For over a century (since 1920), there has been football on Thanksgiving Day, which is part of the reason why fans can’t always remember the best NFL Thanksgiving games ever played.
Of course, we all know that there have been unforgettable moments that have taken place on Thanksgiving Day. It’s part of why NFL fans are always so thankful when the fourth Thursday in November rolls around every year.
Best NFL Thanksgiving games
That’s why we wanted to take a stroll down memory lane at the best NFL Thanksgiving moments and the most entertaining NFL Thanksgiving games ever played. Believe it or not, it was difficult to keep this list to just 10 games.
There were a few notable moments that had to be left off. However, that’s why we’re confident fans will enjoy checking out our list of the 10 best NFL Thanksgiving games ever played.
10. Broncos 24, Cowboys 21 (2005)
The Broncos haven’t lost a head-to-head game to the Cowboys since 1995, in part because they were able to steal a win on Thanksgiving in 2005. Neither offense did much, which is why it was huge for the Denver defense to open the scoring on a pick-six by Champ Bailey.
Despite that being one of two interceptions Drew Bledsoe threw that day, he did hit Jason Witten for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 21. However, the Broncos got the ball to start overtime and went 62 yards in three plays, most of it on a 55-yard run by Ron Dayne. That set up a 24-yard field goal by Jason Elam to win before Bledsoe and the Dallas offense had a chance to touch the ball in overtime.
9. Lions 19, Steelers 16 (1998)
This may not be one of the best NFL Thanksgiving games ever, but it’s certainly among the most memorable. The Steelers got a last-second field goal from Norm Johnson to tie the game at 16 and force overtime.
During the coin toss, Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis began to say “head” before clearly saying “tails.” But head referee Phil Luckett ruled that he had said “heads.”
Of course, the flip was tails, giving the Lions the ball first, setting up a 42-yard field goal by Jason Hanson to end the game before the Steelers got a chance on offense. To date, it’s Detroit’s only win over the Steelers since 1983, including an ugly 16-16 tie between the teams in 2021.
8. Bears 23, Lions 17 (1980)
This game was ugly at times, but it had an amazing ending between two bitter rivals. The Bears scored just three points in the first three quarters, only to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 17 and force overtime.
Chicago got the ball first in overtime with Dave Williams running back the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. It was a memorable win in a rivalry game, and at the time, it was the shortest overtime in NFL history.
7. Texans 34, Lions 31 (2012)
Fans of high-scoring games loved this Thanksgiving game. Matthew Stafford threw the ball 61 times, completing 31 of those passes for 441 yards. Of course, Stafford also spent the day running away from J.J. Watt, who had three sacks.
It was Foster’s second touchdown of the game that tied the game at 31 with less than two minutes left and force overtime. The Texans took the ball and got a 32-yard field goal to win, improving to 10-1 on the season.
6. Vikings 44, Cowboys 38 (1987)
While the Vikings never trailed in this game, the Cowboys didn’t make it easy on them, turning this into a memorable Thanksgiving game. Minnesota led 14-0 after the first quarter and also took a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
However, the Vikings got the ball first in overtime and made the most of it. Darrin Nelson capped off a 118-yard performance with a 24-yard rushing touchdown to give Minnesota the winning touchdown in overtime.
5. Packers 44, Lions 40 (1986)
This game remains the greatest shootout we’ve ever seen on Thanksgiving. The Lions jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead but trailed by three points after the first quarter. After trailing 23-13 late in the second quarter, the Lions scored the next 24 points, taking what they thought was a commanding 37-23 lead.
Detroit’s lead was still 10 points in the fourth quarter. But in the final five minutes, the Packers got a touchdown catch from Paul Ott Carruth and an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown by Walter Stanley to score the final 14 points of the game and win a back-and-forth affair 44-10.
4. Washington 38, Cowboys 31 (2012)
It might be fair to call this game a coming-out party for Robert Griffin III, at least in the NFL. Washington was just 4-6 heading into this game. In the second quarter, RG3 came alive, throwing for three touchdown passes, including a 68-yarder to Aldrick Robinson and a 59-yarder to Pierre Garcon.
That gave Washington a 28-3 halftime lead. However, Tony Romo would have a response. Despite throwing two interceptions, he completed 37 of 62 passes for 441 yards and three touchdowns.
Dez Bryant’s second touchdown of the game got the Cowboys within 35-28 in the fourth quarter. But the Cowboys couldn’t get enough stops against RG3 to complete the comeback.
3. Saints 30, Cowboys 27 (2010)
Even in a losing effort, Dallas deserves credit for turning a potential blowout into one of the best NFL Thanksgiving games. Chris Ivory had two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter to give the Saints an early 17-0 lead and a 20-6 halftime advantage.
However, a 60-yard touchdown run by Miles Austin in the first minute of the second half got the Cowboys going. Marion Barber and Tashard Choice both had rushing touchdowns to give the Cowboys a 27-23 lead in the middle of the fourth quarter.
However, the Dallas defense couldn’t keep stopping Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense. Brees orchestrated an 89-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore to put the Saints ahead 30-27. It was his only touchdown pass of the game, but his 352 passing yards allowed the Saints to edge the Cowboys.
2. Cowboys 24, Washington 23 (1974)
For most of this game, it wasn’t a happy Thanksgiving for the Cowboys. Already trailing 16-3 in the third quarter, Roger Staubach was knocked out of the game, forcing rookie Clint Longley to play quarterback.
Washington defensive tackle Diron Talbert actually said before the game that they wanted to sideline Staubach because the Cowboys would then be forced to play Longley.
But Longley responded, leading a second-half comeback, culminating in a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with just 28 seconds left in the game to put Dallas ahead by a point. The surprise comeback made it one of the greatest games on Thanksgiving, at least for the Cowboys. Afterward, Washington coach George Allen called it “the toughest loss we ever had.”
1. Dolphins 16, Cowboys 14 (1993)
Over a quarter-century later, this is still the most memorable Thanksgiving Day game ever played. Getting a snowstorm in Dallas tends to do that.
There was no AT&T Stadium to keep the snow out back then, so the field was covered in snow when the Dolphins and Cowboys played in a game that had playoff implications for both sides.
Even if you didn’t see the game, you must have seen highlights of Leon Lett trying to foolishly pick up the ball after a blocked field goal, making it a live ball that the Dolphins jumped on to retake possession. Miami kicker Pete Stoyanovich ended up getting a chance from 19 yards out to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired to give the Dolphins the win.