FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — An NFL season can be grueling and the longer it goes, the harder it gets.
Bodies get battered, minds get weary.
It takes time to recover from the pounding the players take each week. Neither the New England Patriots nor the New York Jets have that time this week.
The teams will play Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, their second game in five days. Both won their openers in the final seconds Sunday, the Patriots edging Buffalo 23-21 on a Stephen Gostkowski 35-yard field goal with five seconds left, the Jets downing Tampa Bay 18-17 on a Nick Folk 48-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining.
For players accustomed to having more days off to recover physically, this is a tough week.
“A football game is a traumatic experience for your body,” said Matthew Slater, the Patriots’ leading special-teams player. “Your body is put through some rigors and it’s about getting your body back in time and recovering as best you can.”
Short weeks, such as this one, don’t allow that. Short weeks mean no days off to recover, physically or mentally. Short weeks mean, as quarterback Tom Brady said Tuesday, “cramming three days of practice into a walk-through.”
The Patriots haven’t had a full practice this week, just walk-throughs. Coach Bill Belichick felt that was the best way to prepare for the game.
The time constraints placed on the teams limit what they can do to get ready. While most Patriots said Tuesday that the short week is tough no matter when it occurs, at least one is glad the short week is this week.
“If you have (the short week) early, your body is not as broken down as it is in Week 10, 12,” said linebacker Rob Ninkovich. “Some of the teams that are going to have 13 games and then play a couple days after playing on Sunday, it’s hard as the season progresses.
“For us to have this now, it’s not a bad thing.”
He knows all about the limitations. “Having such a short week, you have to just get your body back to as much of 100 percent as you can get it,” he said. “These NFL games, they take a lot out of you so you just have to do your best to make sure you recover before a Thursday night game.” But he’d rather face them now than later.
The teams simply have to make the best of whatever time they have. The game plan has already been established but as defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said, it’s not set.
“Against the Jets, we’re going to do some things we didn’t do against Buffalo, things that are more suitable for the Jets,” said Wilfork. “And we have to get it done leading up to game day just because it’s a short week.
“We’re probably going this week all the way up to the day of the game, putting things in, taking things out because the time we normally have, we don’t have.”
In weeks like this, the in-game adjustments may make the difference. While the Jets and Patriots are longtime rivals – “It’s Boston and New York,” said Brady. “Been that way since I got here” – they have a good understanding of each other.
But because both teams have undergone a lot of changes since last year – the Patriots’ offense relies heavily on new players and the Jets have new coordinators on offense (Marty Mornhinweg) and defense (Dennis Thurman) – they can only try to predict what will happen in the game.
“Sidelines are going to be big for us, too,” said Wilfork. “Making adjustments on the sidelines, adding some things, throwing out some things on the sidelines, it’s going to be critical for us. We’ve done it before. I’m not seeing it being a problem. It’s all about being a professional at the end of the day.”
Ninkovich, who has more fumble recoveries (10) than any other NFL player over the last four years, said the sideline changes aren’t huge, just a little tinkering here and there. But they are crucial.
“You get into the game, you see the things that they’re trying to do against you,” he said. “You get to the sidelines, you talk to the coaches, you look at the pictures, you try to make your adjustments on the fly.”
The Patriots obviously have studied tape of the Jets from the preseason and from their opener against Tampa Bay, focusing on the new players such as quarterback Geno Smith. But, said Ninkovich, you know the Jets will have something special for the Patriots.
“We’re the Patriots and there’s always going to be a change-up for us,” he said.
Well, according to Jets Coach Rex Ryan, if you didn’t throw something different at the Patriots, you’re just asking to lose.
“If they know 100 percent of what you’re in, you’re in trouble,” Ryan said Tuesday. “I hope they don’t know what we’re in 100 percent of the time.”
Wilfork said the short week is just another challenge facing an NFL team.
Next week the Patriots will have a long week to prepare for their third game, against Tampa Bay.
“At this point,” said Wilfork, “all we can do is prepare the best we can.”
And hope that it’s enough.
“Whether it’s easy or hard, the New York Jets are dealing with the same circumstances,” said receiver Julian Edelman. “Whoever prepares better is going to have the best game Thursday. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: