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The Best Individual NFL Performances on Thanksgiving Day


Thanksgiving and football go together like freshly cut turkey and stuffing. Football Thanksgiving is a timeless tradition celebrated by many. As Americans across the country prepare for their next Turkish Tournament, let’s take a look at the best Thanksgiving Day individual performance in NFL history.

No, you won’t find your Uncle’s five-touch game from last year’s Turkey Bowl on this list. But since the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions compete every Thanksgiving, you’ll see them pop up a lot on this list.

1 out of 20

Peyton Manning (2004)

Peyton Manning (2004)

Matthew Emmons-USA Sports TODAY

One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Peyton Manning, overwhelmed the Detroit Lions’ makeshift defense as his Colts stomped in place 41-9. Always a statistical miracle, Manning threw 236 yards and six touchdowns in the margin victory..

2 out of 20

Calvin Johnson (2015)

Calvin Johnson (2015)

Johnson scores the goal in Thanksgiving despite the doubles team (2015).
Tim Fuller-USA Sports TODAY

Calvin “Megatron” Johnson won eight touchdowns, 93 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-14 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He cut off the Eagles defenders’ wings for the whole game. After a long list of great performances by the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, Johnson’s hat-trick may be the best of them all. They don’t call him Megatron for nothing.

3 out of 20

Randy Moss (1998)

Randy Moss (1998)

PAUL BUCK-Contributor-Getty Images

NFL legend Randy Moss dreamed of playing for the Dallas Cowboys as a kid. When they put him on the draft list because off-field concerns went away as soon as Moss joined the NFL, he was bummed. Moss had the last laugh, winning three catches for 163 and three touchdowns on Thanksgiving. Yes, you read that right, every time Moss is caught against the Cowboys comes the house. Moss’ hat-trick helped the Vikings win over the Cowboys in a thrilling penalty shootout 46-36.

Tom Brady (2010)

Andrew Weber-USA Sports TODAY

Tom Brady rarely disappoints in prime time. His 2010 Thanksgiving performance was no exception. GOAT celebrated for 341 yards and four touchdowns as the New England Patriots tamed the Detroit Lions 45-24.

5 out of 20

Barry Sanders (1997)

Barry Sanders (1997)

JULIAN H. GONZALEZ/DETROIT FREE PRESS

Out of the many great games that Lion legend Barry Sanders played on Thanksgiving, this one took home the cheesecake. Sanders galloped for 167 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-20 game against NFC North Chicago Bears. The Lions need this win because they’re in the middle of an end-of-season playoff.

A Thanksgiving legend, Sanders gives families a well-deserved standout performance every turkey day.

6 out of 20

Emmitt Smith (1996)

Emmitt Smith (1996)

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

In 1996, Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith celebrated 29 hits, 155 yards and three touchdowns. With Thanksgiving dinner in mind, the NFL’s all-time top sprinter led his team to beat the Washington Lowly Commanders by a score of 21-10.

90s kids are grateful to watch Barry Sanders’ Lions and Emmitt Smith’s Cowboys every Thanksgiving. I’m sure there’s been some debate over the dinner table about who’s the better backrunner.

7 out of 20

Bob Griese (1977)

Bob Griese (1977)

Malcolm Emmons-USA Sports TODAY

Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese put on a performance against St. Louis Cardinals, launched 207 yards and six touchdowns in the 55-14 game. Often forgotten during Thanksgiving performances, the Miami shooter’s six touchdowns are tied with Peyton Manning’s Thanksgiving record. These statistics were unprecedented in Griese’s day.

8 out of 20

Jason Garrett (1994)

Jason Garrett (1994)

Michael C. Hebert-USA Sports TODAY

Before Jason Garrett became head coach of the Dallas Cowboys for much of the 2010s, he was the backup quarterback for Cowboys legend Troy Aikman. In a 1994 Thanksgiving match against fellow NFC Green Bay Packers, Garrett led the ‘Boys in Blue’ to victory. Going 17-6 at half-time, Garrett led the Cowboys to an unbelievable comeback win over the Packers, winning the game 42-32. Garrett threw 311 yards and hit the ball twice while eating lots of celebratory turkeys.

9 out of 20

Ernie Nevers (1929)

Ernie Nevers (1929)

Bettmann-Contributor-Getty . Image

I know what you’re thinking, “why include a performance by a player from a century ago?” Well, you’re about to find out very soon. Chicago Cardinals winger Ernie Nevers scored 40 points in one game with an NFL record! He scored six touchdowns and scored four more. No one has yet reached the good record of Ernie Nevers. The Stanford alumnus was also a relief pitcher for St. Louis Browns and was a member of the inaugural NFL Hall of Fame in 1963.

10 out of 20

LeSean McCoy (2014)

LeSean McCoy (2014)

Matthew Emmons-USA Sports TODAY

Philadelphia Eagles run against LeSean McCoy’s amazing start against arch-rivals Dallas Cowboys put Chip Kelly’s Eagles (remember him?) over Boys, 33-10. In this primetime NFC East battle, McCoy covered 159 yards and a touchdown. McCoy ran across the field thanks to wide open spaces thanks to the Eagles’ formidable offensive line.

