The 7 Greatest Christmas Day Performances in NFL History

The 2022 slate of Christmas Day NFL games proved lackluster, but previous years have seen incredible performances. The league began playing games on the holiday in 1971 (though it didn’t become a habit until the last few years). The occasion coincided with some particularly historic football events. Here are the best individual Christmas Day performances in NFL history.

Boomer Esiason

Boomer Esiason led the Cincinnati Bengals against the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day 1989. As CBS Sports reports, he set the record for the most passing yards on the holiday with 367 yards while throwing for three touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also threw three interceptions, and the Bengals lost 29-21. 

Kevin Williams 

Off the back of Kevin Williams, the Dallas Cowboys eased to a 37-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in 1995. The second-round pick from Miami (FL) had an ordinary NFL career, but he gave the Cowboys the gift of his best professional game on this day.

Williams set the NFL Christmas receiving record with 203 yards while adding two touchdown receptions just for fun. This would be the only 100-yard receiving game during his NFL tenure.

Larry Centers

The Cardinals still went home with something to shout about, even though they got blown out by the aforementioned Cowboys in the 1995 game, as NFL.com reports. Larry Centers was one of his day’s signature pass-catching running backs. He put himself in the record books for the most receptions in a Christmas Day game, with 12 catches for 172 yards. 

Olandis Gary

Olandis Gary was one of many Denver Broncos running backs who had career years while utilizing the superb run-blocking system designed by head coach Mike Shanahan. In 1999, the Georgia alum ran over the Detroit Lions to the tune of 185 yards — a record that remains to this day.

Gary ran for 1,159 yards that season, but a knee injury damaged his career in a way that he couldn’t recover from. Four years later, he was out of the league after a sole season with the Lions. 

Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers had a pretty good Christmas this year. But the Packers’ win over the Miami Dolphins doesn’t come close to his performance against the Chicago Bears in 2011. In that game, he set the record for the most touchdown passes on Christmas Day with five in a 35-21 victory.

Rodgers had one of the best quarterback seasons of all time. He also set the record for the highest passer rating (122.5) in a season while leading a high-scoring Packers team to a 15-1 record. Their regular-season excellence didn’t save them from a postseason upset, losing 37-20 to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. 

Travis Kelce

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce celebrates a reception on Christmas Day in 2016
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce celebrates a reception on Christmas Day in 2016 | Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire

The chemistry between Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes is edging toward mythological at this point. But the tight end was a first-team All-Pro once and Pro Bowler three times before Mahomes became the starter.

Arguably Kelce’s best game in the first stage of his career came on Christmas Day 2016, when he set the record for the most receiving yards from a tight end on the holiday with 160 yards from 11 catches. Kelce found the endzone once as the Chiefs routed the Broncos 33-10.  

Alvin Kamara

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Alvin Kamara was at the peak of his powers as a dual-threat running back in 2020. In a 52-33 win over the Vikings, Kamara carried the ball 22 times for 155 yards and six(!) touchdowns. That number isn’t just a record for a Christmas day game. It also ties the NFL’s overall record.