Cowboys and Lions: Thanksgiving Day Losers

Detroit Lions fans
Detroit Lions fans
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 12 - By the time you're reading this, it's the day before Thanksgiving, and most of us here at Football Outsiders have mostly checked out to prepare for the holiday. I have been specifically instructed to write something lightweight for the occasion, so of course I embarked on a massive research project.

Thanksgiving is not only synonymous with football; it has become somewhat synonymous with bad football. The run-on effect of having the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play every year is that the quality of our Turkey Day games are heavily dependent on the quality of those two franchises … and, well, they haven't exactly always put the best teams on the field in recent memory. In the past 25 years, the Lions have managed six winning seasons, the Cowboys only 12. That's only about a third of the time that we can count on one of our Thanksgiving stalwarts to be somewhat relevant; it has been a long time since the heyday of the Triplets Cowboys and the [EDITOR: INSERT PERIOD OF RELEVANT LIONS FOOTBALL HERE].

That makes Thanksgiving Loser League's holiday of choice, an opportunity for the league to showcase players whom they really would prefer not to showcase. Look at the Lions-Bears game this year, for example. You don't exactly expect to see an Andy Dalton-versus-David Blough matchup in prime time, but the entire country may well get to experience that sort of quality contest. It's likely to be a snoozer for most people, but if you're reading this article right now, then you're exactly the kind of Loser this game was made for.

Will we see Loser history made? To give this week's matchups something to strive for, I went back and found the worst Loser scores during a Thanksgiving game over the past 25 years, a generation of terribleness. I hope you enjoy. I have a turkey to brine.


Quarterbacks

Worst Loser League Thanksgivings, Quarterbacks, 1996-2020
Year Player Team Opp Cmp Att Yds TOs Points
1999 Dan Marino MIA DAL 15 36 178 5 -2
2004 Drew Henson DAL CHI 4 12 31 1 -1
2015 Tony Romo DAL CAR 11 21 106 3 -1
2004 Jonathan Quinn CHI DAL 10 21 86 2 0
2005 Dan Orlovsky DET ATL 5 11 43 1 0
2013 Matt Flynn GB DET 10 20 139 3 0
1996 Troy Aikman DAL WAS 9 19 63 1 1
2005 Joey Harrington DET ATL 6 13 61 1 1
2004 Mike McMahon DET IND 11 15 77 1 2
2004 Craig Krenzel CHI DAL 5 10 46 0 2
2001 Charlie Batch DET GB 8 19 118 1 3
2006 Bruce Gradkowski TB DAL 10 20 120 2 3
2014 Colin Kaepernick SF SEA 16 29 121 2 3
2017 Eli Manning NYG WAS 13 27 113 1 3

Oh, late-period Dan Marino versus the crumbling remains of the Cowboys dynasty? This one should be good.

It was Marino's first game in six weeks; he had suffered a pinched nerve in his neck in October and was rushing back to try to replace Damon Huard. Five interceptions later, it became clear that maybe Marino should have waited another week or two—it was his first five-interception day in 11 years, though at least a number of those picks came in desperation time in the fourth quarter. Marino blamed it on a lack of timing and feel in the pocket; head coach Jimmy Johnson blamed it on rust. These are both likely correct, but the fact that Marino was 38 and about three months away from retirement can't have helped either.

Marino's not the only good quarterback on that list, of course. Tony Romo's 2015 season was a disaster as he suffered his second collarbone injury of the year on Thanksgiving when Carolina's Thomas Davis sacked him to end the third quarter. Before he left, though, Romo found time to hit Luke Kuechly twice and Kurt Coleman once as the Panthers went to 11-0 against the moribund Cowboys. You also see games by Troy Aikman, Colin Kaepernick, and Eli Manning in the bottom 10; not generally Loser League stalwarts.

You also, however, get the 2004 Cowboys-Bears game, which has to be in the running for worst-played Thanksgiving Day game of all time—it has the honor of being the matchup with the worst combined DVOA for the two teams at -44.4%. You're talking about a game where the teams had combined for 13 losses coming in, and you got … well, roughly what you would expect. Four quarterbacks played in this game—Craig Krenzel went down with a sprained ankle, forcing Jonathan Quinn into the lineup for Chicago, while ineffective Dallas starter Drew Henson got benched for Vinny Testaverde. All but Testaverde ended up on that table above, and Vinny's six-point day isn't exactly one for the history books either.

