Washington and the New York Giants will not put their best product on FedEx Field Thursday night.
And the NFL couldn’t care less.
Last Thursday, the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers “treated” their national audience to a game that was 56-0 well into the fourth quarter. The previous Thursday, the Baltimore Ravens laid a 26-6 beatdown on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But, hey, Thursday Night Football still draws monster ratings. So who cares what it looks like? Who cares about player safety/performance after a three-day recovery period?
Not the NFL or its partner on mid-week games, CBS, which crowed about the ratings for a blowout.
“CBS and NFL Network’s broadcast … which featured Atlanta’s lopsided 56-14 victory over Tampa Bay, gave CBS and NFL Network a dominant primetime win,” CBS said in a press release. The game’s primetime audience “averaged 11.8 million viewers, which beat the combined delivery of the other broadcast networks, NBC, ABC and FOX, by +15% (11.8 million vs. 10.3 million).”
That probably won’t be the case this Thursday, not with the return of ABC’s powerhouse block of Shonda Rimes’ hits “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” followed by her promising newcomer “How to Get Away With Murder.”
But the NFL gets away with anything it can.
The league and CBS laugh all the way to the bank while players drag Sunday’s aches and bruises back onto the field for Thursday.
Several Washington players suffered injuries against Philadelphia, including linebacker Brian Orakpo, guard Shawn Lauvao, defensive end Jason Hatcher, nose tackle Chris Baker and the list goes on. On Monay, when the team had only a walk-through due to the short week, 13 players would’ve been listed as out or limited if it was a full practice as normal.
The scant recovery time for Thursday games makes practice a joke. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said his team does very little on-field work, and even that is scaled back.
“I want them to move around enough to help the soreness, work the soreness out, but we don’t need to do anything with full speed,” he told reporters. “We have a plan which incorporates all of our learning, gives us a chance through the use of jog-throughs or whatever, get as much on the field as we can without taking away from the fact that you just played a very physical game and it is a very short week and we want to be able to play come Thursday night.”
Of course, there’s no real need for the NFL to plant its flag on Thursdays. We undestand the existence of Monday Night Football, which has been around since 1970. And though Sunday Night Football is relatively recent (like TNF, in its ninth season), that seems like a logical progression from the afternoon games.
But TNF is just a money grab, the league creating cheap knockoffs and stamping them with the shield.
There was no demand for blowouts and sloppy games, but the league will keep peddling them if fans keep buying them.
“Our effort (starting in 2006) was to build Thursday night as a football night, an NFL football night,” commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters in July during a Television Critics Association press tour session. “And what we have seen over that several years is that there’s tremendous demand for more football, and particularly on Thursday night.”
So the NFL regularly has games on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. And after a one-year hiatus, the league returns to Saturday this season with a doubleheader in Week 16 (featuring the Philadelphia-Washington rematch).
That leaves just Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday unfettered from our national obsession. The only thing keeping the latter safe is a concession to high school football, College football once displayed similar loyalty to its feeder system, but we see campus games encroaching more and more on Friday night lights.
The NFL will let college take the hit for competing against the preps. Meanwhile, the league continues to promote TNF (and push for an 18-game regular season because, you know, it’s so concerned about player safety).
“Nobody in the league likes Thursday night games,” Orakpo told reporters this week. “I don’t know why they have them. It sucks for players, but it’s part of the game. We’ll be fine. It’s tough, but Thursday night games have been going on for a while. We don’t like them, coaches don’t like them. It’s a short week. You want to prepare and scheme as much as you can, but you can only do so much in limited time.”
We won’t get the best possible product from Washington or the Giants and we won’t get a true indication of Kirk Cousins’ progress (short weeks can be used for blame or credit).
But we’ll fill the stadium and sit glued to the TV.
And that’s all the NFL really cares about.