By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
BOSTON, Mass. -- The Patriots are undefeated and have faced little resistance after five full weeks of game prep. Now they have to turn the same trick after three days.
Thursday Night Football comes to Foxboro this week, where the Pats and Giants will suit up and crash into each other dozens of times before they're even fully recovered from last Sunday. The physical toll for players on a short week is obvious and not necessarily safe.
And although the NFL is far from considering elimination of Thursday games, that's not going to stop Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater from voicing his concerns about playing two games in a five-day span.
"As a player rep, I look at player safety as something that we really emphasize and I think that really doesn’t tend to be the case when we look at Thursday night games," Slater told 985TheSportsHub.com. "I don’t think player safety is a priority when you look at Thursday night games, as far as recovery [from the previous week] is concerned. I think physically we have to do the best we can to bounce back.
"Fortunately we only have to do this once a year, and just be grateful for the opportunity that we have, make the most of it, and hopefully recover afterward."
The short week doles out the same disadvantages to the Patriots and Giants, except the Patriots don't have to travel. But that hasn't made a difference in the win-loss column so far. It's been an even 2-2 split between home and road squads in the first four Thursday Night Football games of the 2019 season.
Mentally, both teams have to jam four work days of game-planning into two. A typical week installs the principal gameplan on Wednesday, red zone and third-down work on Thursday, situational drills and walkthroughs on Friday. On a short week, it's essentially all walkthroughs.
“It’s very challenging,” said Slater. “You’re trying to get in your normal installs in three days quicker than you normally would, so that really puts a strain on players and coaches mentally to get themselves ready to go. You have to cram. You feel like you’re cramming for a test back in college. But you just have to do the best you can to handle it mentally, as a professional.”
The 2019 Patriots in their current state will go as their defense goes, and so far they've been nearly impeccable. If not for one ugly breakdown early against the Redskins, they'd be coming off another shutout.
They'll have a chance at another suffocating performance against Daniel Jones, only the second rookie quarterback ever to start in Foxboro on a Thursday night. They also will be able to draw from facing Jones in the preseason. But the short week will make it harder for the group to look as fast, efficient, and cohesive as they've looked in the first five games.
"Before you know it, we’re first, second down, third down today, we’re red area and the next thing you know, you’re playing a game," said safety Devin McCourty on Tuesday. "So, I think it helps that we’ve had to do it for a while now, so you have some experience with it. I think the coaching staff obviously does a great job of getting us ready and preparing us along with Mo [Moses Cabrera] and the strength and conditioning. But, it’s tough. I think it’s tough for everybody, but it’s equal on both sides."
The time-crunch and added physical grind can be the great equalizer between two teams with large disparities in talent. And that is most certainly the case with the 5-0 Patriots and the 2-3 Giants, who are likely to be without most of their top offensive weapons.
Between Jones and Tom Brady, the biggest disparity in experience comes at quarterback. But Brady acknowledges that he could still use all the prep he can get with an offense that mostly has limited experience with him.
"Football, I would say, is very much like riding a bike for me now," said Brady. "I mean, I know what to do, I know where to look. I wish I didn’t make mistakes when I was out there. But, yeah, the practice is very important for me because it gives me confidence in what we’re doing. It helps me anticipate things with the players that I’m playing with. So, even though I maybe have done things, I still recognize that a lot of other players haven’t done those things. So, my connection with them is very important."
If the short week closes the talent gap, then it will come down to who executes better. Thanks to Bill Belichick steering the ship, the Patriots likely would not play sloppier football than Pat Shurmur's Giants. But short weeks are a major challenge for any team. It's probably the only realistic obstacle between the Pats and 6-0.
“Experience - it is what it is,” said Slater. “Coach [Belichick] always says it’s about execution and not experience, and I believe that. So hopefully we’re taking our lessons that we learned from the preseason and our film study this week, and execute well on Thursday.”
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].