It should be noted that we have a column for turnovers, not just interceptions. That effects 2005 Dan Orlovsky, who fumbled once against the Falcons, and 2013 Matt Flynn, who put two on the ground against the Lions. That was part of Flynn's second tour of duty with the Packers, replacing the injured Aaron Rodgers, and suffice it to say his six-touchdown savior day from 2010 had been long since forgotten. Flynn took seven sacks on the day, including a Ndamukong Suh safety in the third quarter, so if you're looking for a tiebreaker among the zero-point performers, there you go.


Running Backs

Worst Loser League Thanksgivings, Running Backs, 1996-2020
Year Player Team Opp Att Yds Fmb Points
2001 Emmitt Smith DAL DEN 9 9 0 0
2005 Mike Anderson DEN DAL 11 31 1 1
2008 Julius Jones SEA DAL 11 37 1 1
2020 Ezekiel Elliott DAL WAS 10 32 1 1
2002 Troy Hambrick DAL WAS 9 23 0 2
2003 Travis Minor MIA DAL 9 26 0 2
2005 Marion Barber DAL DEN 9 28 0 2
2006 Mike Bell DAL DEN 9 28 0 2
2008 Kevin Smith DET TEN 12 22 0 2
2014 Frank Gore SF SEA 10 28 0 2
2016 Frank Gore IND PIT 15 28 0 2
2019 Frank Gore BUF DAL 9 11 0 2

Ah, the 2001 Cowboys. Dave Campo! Ryan Leaf! And the crumbling remains of Emmitt Smith, in the last 1,000-yard season of his career. This was a significant outlier for Smith, actually; he averaged 78 yards in the other 13 games he played that year. It's the second-worst Loser day for the all-time leading rusher, just behind a 15-carry, 6-yard day against the Saints in 1998, and I have no explanation for it. Troy Hambrick ended up outgaining him! Smith did tweak his knee in the second half, but he checked himself out of the game and very pointedly did not check himself back into the game, per Campo and running backs coach Clarence Shelmon, letting Hambrick carry the load the rest of the way. Suffice it to say, Smith got just a little bit of flack for that in the papers the following week.

2005 Mike Anderson, 2008 Julius Jones, and 2020 Ezekiel Elliott all follow Smith thanks to a fumble lost apiece, each of which led to a score, but none of which really altered the outcome of the game. But the most interesting name on the list is Frank Gore, with three different two-point games coming for three different teams, which is one of the more bizarre stats I have ever come across. For our recaps, we usually highlight any running back with five-point days or fewer. I believe Frank Gore's three games here ties him for the record for most Thanksgiving Games that qualify with Julius Jones. And that's without ever playing for the Cowboys or the Lions. If that's not a Hall of Fame quality metric, I don't know what is.

Wide Receivers

Worst Loser League Thanksgivings, Wide Receivers, 1996-2020
Year Player Team Opp Targets Rec Yds Points
1996 Michael Irvin DAL WAS 3 1 5 0
1997 Curtis Conway CHI DET 4 0 0 0
1999 Wane McGarity DAL MIA 4 1 3 0
2001 Darrin Chiaverini DAL DEN 5 0 0 0
2004 Bernard Berrian CHI DAL 4 1 3 0
2005 Ashley Lelie DEN DAL 4 0 0 0
2005 Charles Rogers DET ATL 7 1 4 0
2007 Mike Furrey DET GB 3 0 0 0
2007 Laurent Robinson ATL IND 5 0 0 0
2007 Michael Jenkins ATL IND 3 1 9 0
2008 Jerheme Urban ARI PHI 5 1 3 0
2009 Domenik Hixon NYG DEN 3 1 5 0
2010 Dez Bryant DAL NO 6 0 0 0
2010 Derrick Williams DET NE 3 1 7 0
2011 Braylon Edwards SF BAL 3 1 5 0
2013 Jarrett Boykin GB DET 3 0 0 0
2014 Brandon Lloyd SF SEA 6 1 6 0
2015 James Jones GB CHI 6 0 0 0
2016 Sammie Coates PIT IND 3 0 0 0
2018 Maurice Harris WAS DAL 5 0 0 0
2018 Andy Jones DET CHI 3 1 4 0
2018 Cole Beasley DAL WAS 3 1 5 0

