Inside the visitor's locker room in Minnesota, joy gave way to dread. Forget the game they'd just won. Never mind the newfound momentum in the NFC North.
The Green Bay Packers had no time to celebrate.
David Bakhtiari, heading to the team bus, stopped and shrugged as he discussed what he’ll endure this week. The left tackle had just played 78 snaps against the Vikings. That’s 78 separate collisions, one coming right after the other.
Ready, Bakhtiari was asked, to do it again in four days?
“It’s the NFL for you,” Bakhtiari said. “I mean, it’s not the safest thing. But we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
The Packers will be on the NFL’s center stage when they host the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving night. Coach Mike McCarthy called it a “once-in-a-lifetime event.” And he’s right. Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, three of the game’s greatest quarterbacks, will be in one stadium when Favre’s number is retired on Lambeau Field’s north façade.
It’s a “special, special time” for the Packers’ franchise, McCarthy acknowledged.
For players, it’s Exhibit A for the NFL's hypocrisy regarding safety.
“It sucks,” receiver Randall Cobb said.
“Brutal,” defensive back Micah Hyde added.
Nobody likes Thursday games.
“It’s not good on your body at all,” Hyde said.
These Packers are the walking wounded. Their bodies are busted. An assortment of ankle, knee, hip, rib and shoulder injuries placed 16 players on Tuesday’s injury report. That’s more than a third of a team’s 46-man, gameday roster.
Doesn’t matter. Ready or not, here comes more pain.
“Of course, everyone wants more football,” Cobb said, “but for us as players it’s a very fast turnaround. We don’t get enough time to allow our bodies to get back acclimated on the short week. Mentally, trying to prepare ourselves, it’s really tough on us.”
The Packers know these four-day weeks are an obstacle every team must clear. No, they wouldn’t want to be in the Bears’ position this week. The only thing worse than playing a Thursday game is … playing a Thursday game on the road.
Still, this is the biggest in-season challenge facing NFL players today. The reward? Usually, a Thursday game is followed by a weekend away from football. A “mini-bye week,” it’s called. Instead, the Packers will be the rare team to play consecutive Thursday night games, traveling to the Detroit Lions next week.
Their reward won’t come until December.
“The league was so gracious,” inside linebacker Clay Matthews said sarcastically, “to give us four divisional games, flexed into the late spot, as well as give us a quick turnaround, and then to play the following Thursday. We’re very fortunate for that.”
It’s hard enough to physically get ready. The condensed, mental preparation only adds to the fatigue. Most weeks, B.J. Raji said, players can dwell on Sunday’s game until Wednesday. There is only a light workout and film review Monday, an off day Tuesday. It isn’t until Wednesday, the first practice of game week, when players must do the heavy lifting.
The turnaround is immediate on a four-day schedule. There was a long film session Monday, focused on the Bears. Instead of letting their bodies rest Tuesday, the Packers combined their typical Wednesday and Thursday practices into one. Wednesday will be a combination of Friday and Saturday, with a quick, brisk practice entering game day.
What’s lost is the final two days of a full week. Bakhtiari said the extra sleep and hydration that comes Friday and Saturday are “huge” for a player’s recovery process. Without it, the body never fully resets.
“You know when someone just begins working out,” Bakhtiari said, “and it’s really sore, and you don’t really want to do it. It’s tougher than that. It’s more pain. Everything just kind of aches. It doesn’t go away.
“It’s hard to kind of recharge your battery mentally, physically and emotionally for a game, because you expend so much energy.”
The grind is hard on every player, regardless of the position. Still, the challenge has varying degrees of difficulty. Not every position takes the same pounding during a game.
Running back Eddie Lacy had a season-high 22 carries in Minnesota. He ran hard, downhill. He broke four tackles. Of his 100 yards against the Vikings, 76 came after contact.
Lacy laughed when he thought about having to go through the same, brutal routine on three days' rest. He said this is a different week, requiring more preparation. In each of the four days, he’ll visit the cold tub. During a usual Sunday-to-Sunday schedule, Lacy said, he never takes an ice bath.
“I really only do it this week,” Lacy said. “During regular weeks, my body pretty much gets back normal by Friday, Saturday. So it’s all right. On this short week, I definitely do it.”
If not the running back, these shortened weeks may be hardest on offensive linemen. Unlike the defensive line, which follows a regimented rotation during games, offensive linemen play every snap. That’s a collision every play, one after another. No time to rest.
The four-day week comes at a particular bad time for the Packers’ offensive line. All five starters were on Tuesday’s injury report. All five must play Thursday’s game less than 100 percent, if they play at all.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked across the locker room Tuesday, to the offensive line’s wing. He understood it won’t be easy.
“I love those guys,” Rodgers said. “They’re the modern-day gladiators. They’re pushing through some tough bumps and bruises, and they’ve all been on the injury report. … It’s a tribute to the way they take care of themselves, and mentally their capacity to push through the injuries is very admirable.”
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