New Orleans Saints linebacker David Hawthorne pondered the fact that, on a short week for both teams, the Carolina Panthers in theory could have been at home Sunday night watching the Packers-Saints game, getting the jump for a few extra hours of rest plus an early scouting report on their Thursday night opponent.
“To me, 24 hours feels like 24 hours, no matter what time their game ended or our game ended,” he said. “Most guys don’t get healthy until Thursday anyway. We’ll be OK.”
They probably will.
Winning, especially a rousing 44-23 victory against a team like Green Bay, has to have a remarkable healing effect, even on bodies coming off the effect of 60 to 70 auto collisions each week.
On the other hand, losing 13-9 in the final minute to Seattle to drop to 3-4-1 after an 2-0 start can’t make those bumps and bruises on the Panthers’ bodies feel any better, much less do anything for their psyches.
Still, for the Saints, playing a Thursday night road game after a Sunday night home game while Carolina had an early-starting home game puts them at a disadvantage that coach Sean Payton is not especially happy about.
“We’d prefer to be playing at our normal start time before a Thursday game,” Payton said Monday. “It makes the turnaround for us all that much quicker. But no one in the league is interested in hearing about it.”
Payton didn’t mention it, but this is the fifth straight year the Saints have played a Thursday road game. But the Saints are far from the only team to draw the short straw when it comes to Thursday night games this season, so all of you Roger Goodell conspiracy theorists can just calm down.
The worst situation is Dallas having to play at the New York Giants in a Sunday night game Nov. 23 before playing host to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving.
It’s doubtful that the commish would deliberately treat the league’s No. 1 cash cow so poorly. And since the Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving, Jerry Jones is used to having his team make adjustments. Dallas also played at New York on the Sunday before Thanksgiving last year, but it was at least a late afternoon start.
Four other teams are on the road the Sunday before Thursday home games this season, but they were all relatively short return trips after early starts.
Denver is the only other team playing on Sunday night before a Thursday game, but the Broncos were at home for both.
“I’m not a fan of them because it’s so tough on us,” said tackle Zach Strief, who is one of the team’s NFLPA player reps and thus has the opportunity to voice his opinion on such matters. “But we also have a little bye and the end of it, so it’s sort of a like a carrot being dangled. Maybe we’ll appreciate it down the stretch.”
The Thursday games are a bone of contention among players, whose high injury rate can’t be improved by having them. But with the money CBS is paying to air half of the Thursday night schedule (the NFL Network gets the rest, starting this week), they aren’t going away.
At least every team now plays one, so that’s evened up.
And the NFL did make a change in this year’s Thursday games. They’re all divisional matchups, with the exception of the Green Bay-Seattle game on the opening week. That familiarity makes game-planning a little easier, especially late in the season when it’s the teams’ second meeting.
That, Payton said, was part of the reason his players were given Monday off while the coaching staff went through what would have been its normal game-planning day.
It’s time off the players are expected to put to good use.
Linebacker Curtis Lofton made a late-afternoon teleconference call to the local media while receiving a massage.
“After the game, I drove around trying to find something to eat,” Lofton said. (How can that be a problem in New Orleans, even late at night?) “And since then I’ve been taking care of my body. When it’s a short week, you’ve got to do a lot more maintenance.”
Strief started his recuperation Sunday night upon arriving home, where he has “an extensive collection of treatment devices.” He was up at 7 a.m. — probably a lot earlier than Saints fans who didn’t have to get to work Monday morning — having more repair work done.
“When I say I don’t like Thursday games, that’s speaking more as a nine-year veteran than anything else,” he said. “It’s a challenge to your body because usually you get two days off just to heal up.
“You have to get your rest, be careful about your diet and do all of the things you need to do because that’s the culture of the NFL. I do know I’d much rather be hurting after a win than after a loss.”