Not a heck of a lot to say about this table, though it's fun to see a Hall of Famer like Michael Irvin on a list of Goose Turkey Eggers. Shoutouts go to Dez Bryant and James Jones for having 0-for-6 days, as well as Charles Rodgers going 1-for-7 for 4 yards. And a frustrated non-shoutout to Golden Tate, who caught four passes on eight targets for just 7 yards in 2017 … but also had two carries for 13 yards, bumping him off the Turkey Egg list. You're killing me, Jim Caldwell.


Kickers

Worst Loser League Thanksgivings, Kickers, 1996-2020
Year Player Team Opp XPM XPA FGM FGA Points
1999 Olindo Mare MIA DAL 0 0 0 3 -6
2002 James Tuthill WAS DAL 2 3 0 1 -5
2017 Nick Novak LAC DAL 0 1 1 2 -4
2019 Brett Maher DAL BUF 1 1 0 2 -3
2004 Paul Edinger CHI DAL 1 1 0 1 -1
2011 Jason Hanson DET GB 1 1 0 1 -1
2016 Adam Vinatieri IND PIT 1 1 0 1 -1
2017 Kai Forbath MIN DET 3 4 1 2 -1
2019 Younghoe Koo ATL NO 0 1 2 3 -1
2004 Mike Vanderjagt IND DET 5 6 0 0 0
2015 Caleb Strugis PHI DET 2 2 0 1 0
2017 Dan Bailey DAL LAC 0 0 0 0 0
2018 Dustin Hopkins WAS DAL 2 3 1 1 0

Yes, it's the return of the 1999 Dolphins-Cowboys game from the quarterbacks section, as Olindo Mare managed to miss 52- and 47-yard field goal attempts and had a 47-yard attempt blocked. Mare was the All-Pro kicker in 1999, leading the league in field goals made and with the highest FG/XP value by our numbers, so this was out of character for him; it was just a day when nothing went right for the Dolphins.

There aren't any game-losing misses up there or anything, but the most harmful day probably comes from James Tuthill in his last day as a professional kicker. Tuthill saw Flozell Adams block a 36-yard field goal that would have given Washington an early lead … and, on the same play, Roy Williams broke punter Bryan Barker's nose, causing one of the more gruesome images in recent Thanksgiving game history and forcing Tuthill to punt the rest of the way. Tuthill had an 18-yard shank go out of bounds in Washington territory, a 39-yard mis-hit that set Dallas up at midfield, and a line-drive 50-yarder that allowed Joey Galloway to get 30 yards back on a return. Tuthill was cut after the game, and never made an active roster again.

Week 11's Biggest Losers

QUARTERBACKS

Worst of the Worst
Are you ready for Thanksgiving, Tim Boyle? At Eastern Kentucky, Boyle threw 13 interceptions in 327 pass attempts, a big reason why he went undrafted in 2018. On Sunday, in his first career start, he showed that, yeah, that probably wasn't a fluke. He tossed a pair of interceptions against the Browns, managing just 77 yards otherwise and ending the day with -1 points. Are we sure we can't see David Blough on Thursday instead?

Other Loser Leaders
Justin Fields (3) left the Bears game early with bruised ribs, meaning he didn't get to throw a 60-yard screen touchdown like Andy Dalton did. 79 passing yards against the Ravens is, uh, not exactly ideal anyway, but at least he'll probably get a week off to heal up before being thrown to the wolves yet again. Baker Mayfield (9) doesn't get those weeks off, gutting through injuries to play horribly, missing a ton of passes and getting picked off twice against the lowly Lions. Matt Nagy—better at managing quarterbacks than Kevin Stefanski? In this column…

Matt Ryan (3) ended up sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter after throwing two interceptions and getting clobbered by the New England pass rush. For the record, if you could have played "Falcons QB," you would have tied Boyle at -1 point, as neither Josh Rosen nor Feleipe Franks exactly set the world on fire either. Ryan just doesn't have any receivers left, putting him in a similar boat as Dak Prescott (4), who suffered from plenty of drops (and, to be fair, a couple of interceptions of his own).

