'Modern Family' returns from its break tonight with an all-new episode -- in "The Big Game," Cameron stresses over coaching the final football game of the season, even though the opposing team is at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, Phil is racing the clock to sell a house before the the end of the month, and Claire struggles to define her place at work as more than the boss' daughter. After a brief hiatus, has 'Modern Family' recovered from its previous rut? Read on for our review!

"The Big Game" is, without a doubt, a vast improvement over the last few episodes and the rut 'Modern Family' had worked itself into. These things are inevitable, and it's good to see the writers getting back to form with this week's outing. First up, although the opposing high school football team is dealing with the death of their coach and working at a clear disadvantage, Cam is overzealous as usual -- if he can just win this game, he'll have led his team to three victories, making him "the winningest" first year coach in the school's history. At the same time, Manny struggles with realizing that he might actually be a good football player. Meanwhile, Mitch tries to tell his boss (guest star Justin Kirk) that he's resigning, but the poor guy just got dumped by his girlfriend and invites himself to the football game with Mitch, making things a tad difficult.

This week's themes all tie together a bit nicely -- while Cam is trying to teach his players what it means to have integrity, Claire is trying to have some of her own at work by not being viewed as just the boss' daughter, which means distancing herself from Jay. But she quickly learns that dad or not, he's still her boss, and help is help. It's all about boundaries, and while Manny is on the field worrying about whether or not indulging in the sport is simply an extension of living the life Jay wants for him, Claire is wondering if she can keep her personal relationship with her father separate from her work life with him.

Phil gets probably my favorite story this week, as he often does when he's given a lot to do. Ty Burrell is such an underrated presence, and this week finds Phil getting to do some of his great physical comedy, as well as the stuff where he's woefully put upon. Phil is locked out of a house he's trying to sell, has to break in (twice), duels with a snake and a fish tank, and manages to come out of it with his dignity mostly intact. All the while, he maintains his sunny exterior in an effort to prove to himself that what he's teaching his kids about optimism is right. In the end, when it looks like he might go an entire month without selling a single house for the first time, everything falls into place, and it's pretty delightful to see Phil get not one, but multiple wins all at once.

Elsewhere, Gloria tries and fails to teach Lily a lesson in flirting with boys that's pretty cute. Gloria can be a pretty redundant character -- she's obnoxious and demanding and misunderstood, Jay always underestimates her, but she has a good heart and inevitably she and whoever else she's paired up with learn a valuable lesson about understanding, judgment, and compromise. But one of the things I like is when the writers team her up with Lily because -- as the product of Mitch and Cam -- Lily is the only real comedic foil for Gloria. If only those two had to live in a house together.

Also, Haley and Alex get another cute side story this week -- Alex is still being mistaken for an older woman by people her own age (this joke actually somehow never gets old to me), and Haley is hooking up with Dylan (again). He points out some graffiti he scrawled about her under the bleachers, and she fixes it to look like it's about Alex to give her little sis a self-esteem boost. It's slight, but it gives them something to do this week rather than writing them out and pretending they don't exist.

All in all, a big improvement over the last two episodes -- "The Big Game" has definitely got things looking up for 'Modern Family,' and while the pre-Thanksgiving break episode wasn't bad (simply middling), it seems like they're picking up steam again. Here's hoping they keep the momentum steady for next week's new episode.