NFL Thanksgiving 2021 Takeaways: Derek Carr Proves His Worth and More

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistNovember 26, 2021

NFL Thanksgiving 2021 Takeaways: Derek Carr Proves His Worth and More

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    Are you awake? Did you make it through nearly a dozen hours of NFL football on Thanksgiving Thursday?

    If so, congratulations.

    If you've been in and out of slumbers and/or struggling to escape your uncle's political rants and need a breakdown of the key takeaways from the day in football, we've got you. 

    From a typical dud in the Motor City to a thriller in Texas and a critical nightcap in The Big Easy, here are our takes from the NFL action that kicked off Week 12 of the 2021 campaign. 

Derek Carr Is a Legit MVP Candidate

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    With off-field issues potentially playing a role, both Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders had come back to earth in the three-game losing streak that preceded their Thanksgiving matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, but Carr put together an exceptional performance as the Raiders likely saved their season with a 36-33 overtime victory on the road. 

    Carr ranked second among qualified passers with a 111.5 passer rating on deep attempts entering Week 12 before averaging 9.6 yards per attempt in a turnover-free performance against a defense that ranked fourth in the NFL in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders through 11 weeks. 

    Carr also had a 109.0 passer rating in the fourth quarter of one-score games prior to Thursday, and he made several big-time throws down the stretch as Las Vegas hung on to defeat a talented and desperate opponent away from home on short rest. 

    It was the type of performance that can highlight an MVP's reel at the NFL Honors ceremony in the new year. Nobody's running away from that pack in the chase for that award this year, and Carr jumped back into the conversation on Thursday. 

The Cowboys Are in Big Trouble

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    Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott also remains a part of that MVP chase, but he couldn't fully recover from a slow start with a depleted supporting cast Thursday and couldn't do quite enough to overcome a poor performance from the Dallas defense as the Cowboys lost for the third time in a four-game span. 

    It's absolutely fair now to panic if you're the Cowboys or a fan of America's Team. 

    It wasn't that they fell to a decent Raiders team, but the circumstances? At home against a team mired in a three-game losing streak on short rest? No bueno, especially combined with how poorly they played against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 (Prescott committed three turnovers and the offense generated zero touchdowns) and in Week 9 against the Denver Broncos (they scored just two garbage-time touchdowns and possessed the ball for fewer than 19 minutes). 

    They can take some solace in the fact they still hold a two-game lead atop the weak NFC East, and the fact three of their four losses have come outside of the conference (the AFC West is their Achilles' heel, it seems), but that doesn't change the reality that they've shown clear vulnerabilities on both sides of the ball and haven't been consistent on offense or defense. 

    It's hard to imagine they'll contend for a first-round bye at this point, and they'd better keep an eye on the surging Philadelphia Eagles in their rear-view mirror. 

Time to Remove the Lions from Their Staple Thanksgiving Spot

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    I get it. Americans will watch football on Thanksgiving regardless of the quality of the product before their eyes. For many, it’s the only football they’ll watch all year, and some might not have a strong grasp on what constitutes good football versus bad football. 

    But there was no mistaking this. The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions put the nation to sleep before the tryptophan could enter our systems, and Detroit deserves the lion’s share of the blame for an ugly home loss at the hands of a three-win team that was without starting quarterback Justin Fields (ribs). 

    Besides, the Lions have lost the benefit of the doubt. They're now 4-14 in their last 18 Thanksgiving games and are mired in a five-game Turkey Day losing streak. 

    It's true that it would be weird watching a game based anywhere but Detroit early on Thanksgiving, but I'm sure we'll adapt. The reality is this is a key time slot for the NFL, because while the audience isn't hard to attract, Thanksgiving games represent a prime opportunity to turn non-fans into fans.

    Lions games aren't likely doing the trick. 

Time to Remove Matt Nagy from His Head Coaching Role

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    And yes, the Bears did come away with a win Thursday in Detroit. But that only happened after a winless team tripped all over itself late in an extremely close game. It's pretty obvious that 4-7 Chicago isn't going to contend this season, which means it's about time to cut bait and bring an end to the Matt Nagy era. 

    Mark Konkol and Jeff Arnold of the reported early this week that the Bears planned to fire Nagy after this game. General manager Ryan Pace has since called that report "inaccurate" on the Bears' pregame radio show, but winds can shift quickly in this league. 

    Why wait for the end of the season? Nagy is staring down a third consecutive non-winning campaign, and his offense is on track to rank in the bottom 12 in football for the fourth year in a row (his entire tenure with the team). There's no way Chicago should give him more time beyond this season, and again, 2021 was just about toast regardless of Thursday's result (and it was far from a pretty performance anyway).

    Of course, it's also possible Pace is on the way out, in which case his words regarding reports of Nagy's fate would have to be taken with a grain of salt. 

Nobody Wins Big Like the Bills

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    It's rather amazing that after beating the New Orleans Saints 31-6 Thursday night in the Bayou, the Buffalo Bills are merely 7-4 despite possessing an NFL-best scoring margin of plus-144. 

    That's because, while the Bills have laid a few eggs this season, all seven of their victories have come by margins of 15 or more points. That's two more than the second-ranked team in that category (the New England Patriots), and only the Pats, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have even half as many one-sided wins than Buffalo. They could make a run at the 1999 St. Louis Rams' single-season record of 12 15-plus-point wins. 

    And while that's certainly worked wonders for the health of many in Western New York, it might be nice to see the Bills grind out a close game or two at some point between now and the postseason. They're technically 0-3 in one-score games this season, which goes to show how good they've been overall. But they won't likely blow teams out all the way to the Super Bowl. 

    Again, nobody in Bills Mafia is complaining about an easy road win against a tricky opponent on short rest. But three of their next four games are against the Patriots (twice) and Bucs, so it'll be interesting to see how Buffalo fares with the heat turned up again. 

Time for the Saints to Focus on 2022

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    As for the Saints, the loss to Buffalo looks like confirmation that it ain't happening in 2021. 

    With legendary former quarterback Drew Brees in the broadcast booth, the Saints could barely move the ball on offense or do much to slow down Josh Allen and Co. in their fourth consecutive loss.

    Jameis Winston's season-ending knee injury was a death knell for this team, and without star running back Alvin Kamara, backup signal-caller Trevor Siemian hasn't been effective enough to compensate for the fact the roster just isn't what it once was as a result of offseason losses as well as injuries on both sides of the ball. 

    The Saints are still alive in the NFC South race and have a decent shot at a wild-card spot, but let's be real: On their trajectory at 5-6, a run during the home stretch wouldn't amount to much. This is a one-and-done playoff team at best, and when you're a veteran squad like New Orleans in that situation, you're better off packing it in, assessing talent for 2022 and focusing on what needs to happen in order to return to Super Bowl contention as soon as possible. 

    Maybe they'll try to hang on a little longer, but two of their next three games come against Dallas and Tampa Bay, so the writing might soon be on the wall for even the most stubborn Saints fans.