That leaves Trevor Lawrence (9), who put up most of his value in garbage time because the 49ers simply did not let the Jaguars have the ball during the brief competitive portion of the game. It turns out that you can't gain many passing yards if you never have the ball, and it's hard to have the ball when you're throwing interceptions, going three-and-out, and watching the 49ers run 20-play drives on you.

Just under the wire, Daniel Jones (9) flopped on Monday Night, after most of this paragraph had already been written. Sassafrassa Giants…

Loser Flop
Could go a couple ways here, but I'm sticking with Colt McCoy (26), who apparently is going to alternate between great days and terrible ones replacing Kyler Murray. McCoy did manage to recover three of his own fumbles, which kept his numbers high—not only would he have lost the six points from turnovers, but two of those recoveries led to Arizona touchdowns, including the aborted snap he picked up and threw to Zach Ertz for six. Still, woulda, coulda, shoulda, and McCoy and the Cardinals put a fairly definitive end to the competitive portion of the Seahawks' season.


RUNNING BACKS

Worst of the Worst
We have found our leader for frontrunner in the Texans' terrible backfield.

David Johnson (2) should not be playing professional running back at this point in time; his 3.0 yards per carry will be the worst in the league if he qualifies for the leaderboards by the end of the season. Fortunately, he plays for the Houston Texans, who seem determined not to employ professional football players.

Other Loser Leaders
Not that Rex Burkhead (4) was much better, mind you—2.2 yards per carry isn't that much better than 1.4, in the grand scheme of things. I doubt there will be many days when the Texans manage to qualify two running backs for the Loser League, but when they do, watch out. Of course, Adrian Peterson (4) didn't manage much more on the opposite side of the field. I'd say they set back the rushing game, but considering rushing yards have been consistently dropping over the past decade and a half, maybe they set it forward?

The 49ers had a couple low scorers in Jeff Wilson (5) and Trey Sermon (5). Wilson had a chance for a wide-open touchdown but Jimmy Garoppolo overthrew him. Sermon is clearly the 49ers' seventh option in the running game at the moment, behind Elijah Mitchell, Wilson, Deebo Samuel, Kyle Juszczyk, a Garoppolo sneak, and a short pass that might as well being a run anyway.

David Montgomery (5) and Damien Harris (5) were both punished by receiving and rushing yards being counted separately, as each had 9 receiving yards. Add all yards together, and they would have each had six points and missed being mentioned at all.

Qadree Ollison (3), Latavius Murray (3), Alex Collins (3), and Josh Jacobs (5) round out your low-scorers.

Loser Flop
D'Andre Swift (19) was the entirety of the Lions' offense on Sunday. OK, that's hyperbole, but he did gain 56% of their offensive yards, so it's not that much hyperbole. Most of his value came on his 57-yard touchdown run, the longest play for Detroit by some 30 yards. Are you ready for some Thanksgiving football?


WIDE RECEIVERS

Worst of the Worst
A trio of Goose Eggers check in, with Josh Reynolds, Tyler Johnson, and Jalen Reagor pulling out zeroes. This was Reynold's debut for Detroit, and to call it quiet would be an understatement. The Lions are expecting more out of him. The Eagles are not expecting more out of Reagor, who now has four catches for 5 yards over the past month.

Other Loser Leaders
Tons of one-point scorers this week: Tee Higgins, CeeDee Lamb, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Brandin Cooks, Albert Wilson, K.J. Osborn, Deonte Harris, Darius Slayton, Breshad Perriman, and James Washington. Why yes, that is two more players from the Lions and Cowboys, both of whom should be starting Thursday. Thanksgiving!

