GLENDALE, Ariz. Imagine absorbing the impact roughly equivalent to 70 car crashes on a given afternoon—then four days later doing it all again.
That’s what 37-year-old Dwight Freeney is going to do Thursday night for the Seahawks against the Arizona Cardinals in the desert.
Hey, Dwight, you are a future Hall-of-Fame defensive end who has been smashing repeatedly into offensive linemen for 16 years. In a normal game week of Sunday to Sunday, when does your body feel even somewhat healthy so you are back to yourself again?
"It’s normally like, Thursday. No, Friday," he said, with a big laugh.
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"Yeah, it’s like Friday before I start feeling a little bit back like myself.
"That’s why," he added, under his breath, as if the NFL might be listening, "these Thursday night games are the worst."
K.J. Wright is nine years younger than Freeney. Ask the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl linebacker about Thursday games after Sunday ones and he gives the thumb, heave-ho signal with his right hand.
"The next CBA? These games have to GO!" Wright said.
He knows that won’t actually happen, of course. The league makes too many billions—with a "b"—from television partners for these primetime showcase games. The cash comes in no matter what the product looks like on the field or what the players feel like before or during it.
When will Wright’s body, which has been fighting a bad knee for a while, feel back to normal from playing in last weekend’s loss to Washington, so he can play in this NFC West game?
"I’ll be ready to go—by Friday," Wright said.
He laughed, too.
"The biggest thing is the preparation part of it. You have to be able to prepare at a very, very high level and be able to process and be very efficient with your time," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said.
"Typically, it’s usually Thursday I feel normal again.
Then he smiled and uttered: "Hah!"
Wright says he usually gets three massages between games. This week he only had time to get one. That sounds like a first-world problem to you and me. But when three massages are how you get from one game to the next just so you can function again, one-third of that maintenance matters.
Seattle All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner does hot yoga to cleanse and stretch his body after games. He usually does that on Tuesday, the players’ lone day away from team headquarters and practicing—in a normal game week. There was no Tuesday day off for Wagner and the Seahawks or Cardinals this week.
Wagner had to begin preparing his body to be able to play in this game against the Cardinals last week, before the Redskins game. He’s been playing with an injured hamstring.
"It’s unfortunate how the schedule works out," Wagner said, "but fortunately you have a Monday night game (Seattle’s next one is home Nov. 20 against Atlanta).
"So you just play what they give you."
Wilson says this is all a physical toll most people don’t understand. Or maybe we don’t care to realize it.
"I don’t think people really understand the physical nature of the game, after the game," Wilson said. "You watch it, and it’s all fun and it’s entertaining and everything else to watch. But Sunday night, Monday morning, Tuesday, Wednesday, those are really, tough days physically. Not just for me, for everybody, no matter what position you play.
"So it’s key to have the time for your body to heal."
No time for that this week for the Seahawks. Nor for the Cardinals. They won 20-10 at San Francisco last Sunday the same time Seattle was losing at home 17-14 to Washington. That makes this game even more unpredictable than a usual NFL contest already is.
The Seahawks have the league’s No.-2 passing offense thanks to Wilson’s resilience and brilliance under constant pressure this season. They have a top-five defense in points allowed. They are undefeated in their last four of these annual games against the Cardinals in Arizona dating to 2012—their dreadful, 6-6 overtime tie last October notwithstanding.
The Cardinals have a backup quarterback in Drew Stanton, with Carson Palmer on injured reserve with a broken arm. Seattle has dominated Stanton the two previous times he’s played the Seahawks. He has a 50-percent completion rate with 233 yards passing, total, in the two games with zero touchdowns, three interceptions, five sacks plus a woeful passer rating of 37.4 against Seattle. Arizona’s defense has slumped to 27th in points allowed. Two of the Cardinals’ four wins have come against the winless 49ers.
This lack of proper recovery—for the Seahawks (5-3) a game, two practices then a flight Wednesday to Phoenix for another game--mitigates any advantages in talent and experience they feel they have over the Cardinals (4-4).
And vice versa.
Adrian Peterson, 32 years old, had 37 carries for Arizona in its win over the 49ers Sunday. He is a former league most valuable player with Minnesota. Last weekend was his third game since he arrived in a trade after being a lost piece in New Orleans. And with his first two 100-yard games since 2015, Peterson has revived what was a non-existent Cardinals running game after David Johnson broke his wrist in their opener and backup T.J. Logan got hurt, too.
But how in the name of Doogie Howser, M.D., is Peterson going to be able to perform against the Seahawks after his body got slammed four days earlier on those 37 rushes, the most in NFL history for a player over 30 years old? Against a team that has beaten in him in four of five career meetings? A defense that held him to 45 yards on 23 carries the last time Seattle faced Peterson, in the frozen NFC playoff game the Seahawks won in Minnesota in January 2016?
"Yeah, it really was one of those things where I kept saying ‘Are you OK? Are you OK?’ And he kept saying ‘I’m good, I’m good,’" Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of last weekend’s 49ers game. "At the end of the game, I went ‘Wow, that’s a lot of carries!’ And he was bouncing around like he was 25 years old.
"We’ll see how it goes this week. But I’d have to fight him to take him out."
It’s been a fight all, short week long. For everyone.
Yet Seahawks coach Pete Carroll apparently has the right formula to prepare for these no-prep games. Seattle is 7-1 under him in Thursday night games.
"This week has been a challenge for the players," Carroll said Wednesday before getting on the team plane to Arizona. "For both teams, to get back and get right. So there are some issues getting through it.
"These guys are ready to go."
Then again, they have no choice.