The New England Patriots had a favorable schedule over the first five weeks of the season, not just because of their opponents: the reigning world champions also played four straight 1:00 pm games between Week 2 and Week 5, allowing them to start the regular season in a nice rhythm. That rhythm, however, will get disrupted this week as the New York Giants will come to Foxborough in only three days for a primetime game between the two clubs.
Needless to say that the Patriots will have to make a quick turnaround following their 33-7 victory against the Washington Redskins, something quarterback Tom Brady also pointed out during his postgame press conference on Sunday. When asked about the challenges of playing a Thursday nighter, the 42-year-old stated that he and his team have to “use the time every bit from now until game time to get ready physically and mentally.”
In the past, New England has been very good at adjusting to short weeks. The club has played a regular Thursday Night Football game — not counting the NFL season opener, which also takes place on Thursdays — every year since 2012, and is a perfect 7-0 in those contests while winning with an average score of 29.9-14.1. Last year, for example, the Patriots defeated the visiting Indianapolis Colts with a final score of 38-24.
In order to also come away victoriously against the Giants, New England head coach Bill Belichick identified multiple challenges his team will have to overcome during the week — both in terms of execution on Thursday and preparation over the next few days: “Understanding of the Giants, and getting mentally ready. They have very challenging schemes on offense, defense, and special teams.”
“The mental part of it is challenging, certainly the physical part of it,” added Belichick. “When you think about it, [Sunday] is Wednesday and we play on Sunday. It’s a lot for the players to rebound from. I’m sure they will do everything they can to be as physically ready as possible. So it’s a combination of two things, you have to just balance it. One without the other is not enough so you have to try and get both.”
When it comes to planning the game and the practices leading up to it, Belichick pointed out that the team will have to strike a balance between shortening the playbook and possibly not getting as much repetitions per play: “Hopefully, things line up that you want to do things in the game plan that you’ve been doing or are a part of your system. Repping a play isn’t really an issue because you know how to do it [...] so when those things line up, that’s relatively easy.”
“The hard part would be if they do something that forces you to do things a little bit differently or maybe there’s an area that you want to try to attack, but it’s not part of your normal system,” Belichick added. “Do you step outside the box a little bit and spend time to get that ready on a short week, or do you say it’s too much and that you just won’t be able to execute it? Or, maybe, you have three or four ideas like that and you pick out one or only two of them because you just run out fo time and opportunity to prepare for them.”
“That’s really the question and we’ll have to pull that together,” he continued. “When you do a normal game plan, you kind of chop it up into some sections on offense and defense: early downs, third down, red area, two-minute. Something could come up in any one of those, and you add it and it’s not a big deal. When you’re getting ready for a game like this, you have to kind of put it all together at once or maybe two sections, but it’s not the normal time frame that you have.”
“And then if you start piling on, ‘Oh, well, we’re going to do this in the red area, do this in two-minute, and do this on third down, do this on early downs,’ and before you know it, the volume can accelerate pretty quickly,” Belichick said when discussion the issues of working on a shorter-than-usual schedule. He added that it would definitely be a challenge — in part because of an opponent he called well-coached — for the entire team.
Whether or not the Patriots will be able to rise up to it remains to be seen. What should help them at least somewhat, however, is the experience both the coaching staff and the players have: Belichick and his team have been in a lot of challenging situations over the years, and proven themselves adaptable. It should therefore not be a surprise to see the club once again stay on top of things heading into its mini-bye.