Loser Flop
Darnell Mooney (24) has been a regular feature in the weekly picks, someone who will score three to six points week-in and week-out. Well, has anyone considered throwing him a simple wide receiver screen and letting him run 60 yards for a touchdown, huh? Yeah, chew on that, Internet mockers. Mooney's 121 yards were the second-most of his career, behind his 125-yard day back in Week 4 against the Lions … whom he gets to play on Thursday. Maybe leave Mooney off your rosters for a week.


KICKERS

Worst of the Worst
Chase McLaughlin (-6) had a tough day, albeit one that wasn't all his fault. The missed 46-yarder falls squarely on his shoulders, sure, but the blocked extra point was more a breakdown in protection on a day the Browns had a lot of breakdowns. Blame doesn't get shared in Loser League, however, so McLaughlin gets all -6 points.

Other Loser Leaders
Not a good week for kickers! Matt Prater (-4) did all he could to keep the Seahawks season alive, missing a pair of field goals and an extra point to keep Seattle in the game longer than they really should have been. Randy Bullock (-4) missed an extra point as just one of the many things that went wrong for Tennessee on Sunday. Tyler Bass (-3) missed a pair of field goals in the Bills' faceplant. Younghoe Koo (-2) missed his only field goal attempt, as did Cairo Santos (-1). Harrison Butker (0) does not get extra points for his 48-yard extra point, so his missed extra point and field goal are counterbalanced by the kicks he actually made.

Loser Flop
Jake Elliott (16) set a career high with 16 real-life points, making four field goals and adding on four extra points as the Eagles throttled the Saints.

Week 11 Contest Results

We had two teams atop the leaderboard this week, requiring us to break out the tiebreakers for the first time in months. Exciting stuff!

Both Oreos and WJTarter clocked in with 10 points, but only a third of their teams was the same—they both started David Johnson (2) and Matt Ammendola (1), always very solid Loser picks. Oreos padded out their roster with players who have made many, many appearances in the worst of the worst—Justin Fields (3), Alex Collins (3), Josh Reynolds (0), and Deonte Harris (1). WJTarter took advantage of the Lions busting out the emergency quarterback in Tim Boyle (-1) to go along with Adrian Peterson (4), Amon-Ra St. Brown (1), and Jakobi Meyers (3).

So we have to then go to the full, 10-player rosters to break the tie. Both teams had a player do worse than the penalty—the Oreos were let down by Joe Flacco (20) and got the penalty from Zack Moss (15), with Sammy Watkins (4) and Joey Slye (9) rounding out the team. That means WJTarter ends up taking the crown despite having Mike Davis (17) and Zach Pascal (15)—his Jacksonville duo of Trevor Lawrence (9) and Matthew Wright (4) push him to a combined score of 55, compared to Oreos' 58. That means WJTarter is the one to win the FO Shirt and the $100 NFL Shop gift card—go get a Jags hoodie or something to celebrate your win!

Your top five for Week 11:

1. WJTarter (10)
2. Oreos (10)
T3. Awfinkelstein (11)
T3. Tyler S (11)
T3. TIGERS (11)

The Mojo Momenteers just missed that top five after putting up a 12-point week, led by Tim Boyle, Latavius Murray, Alex Collins, and Amon-Ra St. Brown. While that means he doesn't win any prizes this week, it does extend his overall lead to double digits, going from eight points to 18 points. I suspect they'll take it, with a trip to the Big Game on the line!

It's not that his chief rivals didn't have good days of their own, mind you. AlecV scored 22 points with Boyle and Adrian Peterson; In the Hunt had 25 with Boyle, Alex Collins, and Deonte Harris; and Aaron Schatz Has a Posse had 25 with Boyle and Amon-Ra St. Brown. All three remain squarely in the top five. But none of those numbers come close to 12, numerically speaking, and so the Momenteers pulled away some.

Starting Boyle was a common thread among most of our top players—if you checked early in the week and were stuck with Jared Goff, you had the right idea but sadly took the penalty. That was enough for Unintentional Grounding to slide out of the top five, with Octuplicate's 17-point day enough to jump back into the tippy-top of contention. He did, in fact, start Boyle, along with Peterson and St. Brown, a nice recovery after some running back woes briefly knocked him out of the highlights.

