Craig: Thursday night turnaround hard on players, visiting teams

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 25, 2012 - 11:55 AM

Recovery time is short for players when NFL teams play on Thursday night. Even worse for the road team: They usually lose.

Are you ready for some football?

Well, that kind of depends.

If you're a fan that can't wait another 64 1/2 hours for your fix or an NFL suit looking for increased revenue, the answer is, "Heck, yeah! Pass the nachos. Wooooooooooo!!!"

If you're a player involved in the game and you're at home, the answer most likely is, "Well, I guess, if that's what the league tells us to do."

If you're a player involved in the game and you're exhausted and you've just traveled on a short week, there's a 63.6 percent chance the answer is, "Nope."

If a six-year trend continues tonight at Mall of America Field, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) are at a decided disadvantage against the Vikings (5-2). Even more than if the game were to be played on Sunday.

Since the NFL Network began airing games on Thursday nights six years ago, road teams traveling on a short week are 20-35, including the traditional Thanksgiving games on Fox and CBS. That gives the home team a .636 winning percentage compared to .568 for all other home teams the past six years.

Asked if he feels like he has a bigger advantage than normal this week, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said, "I would like to think so."

Meanwhile, Bucs coach Greg Schiano isn't likely to be found balled up in the fetal position on the sideline at kickoff. But he did acknowledge that, "there are additional challenges other than the normal challenges this week."

Indeed.

Not counting the season opener, which obviously wasn't preceded by games on Sunday, road teams traveling on a short week to play a Thursday night game are 1-5 this season. That's in step with last year's 2-7 mark.

This year, the Bears' only loss was that 23-10 Week 2 meltdown at Green Bay. The Cardinals' first loss was a lackluster 17-3 contest at St. Louis. The Steelers, who had just beaten the Eagles, lost at Tennessee, which had just been thrashed 30-7 in Minnesota. And last week, the Seahawks lost 13-6 at San Francisco and were then accused of giving up by 49ers guard Alex Boone.

The concerns about Thursday night games are a league-wide issue now that the NFL has involved all 32 teams in a season-long package of games. Overall quality of play is a concern. So, too, is player safety, which the league claims is a top priority.

"For me, it is a concern because you know how your body naturally progresses," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "Part of it is probably a mental thing where mentally we just know by Friday we have to feel better, when realistically we probably don't. But a Thursday? To play a game Sunday and come out and play again Thursday is tough."

There's no standard answer when it comes to when a player's body has recovered enough to play another game.

"I start feeling good again on Tuesday," said 25-year-old cornerback Chris Cook.

"Thursday I'm usually ready to go," said 35-year-old cornerback Antoine Winfield.

"It just depends," said 28-year-old left guard Charlie Johnson. "It depends on the game you just had on Sunday. Normally, I'm ready on Wednesday. But we played 84 snaps at Washington. That's like an extra quarter, so I was still feeling really bad on Thursday."

Center John Sullivan said he'll play whichever day the league dictates.

"It's not worth getting bent out of shape over," he said. "After the first game, your body never feels normal again the rest of the season. It's just something you deal with. You're at a pretty high risk of injury in this game no matter what. And once the game is over, it's like having a mini bye week, which is nice."

Running back Adrian Peterson said it would be a physical concern if teams were asked to play more than one Thursday night game a season.

"But once?" he said. "Mentally, you'll get through [one game]. It's a test mentally. That's it."

Frazier, a former player, was asked if he was concerned about player safety in Thursday night games.

"Touchy area there my friend, touchy area," he said. "That one is a bigger call than Coach Frazier. We do what we're told to do. We have a game on Thursday night."

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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