Anyone watching last Monday night’s Giants-Eagles game must have thought they lost track on the calendar and it was being played on a Thursday.
Even broadcasters Mike Tirico and Jon Grude will weigh some paper towel gets, who recognize the need to keep viewers tuned in to ESPN for as long as possible — ratings and all that stuff — couldn’t hold back the criticism. And rightly so.
Tirico, as good as any play-by-play man doing any sport, was honest in his appraisal of how poorly both teams were performing. Gruden concurred.
This isn’t something new, as NBC’s lead analyst, Cris Collinsworth, notes.
“We have been really lucky with great games on SNF so far,” Collinsworth says. “Last year was really rough. This year, the Patriots-Colts game was the only one that slowed in the second half, and even that wasn’t bad. Thursday night is the one that is rough. No rest, no practice, limited game-planning.
“Plus, it is hard to predict which teams will be good anymore. Scheduling for prime time is tougher than ever. But the energy to start prime-time games will always be a hook. Night football, whether it is high school, college or NFL is always the most exciting.”
Well, that used to be true, for sure. Recently, though, it’s become something of a chore to find ways to enjoy the night games.
The NFL did something wise by scheduling mostly intradivision games for Thursday nights. That can ratchet up the intensity between bitter rivals, as it did this Thursday night for Seahawks-49ers. But it’s done little or nothing for the quality of play.
Seattle was ready, San Francisco was not.
In the previous Thursday nighters, discounting the kickoff game for which the Steelers and Patriots were not on a short week, there have been close finishes (Denver-Kansas City, Baltimore-Pittsburgh, Indianapolis-Houston). But the brand of play being displayed could not be deemed high quality.
“The longer we play Thursday night games into the season, I think the worse they are going to get,” says Pat Kirwan, a former NFL personnel director who for years on his SiriusXM NFL Radio program has opposed Thursday night contests. “You have too many injuries, your recovery rates are changing, you can’t get guys ready. It is not about who gets hurt in the game, it is about who can’t go, and you have to limit your game plan. If you have any kind of adjustments where you’ve got to get a young quarterback ready, or have to play a different left tackle and those guys haven’t played all year, it is rough to get them ready, and it’s really bad for the traveling team.”
Plus, Thursday night football can be a medical nightmare for teams. It’s tough enough getting players ready for Sunday coming off a Monday nighter — or even off the previous Sunday.
“I think for the safety aspect of it, the NFL can say, yeah, we are worried about safety, safety, safety,” adds former NFL quarterback Jim Miller, Kirwan’s co-host on SiriusXM. “That is not safe, for players to play on a Sunday and come back and line up and play on a Thursday. We know that because half the guys can’t even line up and play. If they sprain an ankle, they could play probably on a following Sunday, but not on a Thursday night game.
“If you are in the concussion protocol on a Sunday, I don’t know if you will get cleared for a Thursday night game. I don’t think that is even possible.”
Still, the NFL is likely to add more prime-time games rather than cut back. Thursdays seem here to stay, and the bidding for the TV contract next year — the deal with CBS ends in January — will include some outrageous numbers, particularly if Turner Broadcasting wants in.
And with high schools and colleges pretty much done with their schedules in early December, who’s to say the NFL won’t take over Friday and Saturday nights for that month, too?
Which means more games on shorter rest and preparation time. Not a good formula for attractive football and riveting TV.
“The game-planning, think about the Seahawks, they basically got healthy on Monday, that’s a flush day,” Miller says. “They get introduced to the game plan probably Monday night. You look at maybe they have a Tuesday walkthrough and then on a plane Wednesday to go to San Francisco. How do you even work the matchups, go through timing, and run plays?
“It is a shame … I just think it is bad football all around and it becomes vanilla at the end of the day. I am not a fan of Thursday night football, I don’t think it has been good since they introduced it to the fans out there.”
But it’s not going away.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.