The Thursday night game is by far the most difficult game to prepare for.
You can’t get into as much depth as you normally would in your game plan because you just don’t have the time. You’ve got to jump right into the next opponent.
There might be times when you review some stuff from last game, but really, you jump right into the work week and go straight into getting your body healthy, getting a workout in and starting to understand what your next opponent does.
The coaches actually get ahead of it a little bit: On the Friday before that previous Sunday's game, they’ve already done some prep on the team so they’re not so far behind.
But for players, it’s all about getting your body right. There’s really no time to get any true timing going on in terms of pass patterns, because you don’t practice. It’s all walk-through format. It’s a big week of mental preparation so you can have enough time to heal your body for Thursday night.
You’re basically skipping your Monday and Tuesday rest period you'd have on a normal week. And because it’s so condensed, you’ll have longer days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with extended walk-through periods on those days.
It’s like a practice format: You go through all your looks and cards and everything else that you would normally get in a practice. But it’s just walk-through, because you can’t physically go out there and pound guys when you know you’ve got to get the reps in.
There’s a lot more install, too. You usually start with first- and second-down runs and passes, then get right into third down on that first Monday. By Tuesday, you have a good idea of what you’re doing in terms of red zone, and then Wednesday is the day before the game in which you’re pulling all that stuff together.
You’ve got to get through the run game checks, the pass checks, the protection schemes and what you’re trying to do. From a mental standpoint, it's super taxing.
Personally, I always loved the 1 p.m. Sunday games. Because by the time you get done with that game, you get to go home, get off your feet -- maybe have a few soda pops, if you know what I mean -- and be with your family. And the hardest part about late-night games for me was sitting around in a hotel all day long. I would just wait and think, “Come on, let’s get it on already.”
But when the schedule comes out, everybody knows they have a Thursday night game. They know it’s something that’s part of the season.
The other thing that you mentally push through with is that, as soon as that Thursday night game is over, it’s like an extension of a bye week. You get the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of extra rest leading up to the following week.
A lot of guys lean on that part and say: “Look, I know this is going to be a tough week physically and mentally. But come Friday, we’re all going to be feeling good because we get those extra three days to recuperate and maybe get away from football for a bit to do those things that really help people recover.”
So, when the lights come on and you know it’s time to rock and roll, the adrenaline kicks in and you’re ready to go. That’s how it’s always been for most players. They know they have a job to do, and they know that this what they do for a living: They're on primetime television, so they don’t want to go out and get embarrassed on Thursday Night Football when everybody’s watching.
Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.
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