cowboys are more aggressive now than in recent years, but the Eagles are no longer the blitzing powerhouse they once were. (And that may have something to do with how the 49ers came back from several scores down against Philadelphia.) Baltimore was their first true test against the blitz, and they did not pass. That seems like a note that other teams will be making very soon.
-Meanwhile, the Cowboys did what they do every week: played their opponents just about dead even regardless of the quality of the opponent. Against the Patriots, the Cowboys looked serious, keeping the game close and having opportunities to win in the fourth quarter. Yet that same Dallas team struggled to find rhythm against Miami, giving the Dolphins a couple of turnovers (one of which led to an almost immediate touchdown) and a couple of stalled drives to keep Miami in the game.
The Cowboys are capable of beating anybody and capable of losing to anybody. That may sound like a general NFL sentiment, but Jerry Jones’ employees are particularly Jekyll and Hyde about such things. Not a good billing to have for a team looking at a golden opportunity to win a division that, as it turns out, is more wide open than the experts expected it to be.