Short weeks are a fact of life

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS GAME­DAY - Childs.walker@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/childswalker

“I like when we get [more] foot­ball,” Suggs said. “You get it on Thurs­day. You get it Mon­day. You get it Sun­day night. I think later in the year, you get some Satur­day foot­ball games. I like it, but I just don’t like play­ing in it too much, es­pe­cially when you played on Sun­day.”

The league ini­tially used Thurs­day games to steer view­ers to its own NFL Net­work, but over the past three years, CBS and NBC have be­gun broad­cast­ing por­tions of the Thurs­day sched­ule, re­port­edly pay­ing more than $1 bil­lion com­bined to do so. Rat­ings for the games have dropped sig­nif­i­cantly this year, as they also have for prime-time games on Sun­days and Mon­days.

Re­gard­less, the Ravens are old hands at deal­ing with the short week. They’ve done it six times since 2010, go­ing 5-1in those games.

This week sets up about as well as it can, be­cause they didn’t have to travel and have al­ready played the win­less Browns once this sea­son.

“It’s a rou­tine that we’ve de­vel­oped over the years for the Thurs­day night games,” Har­baugh said Mon­day. “A lot of work was done last week. A lot of work was done last night and this morn­ing.”

Coaches didn’t re­view or grade tape of the Ravens’ 21-14 win over the Steel­ers, in­stead turn­ing their sights Sun­day night im­me­di­ately to the Browns.

They then con­sol­i­dated a week’s worth of prac­tices into walk-through ses­sions — light on phys­i­cal stress — on Mon­day and Tues­day.

“Ev­ery­thing just gets in quicker,” quar­ter­back Joe Flacco said. “On Mon­day, you have to come in and you have the game plan in. On Tues­day, you have your third-down, red-zone in. … It’s Tues­day, and we’re ba­si­cally end­ing our week. On a nor­mal week, we’re just get­ting a lit­tle brush-up on the next op­po­nent.”

Across the NFL, Thurs­day games have been con­sis­tently sloppy and rarely com­pet­i­tive. Not count­ing the sea­son opener, which pre­sented no rest prob­lems, only one of eight Thurs­day games this fall has been de­cided by seven points or fewer.

Play­ers and coaches agree there are two pri­mary con­cerns: the rush of plan­ning and man­ag­ing in­juries that are in­evitable and per­va­sive half­way through an NFL sea­son.

“Those are def­i­nitely the two chal­lenges,” Har­baugh said. “The game-plan­ning is “I like it, but I just don’t like play­ing in it too much, es­pe­cially when you played on Sun­day,” Ravens line­backer Ter­rell Suggs said of Thurs­day night games. cer­tainly a chal­lenge, but you just do it. Both teams are in the same boat that way. You try to make­good­de­ci­sions based on­the­fact that the learn­ing curve is go­ing to be a lit­tle bit shorter. The same thing prob­a­bly goes for the phys­i­cal part of it. The re­cov­ery curve is shorter, so guys have to get to it and get right to the re­cov­ery. Then you ad­just what you do. We don’t prac­tice the same way as we would if we were play­ing on Sun­day.”

Play­ers on both sides said the task is eas­ier with a highly fa­mil­iar op­po­nent.

“I think it would be tough if you were play­ing a team that was out of con­fer­ence or you only play once ev­ery four years,” said Cleve­land’s All-Pro left tackle, Joe Thomas. “Be­cause the prepa­ra­tion will be from scratch, and that is a lot to do in one week.”

Play­ers and coaches of­ten say they wel­come the short week af­ter a dif­fi­cult loss. “You get a chance to get that taste out of your mouth,” said Browns coach Hue Jack­son, whose team fell to the Dal­las Cow­boys, 35-10, on Sun­day.

The Ravens wel­comed the palate cleanser in 2014, when they’d lost to the Cincin­nati Ben­gals four days ear­lier and had then watched the fran­chise re­lease run­ning back Ray Rice. A 26-6 win over the Steel­ers helped the play­ers shut out the firestorm sur­round­ing Rice’s down­fall.

That game came in Week 2. The phys­i­cal chal­lenges of a short week tend to deepen as the sea­son pro­gresses.

The Ravens’ process for deal­ing with in­juries doesn’t change sig­nif­i­cantly in a short week, said Dr. An­drew Tucker, di­rec­tor of sports medicine at MedS­tar Union Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal and the team’s head physi­cian. But he said the tim­ing can be bad for in­di­vid­ual play­ers.

“It’s just dumb luck,” Tucker said. “In some cases, there’s no way to get a player ready in four days.”

The Ravens are rel­a­tively healthy com­pared with a few weeks ago, but many play­ers, in­clud­ing Suggs and fel­low line­backer C.J. Mosley, just re­turned Sun­day.

For them, the four-day week did not come at an ideal time, though al­most all ex­pect to play against the Browns.

Mosley said he per­formed ex­tra kicks in a warmup pool and sched­uled ex­tra mas­sage time to help soothe his sore ham­string.

“You just want to make sure you take care of it, es­pe­cially with the quick turn­around af­ter play­ing a full game,” he said. “It hasn’t re­ally been a stress, but it’s some­thing that’s in the back of your head.”

Tucker was among those con­cerned about the health im­pli­ca­tions when the league first an­nounced its ex­panded Thurs­day sched­ules. He won­dered whether the short weeks would lead to higher in­jury rates for Thurs­day games. But he said that hasn’t been the case, ac­cord­ing to an­nual re­ports is­sued by the league.

“Yes, I think I was con­cerned and yes, the data, which is very good now, is re­as­sur­ing,” Tucker said.

There is a car­rot at the end of the Thurs­day stick. If the play­ers make it through healthy and es­pe­cially if they win, they en­joy a rare week­end off be­fore pre­par­ing for the next game, 10 days out.

It might not sound like much, but in the sec­ond half of an NFL sea­son, any respite is gold.

“It’s nice once a year, be­cause at the end of the day, if you go out there and do your job, you get an­other lit­tle bye week to give your body a rest,” Flacco said. “If you were to do it week in and week out, it would just be a bad cy­cle for your body.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BALTIMORE SUN

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