INDIANAPOLIS – Heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, the aches and pains of a 14-game NFL schedule have taken a toll on one's body.
This time of year players use the entire week to rest, heal, recuperate and prepare before going back at it on Sunday.
For the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans that recovery will have to be sped up this week since the teams will meet on Thursday Night Football in Lucas Oil Stadium.
This marks the fifth straight season the Colts will have a Thursday Night game, and kicker Adam Vinatieri said there are a few changes in how players will approach this game.
"Obviously there is a lot less physical (hitting), so there is a lot more (on the) mental side. You've got less time to prepare," Vinatieri said. "Obviously, you're not going to be on the field running and hitting as much because you're still coming off a game in a short amount of time, so it's a lot more mental preparation. The other nice thing about this game, and it's equally as advantageous for them, is we (have) played each other. We'll be familiar with them and they're familiar with us. It doesn't take as much time to familiarize yourself with their schemes and what they're doing."
One advantage the Colts will have this week that they have not had in the past Thursday games is they are playing in their own backyard. The Colts traveled to Atlanta in 2007 for a Thanksgiving Night game. Indianapolis ventured to Jacksonville in 2008 and 2009 for Thursday games against the Jaguars, and last season the Colts played at Tennessee. Having to travel for a Thursday game constricts the week even more than for the home team.
"It's definitely nice that we will be playing at home, just for travelling purposes and recovery afterwards," Vinatieri said. "It's a nice thing not having to jump on an airplane and having to fly somewhere else."
Last season, the Colts lost in overtime to Dallas on the Sunday prior to their Thursday Night game in Nashville. This year, players must put the victory over Tennessee last Sunday behind them. The Thursday kickoff looms as a quick deadline.
Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney joked that his body does not usually feel ready until Friday, but he has no choice but to strap on the pads on Thursday evening.
"I think the biggest key is mentally knowing that it is a quick turnaround so if you celebrate 24 hours before, now you celebrate half of that and then you get on focusing on your next opponent," Freeney said.
Fourth-year wide receiver Pierre Garcon leads the Colts in receiving yards in 2011, and he has been a part of the last two Thursday night games. In 2009, the Colts squeaked out a back-and-forth 35-31 win at Jacksonville in a game that went down to the end. Last year, a 30-28 win at Tennessee sparked four victories in a row to end 2011. Indianapolis entered that game with a 6-6 record and with no room for error if it wanted to reach the playoffs for a ninth straight season.
"You've got to get the body right for the short week," Garcon said. "It's another NFL game, and we are focused on the team that we're playing. It's mostly about the body and get it back right for a short week."
Playing in a banged up Colts secondary this year, safety Antoine Bethea has watched as four teammates in his unit have been placed on injured reserve in 2011. The most experienced member of the secondary has been the lone constant in the unit, and he knows how to handle his body on a short week.
"Really, just try to take care of your body as best as you can," Bethea said. "It's getting in the training room for an extra hour or so, getting in the cold tub, hot tub and just even when you go home, getting off your feet and trying to relax. On short weeks you kind of fall back and depend on things that you do. As far as defensively, you don't want to put in any new calls on a short week, just rely on what we do, and that's fly around play fast."
Preparing for his fourth start in a Colts uniform, quarterback Dan Orlovsky said getting healthy quickly will be vital, but the Connecticut product will also see his former team on Thursday Night when the Texans head to Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I think the biggest thing is getting your body back to respond and then preparation is obviously shortened significantly by about 50 percent, trying to get in and learn the opponent as well as you can, as quickly as you can," Orlovsky said. "Eventually, I think it comes down to just going out and playing. I think that's going to be part of it, is just trusting what you know, trusting what your rules tell you, your base offense or defense, and going and playing."
Players are not the only people affected by a five-day preparation mode rather than the typical seven-day life cycle. Coaches have to prepare on the accelerated pace as well. They must alter the practice structure in being mindful of the body maintenance of the 53-man roster.
Head Coach Jim Caldwell has to measure the process with players that may not be 100 percent, and the tone of the practices on Tuesday and Wednesday would not match the usual level with the shorter week. The re-structured process still must yield a readiness to face a tough divisional foe.
"This particular week, we're practicing on Tuesday," said Caldwell. "I remember last time we had a short week like this we even found out some guys had some (injury) issues that they felt that they could not run as well as they thought they could run once they got out there during the course of practice. We'll try to make certain that we kind of go through a vetting process with a great majority of them and adjust where we have to. We are probably going to have to walk-through some of the segments of practice this week because the week is so short. (We are) getting ready for a real tough Houston team."