Unintentional Grounding remains one of the 25 teams within 70 points of the Momenteers—or, in other words, teams that need to gain 10 points a week or less to catch up to first place. Call that group your front-runners for the top prizes at the end of the year. But a single slipup could still send Mojo tumbling; we have seen 60- and 70-point days from top-five teams before this very season. As long as you're on the top half of the overall leaderboard, don't count yourself out quite yet, though you may need to start making some unorthodox picks if you're hoping to make a significant climb upwards.

Your top five to this point:

1. Mojo Momenteers (328)
2. AlecV (346)
3. Aaron Schatz Has a Posse (349)
T4. Octuplicate (351)
T4. In The Hunt (351)

You can check your results and the rest of the Loserboard here!

Plays for Week 12

Remember to set your roster for Week 12!

QUARTERBACKS

This column went up too early for the Tim Boyle news to trickle down last week, but if you think I'm missing out on an opportunity to squeeze Boyle into my starting lineups this week you are sadly mistaken. Boyle is a walking, talking interception machine, and it's entirely possible the Bears catch more of his passes than the Lions will this week.

I'm still sticking with Trevor Lawrence as well, even against the anemic Falcons defense. I just don't trust any of his receivers to be able to hold on to anything no matter the level of competition they may face, and Lawrence has yet to set the world on fire himself.

Other promising picks: Mac Jones (v. TEN), Baker Mayfield (@BAL)


RUNNING BACKS

Adrian Peterson was just released, meaning nothing is stopping D'Onta Foreman from getting the full workload for Tennessee. The full workload for an offense lacking most of its passing game playmakers, against a top-10 run defense. Yeah, I'm suspecting something of a Patriots blowout this week, and Foreman and the Titans should get just over the penalty and stop pretty much dead in their tracks.

With Rashaad Penny getting hurt … again … and Chris Collins out for the year, Alex Collins is the man in Seattle. He doesn't score touchdowns in the Seahawks anemic offense—just two in the last seven weeks—and generally can be counted on for 10ish carries for somewhere between 35 and 45 yards. Sounds like a safe pick there while I strive for zeroes on more risky picks elsewhere.

Latavius Murray is my riskier pick, as I once again try to muddle through the Ravens' backfield. Murray appears to be Baltimore's second running back behind Devonta Freeman, but the Ravens run the ball enough for two backs to avoid the penalty assuming things go roughly according to plan. I'm looking for another 10-carry, 30-yard day as we go into the stretch run.

Other promising picks: Myles Gaskin (v. CAR), Jamaal Williams (v. CHI), Tevin Coleman (@HOU)


WIDE RECEIVERS

I am done with this New York Giants offense—and, for what it's worth, so are the Giants, as they fired Jason Garrett this week and installed Freddie Kitchens as their new offensive coordinator to finish out the season. While I'm not going with Daniel Jones because I'm afraid of his rushing value, the receiving corps is a misused mess, and I intend to profit off of it. Sterling Shepard is coming back from a quad injury, but it looks like he is in fact coming back, and so he gets plugged right back into the lineup. I'm also going with Kadarius Toney, who managed seven catches for 40 yards against the Bucs, one of the lowest-calorie statlines of the season. Maybe Kitchens provides a little bit of a spark, but this offense needs an entire rethink, not something likely to happen in a week.

I'm going with Jakobi Meyers as well as a buffer in case Toney or Shepard don't make the penalty. Meyers is a consistent low scorer when he doesn't get into the end zone, which is every game of his career except for one. With the Patriots likely to be running some clock late in this one, I like Meyers to have another three- or four-catch day for 50 yards or less.

Other promising picks: Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault (v. ATL), Amon-Ra St. Brown (v. CHI)


KICKERS

In order for Matthew Wright to score many points, the Jaguars have to move the ball into field goal range. Yeah, I'm not buying it, Jacksonville.

In order for Matt Ammendola to score many points, the Jets not only have to move the ball into field goal range, but they also need to move the ball inside the 25-yard line; Ammendola is 2-for-7 from 40 yards or more. I'm buying that even less, New York.

Other promising picks: Aldrick Rosas (v. CHI), Dustin Hopkins (@DEN)

Comments

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