BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Bills will be showcased in a nationally televised Thanksgiving game for the third time in four years and 11th in history when they visit the Detroit Lions at 12:30 p.m. Thursday on CBS.
“It’s pretty cool,” coach Sean McDermott said. “For the player and coaches who have never done it before, I think it’s an honor and fun to be a part of a tradition like that. Especially playing at Detroit, who has traditionally played on Thanksgiving.”
The Bills are 5-4-1 all-time on Thanksgiving, having lost in both turkey trots to Detroit, where the Lions have hosted 83 Thanksgiving games since 1934. This will be Buffalo’s first time playing on the holiday at Ford Field, where the Bills recently beat the Browns in a game that was moved away from Orchard Park due to the major lake-effect snowstorm.
“Happy for all the Bills fans that will be at the game,” McDermott said. “And the ones that won’t be at the game that they’ll be able to watch us on television and celebrate a holiday together and watch their team perform.”
A Bills win would give them the distinction of being the first NFL team to win a Thanksgiving game in three different TV time slots since the third game was added to the schedule in 2006. Buffalo won a 4:25 p.m. kickoff in Dallas in 2019 and a primetime game in New Orleans last season.
Having won consecutive games on Thanksgiving, the Bills are in the midst of their best stretch since going 2-0-1 on the holiday from 1964-66.
Bills history on Thanksgiving
Nov. 25, 2021: 31-6 win at New Orleans Saints (box score)
Run over at home by the Colts four days prior, the Bills bounced back with a blowout win that brought their record to 7-4. Dawson Knox caught two touchdowns to set the Bills’ single-season record for tight ends. The Bills enjoyed chomping on turkey legs to celebrate the win, but the thrill of victory was tempered by Tre’Davious White sustaining a knee injury that continues to keep him out of the Bills lineup.
Nov. 28, 2019: 25-15 win at Dallas Cowboys (box score)
More than 32.5 million people watched the CBS broadcast in the Bills’ return to the Thanksgiving lineup after a quarter century, and their first time in a Thanksgiving matchup with “America’s Team.” The Bills improved to 9-3 with their third consecutive win, as Josh Allen converted a memorably relentless sneak, had a passer rating (120.7) that was a career-best to that point, and fed the celebratory turkey leg to White.
Nov. 24, 1994: 35-21 loss at Detroit Lions (box score)
After an 18-year absence from the Thanksgiving game parade, Jim Kelly was 29-of-35 passing, establishing a team record completion rate (82.9%) that stood until Josh Allen had an 83.9% mark in this season’s Thursday Night Football opener. The Lions scored on a flea flicker on the second play of the game and never trailed after that. The last regular season the Bills played at the Pontiac Silverdome was attended by 75,672 fans.
Nov. 25, 1976: 27-14 loss at Detroit Lions (box score)
O.J. Simpson rushed 273 yards, the most in team history and an NFL record at the time, but the rest of the Bills offense managed just 49 yards in the eighth of 10 consecutive losses to end a 2-12 season. Buffalo lost both of its Thanksgiving games at the Pontiac Silverdome, which had opened the year prior.
Nov. 27, 1975: 32-14 win at St. Louis Cardinals (box score)
A snowstorm delayed the Bills arrival until two hours before kicking off on Thanksgiving for the first time in seven years, and for the first time against an NFL opponent. The Bills rushed for 264 yards and four touchdowns. With the Cardinals focused on stopping Simpson, it was fullback Jim Braxton who piled up 160 yards and three touchdowns. Simpson had 85 yards and one of the his team-record 23 scoring runs that season. The win at Busch Stadium improved the Bills’ record to 7-4, but a loss at Miami the next week eliminated them from playoff contention.
Nov. 28, 1968: 13-10 loss at Oakland Raiders (box score)
The penultimate game of the Bills’ second-worst season in history saw Ed Rutkowski, a running back filling in at quarterback, fumble at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter, and Bruce Alford come up short on tying field goal attempt in the closing seconds. Finishing with the worst record (1-12-1) in the AFL or NFL, the Bills would draft Simpson, the Heisman Trophy winner, with the No. 1 pick two months later.
Nov. 24, 1966: 31-10 win at Oakland Raiders (box score)
In the first of two Thanksgiving games the Bills played at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, they rushed for a season-high 226 yards and scored the final 21 points to break open a game that was tied in the second quarter. Wray Carlton and Bobby Burnett combined for 248 total yards and three touchdowns as the Buffalo won itsfifth in a row, improving to 8-3-1 after a 3-3 start, before losing the next week at Fenway Park.
Nov. 25, 1965: 20-20 tie at San Diego Chargers (box score)
The Chargers were favored by a touchdown after winning 34-3 in Buffalo the month before, and the Bills would go on to claim their second AFL championship with a 23-0 win at San Diego’s Balboa Stadium that December. In this one, Jack Kemp drove Buffalo 60 yards in the final 1:16, and Pete Gogolak’s 22-yard field goal gave the Bills their fourth of eight ties in history.
Nov. 26, 1964: 27-24 win at San Diego Chargers (box score)
Buffalo came back from down 24-14 in the fourth quarter and won on Gogolak’s 33-yard field goal with three seconds left, improving to 10-1. The game drew 34,865 fans to Balboa Stadium. “That’ll be the damnedest turkey you ever see,” coach Lou Saban said. The next month, 40,242 attended War Memorial Stadium to watch the Bills beat the Chargers for the AFL championship.
Nov. 23, 1961: 21-14 loss at New York Titans (box score)
The Bills first Thanksgiving game was played in front of 12,023 fans at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. They got touchdowns from Elbert Dubenion and M.C. Reynolds but couldn’t overcome Dick Felt’s interception return for a score on the way to a 6-8 finish in the franchise’s second season. Two years later, Bills and Jets would play in the last sporting event at the Polo Grounds.
Before the Bills
The Buffalo Prospects and Rochester Jefferson of the New York Pro Football League played a scoreless tie on Thanksgiving in 1919. … The Buffalo All-Americans played on Thanksgiving from 1921-23 and in 1924 after being renamed the Buffalo Bisons. … The Buffalo Bills of the All-American Football Conference played on Thanksgiving in 1948.
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Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.