Players give Thursday schedule mixed reviews (cont.)
In addition, no team will have to play more than once this season on Thursday, and that includes the triple-header slate of games on Thanksgiving, meaning all 32 teams will have one Thursday game day (or night).
"I think players have embraced it,'' said Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, whose St. Louis club played and won at home against Arizona on Thursday night in Week 5, after beating Seattle at home four days earlier (a pair of key division wins). "I don't think it bothered us at all. There's a bright side, a light at the end of the tunnel in that you get your weekend off afterwards. So that always works out well and your body needs that.
"Coach [Jeff] Fisher did a really good job that week of limiting our physical activity and not beating us up, and just made it more of a mental game. As long as guys are doing the necessary things to rest their bodies and prepare mentally more than physically for that upcoming short week, I think you're going to be perfectly fine.''
Not everybody is quite as enthusiastic about the full-season Thursday night package, however. One NFL club general manager who did not wish to be identified said the burden of being the road team in a Thursday night game is sizable.
"It's absolutely ridiculous that, on the first day you'd normally be preparing for your next game (Wednesday), you're traveling to play that game. No veteran player can be as ready to play Thursday as he would be on Sunday. It's not in the best interests of the game.''
Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said his team's challenge in playing on Thursday night in Week 2 against the Bears was substantial turnaround-wise, because Green Bay lost in Week 1 to another physical team in San Francisco. The Packers rebounded to defeat Chicago.
"It was definitely a different experience, but I think it has a lot to do with your opponents before and after the Thursday night game,'' Raji said. "If you played a physical team like San Francisco, then obviously you're going to be a little affected by that, as opposed to playing a team that likes to pass a lot, like New Orleans.
"It's definitely a strain on you, but there are some obvious benefits in that it's national TV game and you get that extra time off that weekend. Only speaking for myself, I'm not really the biggest fan of it. I'm not really crazy about playing on Thursday night after playing Sunday. I don't see the benefit, but who's to say? My body didn't make a full recovery, but if you ask any football player if he'd rather play a game for three hours or practice for three hours, he'll say play a game. In the long run, that game substituted for a practice.''
Seattle fourth-year center Max Unger and the rest of the Seahawks played and upset visiting New England in Week 6, and then had to get ready quickly for one of their biggest games of the season: at San Francisco, the defending NFC West champion, on the Thursday night of Week 7. Seattle narrowly lost that game to the 49ers. Still, Unger viewed the Thursday night experience as a positive for his team, due to a late-season bye this year, in Week 11.
"It's difficult, there's no doubt about that,'' Unger said. "It is tough, because you're body is not fully recovered by Thursday. But by the time the game rolls around and the adrenaline starts going, you're ready to go.
"It was a good thing for us. We had no problem doing it, considering it gave us a mini-bye (in Week 7). I've never had a bye as late as Week 11, so it'll help us, I think, to have had that little break in October.''
Teams that have injured players are that much more up against the wall entering a Thursday night game. The lack of full recovery time can make decisions regarding game availability a moot point. If Sunday was going to be a push to get an injured or banged-up player healthy, Thursday night is out of the question.
"It's tough for guys who are injured, no question about that,'' Unger said. "If you're relatively healthy, I don't think it's a problem. It's just a challenge to cram the game plan in there. We had to get our film work and anything extra we did into that window. We just stayed in the building longer, that's pretty much what it was. But it was worth it. If your body is OK, you can always put the time in for your mind.''
Younger teams, or ones with a recent history of losing, covet the chance to play in the prime time spotlight, said Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. Minnesota started the season a surprising 5-2, but then looked lethargic and sloppy in losing at home to Tampa Bay on Thursday night in Week 8, after beating Arizona the Sunday before at home. Greenway still has a bad taste in his mouth from the experience, but not because of how the team's schedule broke.
"I'm a bad person to ask after just taking the loss in that game, but it was probably more positive than bad for our football team,'' Greenway said. "You want to play in prime time, especially for teams and organizations that don't get put on that pedestal a lot. So it gives everyone that opportunity. I just wish we could have come out and showed off like we wanted to.
"It's really not enough, those couple of days between games, to give you a full recovery. But for us, being a young team and having no prime time games other than that one, we looked forward to it. But, unfortunately, we didn't play as well as we'd like to in that game.''
That the Thursday night package lasts all season long has its pros and cons for players, but it's too early in the experiment to determine if the benefits or disadvantages out-weigh one another. Even football fans, Unger said, have to be ready to adjust their schedules to the NFL's new reality.
"Even the fantasy players, maybe they're forgetting to turn in their lineups on Thursday mornings this year,'' Unger said, with a laugh. "You've got to adjust.''