TAMPA — Just hours after playing nearly five quarters of football, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy found himself back at One Buc Place late Sunday, getting treatment on his sore and tired body, trying to maintain the machine that feeds his family.
The next morning, he was getting a massage before meetings and what amounted to a very light practice. Then treatment again. He got home after all the Halloween candy had been passed out.
So here's the reality about the NFL's Thursday night games, like tonight's nationally televised NFC South matchup between the Bucs and Falcons at Raymond James Stadium:
Nobody likes them, except the accountants on Park Avenue and the owners who take private elevators to their luxury suites on game day.
Football wasn't made to be played every four days. Players know their bodies haven't recovered. Coaches hate Thursday night games, though most won't admit it. Complaining about it sounds like an excuse for losing, which the Thursday road team does about 60 percent of the time.
Coaches have to cram what is normally six days of preparation into three, working double time on game plans, corrections and adjustments without the benefit of a real physical practice, or things even more important.
"It's not much sleep, especially (for) a married man with a lot of kids," McCoy said. "Halloween mixed in there. You don't get much sleep. But you've got to manage to forget the last game, whether you won or lost, and double up on your prep mentally."
Make no mistake, this is a huge game for the Bucs (3-4). Even though they play the Falcons (5-3) tonight, it's possible the Raiders will beat Tampa Bay twice.
Against Oakland on Sunday, some Bucs defensive players were on the field Sunday for all 93 defensive snaps. The Bucs allowed the Raiders' Derek Carr to pass for a team-record 513 yards and four touchdowns in a 30-24 overtime loss. So here come the Falcons, who own the league's No. 1 scoring offense behind red-hot quarterback Matt Ryan and his NFL-best 19 touchdown passes.
"We've got to get our guys' bodies back," Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. "We've got to get their minds back because it does us no good if we go into meetings and go out and do our walkthroughs and do those things if half of our mind is still on the mistakes we made and the things we could've done better (Sunday). That's over. It's done."
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith said the team that gets the most rest this week will have an advantage. It's hard to imagine that would be the Bucs, who also are playing shorthanded on offense, having lost their third starting running back, Jacquizz Rodgers, to an ankle injury. Four days just won't be enough.
"We just played basically a five-quarter football game and we've got to make that quick turnaround," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "Our main focus is to be mentally ready for game and go out and fight."
Because the show must go on.