The way we hear it, Thursday-night football, on a full-time basis for the first time this season, has been a full-fledged calamity on two very important levels.
Start with the vast majority of players and coaches forced to play two games in four days this season that abhor the extent to which the compressed time frame has adversely affected their physical condition and game preparation, respectively.
“If they (the NFL powers-that-be) were really so concerned about the violence and the injuries and players getting hurt, answer this question for me: Why is there Thursday night football?” Ravens S Ed Reed angrily wondered out loud, not long after his one-game suspension for repeated hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players was reduced to a $50,000 fine, which he considered only slightly less bogus. “We played three games in 17 days (earlier this season)? Why?
“I never liked it when the Thursday night game came out," Reed said. "It's all about money.”
The fact that the Thursday games up to now have been case studies in bad football for the most part — and in some cases, outright unwatchable — could create double trouble for the NFL’s movers and shakers.
Just how bad has the football been? Consider the following factual evidence:
• Only two of the 15 total games played on Thursdays this season (counting the three games on Thanksgiving) featured teams both sporting winning records.
• Eight of the games were decided by 13 or more points.
• The road teams in the 11 divisional Thursday-night games (including Thanksgiving games) are 4-7, with none of the losing road teams scoring more than 16 points. The seven losing road teams have been outscored 149-75 (10.7 ppg average).
• Nine of the 15 losing teams have committed at least three turnovers, including three teams that committed five turnovers. In total, there have been 58 turnovers in the 15 games (3.9 per game) — compared to the 3.1 average total of turnovers in all other games entering Week 14.
When it comes to near-unwatchable matchups, one close league observer honed in on three particular eyesores — Cardinals-Rams in Week Five (Rams 17, Cardinals 3), Chiefs-Chargers in Week Nine (Chargers 31, Chiefs 13) and Saints-Falcons in Week 13 (Falcons 23, Saints 13).
“In the Cardinals-Rams game, the rather small turnout of fans was treated to 14 punts (seven by each team) and watched the Rams’ defensive line torch the Cardinals for nine sacks, making it a miracle that Kevin Kolb wasn’t injured,” the observer said. “You know things are bad when the winning quarterback completes only 7-of-21 passes as Sam Bradford did, and the winning team gains just 242 yards and 12 first downs, as the Rams did. Bradford also had a string of 12 consecutive incompletions, including an interception in the endzone. Outside of two long completions of 44 and 51 yards, Bradford was a putrid 5-of-19 for 46 yards. And he won 17-3. That’s just terrible!
“In the Chargers-Chiefs game, six turnovers (four by the Chiefs) made for a low-scoring affair early, as the game was an incredibly boring 10-6 heading into the fourth quarter. Kansas City promptly committed three of its four turnovers in the fourth quarter, two of which were turned into touchdowns that blew the game wide open. The game also included two muffed punts.
“As for the Saints-Falcons, instead of a classic shootout that we’ve come to expect from these teams, we got a 23-13 stinker that featured six turnovers. Nine of the Saints’ 13 possessions ended in either punts or interceptions.”
When you add the injury factor to the Thursday-night equation, a bad situation looks even worse. Consider the following chronological time line:
• In Week Two Bears RB Matt Forté went down with a high ankle sprain and missed the next week.
• In Week Four, Browns WR-RS Josh Cribbs was knocked out with a concussion.
• In Week Five, Rams WR Danny Amendola suffered a freak shoulder injury that forced him to miss the next three games. Meanwhile, Cardinals RB Ryan Williams suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
• In Week Six, Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey (leg), OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and RBs Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Isaac Redman (ankle) all went down and did not return.
• In Week Eight, Vikings top CB Chris Cook broke his right arm and has not played since.
• In Week Nine, Chiefs DE Glenn Dorsey left with a calf injury and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 11.
• In the Texans-Lions Thanksgiving game in Week 12, Texans LB Brooks Reed left with a groin injury and has not played since. Meanwhile, Lions OT Jeff Backus’ inability to play (hamstring) broke his string of 186 consecutive starts.
• Later that afternoon in Dallas, the Cowboys lost WR Miles Austin, LB Bruce Carter and CB Orlando Scandrick, and Redskins ILB London Fletcher was barely able to keep his streaks of 235 consecutive games played and 190 starts alive. Carter and Scandrick later went on I.R.
“Bodies have not recovered — that’s the bottom line,” one pro personnel director told PFW. “It’s such a quick turnaround that bodies are more susceptible to injury. It’s not a good trend. The problem is that the league has got itself in a box. The injury issue is a huge problem. It really is, with the concussions and lawsuits. It is not good.”
Added a top league executive: “I would think we’re seeing a higher abundance of injuries on Thursday nights. There is a reason you don’t play two, three or more games a week in this sport like you do with baseball and basketball — you CAN’T.
“People say it’s a contact sport. It’s not. I believe Paul Brown said it. Basketball is a contact sport. Football is a collision sport. You have two forces colliding into each other. Talk to a physicist and he will tell you the difference. Someone in the league needs to look at the formulas and see the amount of force being generated on collisions – maybe that’s why there is serious discussion going on about eliminating the kickoff.”
There are more than a few close league observers who believe serious thought should be given to the proposal recently offered by former NFL head coach and Fox sports commentator Brian Billick, who suggested adding an 18th week to the season and giving each team two bye weeks, one the first half of the season and the other in the second half.
In this setup, each team would still play once a season on Thursdays, but each of those games would match teams coming off bye weeks, giving them 10 days of rest before the game and nine days after the game.
“Brian Billick is a brilliant guy. Part of the problem is that he knows it and lets everyone know it — but in this situation, I think he’s absolutely right,” the pro personnel director said. “I’ll take it a step further and say it should apply to Monday nights, too.
“If a team is going to have a shortened week, the bye week should come before the Thursday night game and after the Monday night game — and no team should have more than one. It’s not only an injury issue — it’s a competitive issue. The networks may not like it — they want the biggest markets and the best games. But if the NFL were serious about protecting the players, they would look into this proposal. It makes too much sense not to.
“Instead, I think it’s probably going the other way. To keep squeezing every dollar they can out of the golden goose, they are going to push for 18 games to be played. I know the league doesn’t want to hear it — but it’s too much, man. It’s selfish and greedy and absolutely does not have the best interests of the players in mind.”