Thursday Night Football: A brief history

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 21, 2011

By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Thursday Night Champion
The NFL's let's-hope-it's-soon-to-be-agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement was leaked Tuesday, and in addition to raising the pants level of fans everywhere it contained one previously unreported feature: A full season of Thursday Night Football.
While this seems like a slam-dunk for football fans – especially after an offseason worried about no nights of football – there's actually a faction out there that doesn't like the idea of Thursday Night Football. Something about fantasy football rosters being due early, and "preserving the special feeling of Sunday" ... there were more, but to be honest, we stopped listening to their reasoning about halfway through so we're not sure what else is going on.
In a nutshell, hell yes we'll take more football, but with the hope that there will be a better run of Thursday night games that we've seen thus far.
Since the series started on Thanksgiving of 2006, there have been some memorable games ... and more not-so-memorable ones. With NFL Network struggling to get onto consumers' basic cable packages at first, Thursday night games tended to be throwaways over the first five years of the package. Teams that weren't on Sunday or Monday night football got thrown a Thursday night bone, and usually showed why they weren't ready for prime time.
But there have been some memorable games in the five short half-seasons of the series, along with some that should never have been seen by human eyes. The top five of each:
Nov. 29 2007 – Dallas 37, Green Bay 27
Because the Patriots' 16-0 finish in 2007 was such a dominant storyline, it's easy to forget that the NFL was exceptionally top-heavy that year. The Cowboys and Packers both came into this Week 13 matchup at 10-1, the first time since 1990 that had happened (San Francisco vs. New York Giants). Dallas was in control for most of the game, but Green Bay made several mini comebacks and was down by a touchdown in the mid-fourth quarter. The Cowboys ended up winning home-field advantage in the NFC with this one, not that it helped much when the Giants' juggernaut came to town.
This was also notable in that the Packers largely rode the arm of young Aaron Rodgers, who came in for an injured and ineffective Brett Favre with a 104.8 passer rating in 26 attempts off the bench.  
Dec. 6, 2007 – Washington 24, Chicago 16
Every once in awhile, a team does something special for a special reason, and so it was for the 2007 Redskins. Just days after attending the funeral of slain teammate Sean Taylor, the Redskins' defense held the Bears to 4.51 yards a play and bailed out an ineffective offense to get a win and improve to 6-7.It also started an unlikely four-game winning streak behind backup QB Todd Collins that landed Washington in the playoffs.
Not a memorable football game, but a tribute to the occasional power of will over skill.
Nov. 6, 2008 – Denver 34, Cleveland 30
This one makes the cut despite featuring two completely unmemorable football teams simply because it was a hell of a show (plus, there just haven't been many TNF instant classics)
With Brady Quinn at QB for Cleveland and Jay Cutler for Chicago, the teams combined for 963 yards of offense – and, as a bonus, were whistled for only six penalties between them. The Broncos scored three times in the fourth quarter to get the win, including a 93-yard pass from Cutler to Eddie Royal.
Denver was so impressed by the play of Quinn – 23 for 35 (65.7%), 239 yards, 6.82 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT, 104.3 passer rating) – that they traded Peyton Hillis for him in the offseason. Sharp move.
Nov. 13, 2008 – New York Jets 34, New England 31 (OT)
This was Brett Favre's shining moment as a New York Jet, as well as the game that more or less ensured Matt Cassel would have a future in the NFL as a starting quarterback.

On a cold, drizzly night in Massachusetts, neither quarterback threw a pick while racking up five combined touchdowns. The last TD of the day was the most memorable, a 16-yard score from Cassel to Randy Moss with one second left on the clock (with former Patriot Ty Law covering). Cassel would finish with an even 400 yards of passing on the night.
It seemed like the team who won the coin flip would win the game, and so it was as the Jets marched into field-goal range and Jay Feely ended it.  The 7-3 Jets were surely headed for the playoffs ... until Favre reverted to junior high down the stretch and got coach Eric Mangini fired in the process.

Dec. 17, 2009 – Indianapolis 35, Jacksonville 31
This is a game that should have and could have had a more prominent place in NFL lore.Start with the fact that it was truly a memorable game – despite 10 different scoring drives, neither team strung together two in a row and neither team ever led by more than four points.
More important, the Colts moved to 14-0 with the hard-fought win, two games away from matching their rivals from New England as the only 16-0 teams of all time.
One problem with that plan? With home-field advantage wrapped up, the Colts' braintrust inexplicably chose to mail in the final two games of the season, losing to the Jets and Bills with Peyton Manning largely on the bench. Sure, Indianapolis still got to the Super Bowl, but they were on the wrong side of karmic justice when the Saints pulled the upset.
Dec. 6, 2006 – Pittsburgh 27, Cleveland 7
Do you like college football? Sure, so do we. But no one likes that college football game where one team just runs all over the other team all day, and the outcome isn't in doubt much past the first quarter.
That's what this one was. On a nearly frozen Heinz Field, the Steelers just crammed the ball down the Browns' throats for four quarters, running it 52 times for 303 yards like Nebraska would have done to Kansas State back in the glory days.
The Browns' seven points came on a Braylon Edwards touchdown catch down 27-0 in the fourth quarter, and although we can't confirm it as of the moment, we suspect that the trash-talking Edwards celebrated his score more than he should have in that situation.
Dec. 21, 2006 – Green Bay 9, Minnesota 7
This one seemed a whole lot better when the schedule-makers dreamed it up in the offseason. Both teams were coming off winning years, and in Week 16 the NFC North title was quite possibly going to be in play.

But by the time this game actually rolled around, Chicago had run away with an unexpected NFC North title, and the Packers and Vikings were both 6-8 and eliminated from the playoff race. They played like dead men walking.
The Vikings could only muster 104 yards of offense while racking up 10 penalties, yet they had the ball in the fourth quarter with the chance to kick a winning field goal thanks to a pick-six of Favre by Fred Smoot. Ugly.

Dec. 4, 2008 – San Diego 34, Oakland 7

There wasn't a whole lot of excitement going into this one, and for good reason. The Chargers seemed out of it at 4-8, yet they were expected to tool on the Raiders with 10 straight wins over Oakland under their belts.

The Chargers did just that, taking a 27-0 lead in the second quarter and enabling even the most dedicated football fan to go to bed early with a clear conscience.
As it turned out, this was a huge game for San Diego, which won out from there and won the AFC West when Denver lost its last four. Still, not a ratings bonanza.
Nov. 12, 2009 – San Francisco 10, Chicago 6
If there have been worse games played by men paid to play football (and we're not just talking Ohio State money), they're hard to find.
Any time you have more penalties (19) than points (16), you're off to a bad start. Jay Cutler threw five interceptions, and yet the 49ers still barely won the game – which, by the way, meant nothing since both teams exited the game with 4-5 records.
It's almost unfathomable that this same Bears team would be playing for a spot in the Super Bowl 14 months later, but that's the NFL for you.
Dec. 23, 2010 – Pittsburgh 27, Carolina 3
This game wasn't as bad as 49ers-Bears only because at least one team came to play. The Panthers showed some spunk along the way in 2010, but there was none left by Week 16 and a date with Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh outgained Carolina 408-119, with the Panthers' epically terrible passing game (3.13 YPA) bringing shame upon their city and the sport. For the season, Carolina was outgained in all but three games – rare, even for a 2-14 team.


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