What day is it anyway? Short NFL week a challenge

Let’s see: Monday is a combination of Monday and Wednesday.

Tuesday is a morphing of Thursday and some of Friday. And Wednesday

is part Friday, part Saturday.

Got it?

When it comes to getting prepared for an NFL game with a

turnaround that’s half as long as normal, things can get a little

confusing. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens,

who have only three days to ready themselves for Thursday’s

prime-time game between first-place teams.

”Personally, I would like to have every game kick off at 1 p.m.

Sunday, for 16 straight Sundays during the year,” Falcons coach

Mike Smith said Monday (or was it Wednesday?). ”Of course, I know

that doesn’t happen anymore.”

The NFL Network certainly got what it wanted for its first

Thursday night game of the year: a marquee matchup between

powerhouses from each conference, a game that will likely have

playoff ramifications down the road and further fuel that ol’

NFC-vs.-AFC debate.

For the coaches, though, it makes for hectic days that are even

longer than usual. For the players, it gives the body little time

to heal from the game they just played.

”It’s just a shock to your system,” Falcons cornerback Brent

Grimes said, before hustling off to a meeting.

Both quarterbacks, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Baltimore’s Joe

Flacco, are facing this short turnaround for the first time in

their three-year NFL careers.

”You’re used to coming in on Monday and Tuesday and getting a

little head start,” Flacco said. ”Well, there’s no head start

this week. You have to get after it and start learning the game

plan.”

Ryan played on Thursday night when he was at Boston College –

but not after a game just four days earlier.

”We had a bye the week before, so we had ample time to

prepare,” he remembered.

Smith has been looking ahead to this game for months, talking

with several head coaches he used to work for to get an idea of the

best way to handle the short week. Here’s what he came up with:

– Sunday night. The coaches went straight from a 27-21 victory

over Tampa Bay to the Falcons’ suburban training complex to begin

breaking down film of the game.

– Monday. The players reported early to get in their usual

weightlifting session. Then, about 4:30 p.m., they switched into

their Wednesday mode, attending a meeting to begin installing the

game plan for the Ravens. In the evening, the Falcons planned a

45-minute walkthrough at their indoor training facility, something

they’d normally do outdoors Wednesday morning before their regular

practice. Smith ditched the normal film session for the players to

look back at the previous game. There just wasn’t enough time to

get that in.

– Tuesday. Normally an off day for the players. Not this week.

The Falcons will hold their only full practice, trying to cram all

the plays and scenarios that would be covered on Wednesday and

Thursday into a single, two-hour workout. Smith doesn’t want to go

any longer than that, because the players won’t have their normal

recovery time as it is.

– Wednesday. Another walkthrough, essentially completing the

game plan and going over all the things that would have been

addressed in Friday’s practice and Saturday’s light workout.

– Thursday. Game time. The Falcons and the Ravens kick off at

8:20 p.m.

Up in Baltimore, coach John Harbaugh was dealing with the same

time constraints, plus his team has to factor in flying to

Atlanta.

”Today is basically Wednesday for us,” he said in a conference

call with Atlanta reporters. ”We just bypassed Monday and Tuesday.

We don’t have those anymore. I feel like we lost two days of our

lives.”

Is he getting any sleep?

”We don’t need any sleep,” Harbaugh said, chuckling. ”We’ll

sleep on Friday.”

Both teams had a bye a couple of weeks ago, which gave the

coaches, at least, some time to start looking ahead to this

game.

The players were told to keep their eyes firmly on the game in

front of them, and they did. The Falcons (6-2) held off the

Buccaneers to take over sole possession of first in the NFC South,

while the Ravens (6-2) knocked off Miami 26-10 to assure themselves

of at least a tie for first in the AFC North, depending on the

outcome of Pittsburgh’s game against Cincinnati.

Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson said the biggest key for the

players was making sure they got as much rest as possible over

these three days. That especially applies to those such as star

receiver Roddy White, who hurt his right knee on Sunday, but was

able to come back in the game after getting taped up.

White was seen walking through the locker room carrying a device

that was hooked to his knee, providing electronic stimulation to

speed the healing process. He expects to play against the

Ravens.

”It’s tough on your body because it’s so quick,” Robinson

said. ”Usually around Wednesday, you’re still healing. Well, this

Wednesday, we’ll be talking about playing a game on Thursday.

That’s a quick turnaround, so guys have got to do everything they

can to take care of their bodies.”

There is a good side to playing on Thursday.

”After this week, we get a long time off,” Grimes said. ”So

it pays off in the long run.

”But this week,” he quickly added, ”is going to be

brutal.”