11 out of 20

Tony Romo (2006)

Tony Romo (2006)

Tim Heitman-USA Sports TODAY

Cowboy legend Tony Romo had his breakout season in 2006. In front of a live audience on Thanksgiving, the untrained kid from Eastern Illinois University performed an aerial attack on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers , toss 306 yards and 5 touches in a day. The Cowboys left with a convincing 38-10 victory. This was the beginning of nearly a decade of Romo under the Cowboys heartland. He ended up becoming their all-time top passer.

12 out of 20

Sterling Sharpe (1994)

Sterling Sharpe (1994)

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers star recipient Sterling Sharpe is the rare loser on this list. Sharpe made nine catches from 122 yards and four colossal touchdowns as the Packers suffered a heartbreaking defeat to the Cowboys. Sharpe’s extraordinary effort was not enough to capture W.

Sharpe’s career with the Hall of Fame was cut short due to injury. If he’s fit, he’ll rival his brother, Shannon, as one of the best pass catchers of the ’90s.

13 out of 20

The Earl of Campbell (1979)

The Earl of Campbell (1979)

Manny Rubio-USA Sports TODAY

Houston Oilers legend Earl Campbell has made a successful comeback in several deep games in the Love Ya Blue era. In the Texas game against the Dallas Cowboys, Campbell was the all-time top player of the game, finishing with 33 shots, 195 yards and two touchdowns. Talk about great production from a run back! Campbell won the NFL MVP award that year and gave the Oilers a Super Bowl victory.

14 out of 20

Robert Griffin III (2012)

Robert Griffin III (2012)

Matthew Emmons-USA Sports TODAY

This Thanksgiving, rookie Robert Griffin III hit a 304-yard shot and four touchdowns in the Washington Commanders’ 38-31 win over bitter rivals the Dallas Cowboys. RG3 had led the Commanders to their first division championship since 1999 and won the 2012 Rookie of the Year award, before Commanders head coach Mike Shanahan ruined his career with one act. Offense read the heavy option, RG3 has had the nation’s capital flooded with success.

15 out of 20

Luke Keuchly (2015)

Luke Keuchly (2015)

Jerome Miron-USA Sports TODAY

The first defensive player on the list, Carolina Panthers legend Luke Kuechly, was a mainstay of the 2015 Panthers defensive top 10, before amassing a 15-1 record and losing to Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos. during Super Bowl 50, Keuchly led the Panthers to a 33-14 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The All-World full-back made seven tackles and made two interceptions in the 49-yard return. His 32-yard six-shot changed the momentum in this Turkey Day game.

16 out of 20

Walter Stanley (1986)

Walter Stanley (1986)

Ronald C. Modra-Contributor-Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers wide receiver Walter Stanley is simply against the Detroit Lions. In an absolute shootout, where the Packers won 44-40 over the Lions, the offensive universal whirled with four 124-yard catches and two touchdowns. A speed threat as a returning player, Stanley takes three kicks from 50 yards and two penalties from 113 yards and a touchdown. His 83-yard home return shot turned the tide in this Thanksgiving legend.

17 out of 20

Defensive Philadelphia Eagles (1989)

Defensive Philadelphia Eagles (1989)

Lou Capozzola-USA Sports TODAY

While most Americans were stocking up on Thanksgiving leftovers, the Philadelphia Eagles celebrated the Dallas Cowboys’ offense. They crammed the Cowboys on their way to a 27-0 loss in prime time. A young offensive led by Troy Aikman failed to fend off the Eagles in his “welcome to the NFL” moment. Eagles D dropped a total of 191 yards, was forced to make five turns (three interceptions, two follow-ups) and fired Aikman twice.

18 out of 20

Clint Longley (1974)

Clint Longley (1974)

beautiful pictures

Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Clint Longley became an unlikely hero when he filled out Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach on Thanksgiving. Down 16-3, the Thanksgiving legend rallied, throwing 203 yards and two touchdowns as the Cowboys overtook the Washington Commanders, 24-23. This match was a big win for Boys as it was significant in the knockout match.

19 out of 20

Jim Benton (1945)

Jim Benton (1945)

Bettmann-Contributor-Getty . Image

Cleveland Rams Jim Benton wide receiver is the definition of a stud in this old-fashioned Thanksgiving game against the Lions. In all the glory of playing with a leather helmet, Benton gobbled up 10 catches from 303 yards. This breaks the record books. This was the first 300-yard receiving game in NFL history.

Remember this for your Turkey Bowl, if you play well on Thanksgiving, people will remember it forever. His stats look like from the local Turkish league, not an NFL game.

20 out of 20

Antonio Brown (2016)

Antonio Brown (2016)

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA Sports TODAY

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ star receiver, Antonio Brown, won 91 yards and three touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts. His hat trick lifted the Steelers past the Colts, beating them 28-7. Prime AB is simply unstoppable.

David J. Hunt is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. He ran cross-country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is a self-taught journalist. He’s an avid Philly sports fan. When not watching sports, he enjoys exercising, fishing and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.

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