The New England Patriots have played the Thanksgiving Classic five times, and have won three of those games. Interestingly enough, they have played in only one Turkey Bowl before a certain Tom Brady was drafted in the year 2000, and it seems as if more success has led to more commonly being featured on Thanksgiving. And with Brady as their quarterback, the Patriots have had a lot of success on the fourth Thursday of November.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane, to revisit the team’s appearances on Thanksgiving day.
The Patriots made their Thanksgiving debut in 1984 against the Dallas Cowboys. Who could forget the classic battle between Tony Eason and Danny White? Right?! The game itself was a close one in which the Patriots came back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the contest at 17. Craig James rushed for 112 yards, Andre Tippett had 1.5 sacks and Eason scored once through the air and once on the ground.
Eason and the ground seemed to attract each other that day: he was sacked a whooping 10 times, as New England’s offense struggled to get going. In the end, despite those individual accomplishment and the ferocious comeback against “America’s Team,” the Patriots lost 20-17 on a 23-yard field goal.
The day Tom Brady threw his first NFL pass was also the day of the Patriots’ second Thanksgiving appearance: the team traveled to Detroit to take on the Lions. Thanks to Adam Vinatieri and the defense, the game was fairly competitive for the first three quarters before the home team would eventually pull away — in part because of two Drew Bledsoe interceptions, one of which returned 101 yards for a touchdown.
With four minutes to go and the game already out of hand, a sixth-round rookie out of Michigan therefore entered the contest. Tom Brady, who was named Super Bowl MVP 14 months later, attempted three passes in his NFL debut: one was completed for a 6-yard, the other two fell incomplete. Brady’s first game ended as quickly as his start would rise a year later. The game in Detroit that day, however, was lost 34-9.
Two years after their last Thanksgiving game, the Patriots would return to Detroit. This time, however, the starting quarterback and the result looked differently. While Tom Brady was rather unspectacular, throwing for 201 yards and an interception, it was the defense which carried the team that day. Willie McGinest, Bobby Hamilton and Tedy Bruschi all recorded interceptions apiece, with Bruschi returning his pick 27 yards for the score.
The Patriots did not allow a touchdown and recorded their first Thanksgiving win with a final score of 20-12.
After a seven-year hiatus, New England returned to Thanksgiving. And just like eight years earlier, the team would travel to Detroit and leave victoriously. This time, Tom Brady was on fire and carved up the Lions’ secondary to the tune of 341 passing yards, four touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Wes Welker caught two scoring passes, as did Deion Branch. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, meanwhile, rushed for a pair of touchdowns as well.
On defense, then-rookie cornerback Devin McCourty recorded two interceptions as New England won 45-24. All in all, the Patriots looked great that day — not just because of their throwback jerseys.
The Patriots’ most recent Thanksgiving game is also probably their most memorable one, thanks to one play: the Buttfumble (colleague Alec Shane wrote about it in great detail here). This one play overshadows the rest of the contest and the fact that New England played nearly flawless football against the New York Jets that day, scoring on offense, defense and special teams — all within 54 seconds — and winning 49-19.
New England was firing on all cylinders: Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another score, Julian Edelman scored twice (once on offense, once on special teams), and Steve Gregory secured himself a place in NFL lore when he recovered and subsequently scored on a Mark Sanchez fumble that was caused by the Jets’ quarterback running into the backside of offensive lineman Brandon Moore.