Once a year, every NFL team has the quick turnaround from a Sunday afternoon to a Thursday night, but as the Bucs prepare for a national spotlight against the Patriots, safety T.J. Ward isn't happy about it.
"I despise Thursday night games," Ward said in the locker room Tuesday. "They talk about how they want to keep us healthy, and all these rules to protect the quarterback and protect the receivers, but overall, this is probably the worst thing for a 53-player roster that you can have. In terms of keeping everyone on the field safe, this is probably the worst thing you can do, making us play back-to-back on a Thursday night after a Sunday game."
Ward missed Sunday's game with a hip injury and returned to practice for the first time Tuesday, hopeful of playing against the Patriots, but he said the quick turnaround is difficult physically as players work to recover from the impact of the previous game.
"I don't even feel right until Thursday or Friday, I'm starting to feel normal," Ward said. "You're telling me you're taking away from my ability to recover and be healthy for a normal week and you're taking three days away from it. It comes quicker than the regular Sunday, and mentally you don't have as many days to prepare.
"So it's a double negative. Triple negative because it's not doing that well rating-wise. I guess now it has picked up, but before it was doing terrible. You're making extra money as a league for that day, but it's detrimental to the players' health."
Ward said the dislike for playing Thursdays is universal among players, both in the Bucs' locker room and across the league.
"All players feel that way," he said. "I bet you there's not one player in this whole NFL, or coach, that wants to play Thursday. Not one. For the league to do that, they really don't care about our health."
Ward is hopeful of returning Thursday night against New England, but said there would be less of a question in a normal week.
"If it was Sunday, different story," he said. "Since it's so quick, we'll see."