Cup of Joe: Recipes for success on Thursday Night Football

Catch Joe Thomas on Friday at 6:30 p.m. when he co-hosts "Browns Live" powered by FirstEnergy with Nathan Zegura. The 100 percent fan-focused show, which will stream on all of the Browns social platforms, will feature multiple segments with Coach Kevin Stefanski, interviews with players, film breakdowns and more.

Each game week, Joe will share his insights, memories and more in this weekly column, "Cup of Joe."

I love Thursday Night Football, and that's not JUST because I'm a part of the excellent pre-game coverage on NFL Network (Watch me before tonight's Browns game!).

As a fan, I love it because it's like, "Oh, it's Thursday. Oh my gosh, there's an NFL game on tonight!" If you're a big high school football fan like I am, it just is such a great ramp into the weekend when you have a Thursday night NFL game.

Even as a player, I was always one of those guys that actually enjoyed the short week. I know that goes against the rally cry from the NFLPA. but they know that Thursday football is not going away. When you think about it from a player standpoint, you're going to look at it and go, "OK, this is a week where I'm not going to have to hit at all except for on game day." So, even though the turnaround is quick, and maybe I'm not going to feel good on game day, the cumulative hits on your body in that week are going to be lower than a regular week. Even in my final seasons, when I wouldn't practice until Friday of a normal game week, I'd look forward to the annual Thursday game because it meant I'd get 10 days of rest before the next game.

Everybody in the league is watching Thursday Night Football — all the players, all the coaches. It's such a great way to kind of break up the week. And as a player, you know with all those eyes on you, whatever you do, good or bad is going to be magnified. And so, coming off of a bad performance, trickling into a Thursday game, you have a chance to change the narrative really quickly.

That could be a big positive and a major advantage for the Browns after how Week 1 went. When you don't play well on a Sunday and you really feel like you left a lot of plays out there — or you just feel like the team that showed up on Sunday is not who you are — you get a really quick turnaround to get that bad feeling out of your gut. 

From my experience, I also believe the home team is at a major advantage. It's sort of a given because you don't have to travel, but every hour truly counts prepping for a Thursday night game — both physically and mentally.

You have to really be diligent taking care of your body — ice tubs, the cryo chamber, hot tubs, massage, dry needling, getting in the training room to deal with whatever injuries you had from the week before. Everything that you do, you have to basically ramp it up and it has to be done in a shorter amount of time. You don't have any free time that week.

Anytime you're traveling, yeah, you'll carry your tablets and your playbooks with you on the plane and guys will be watching film, but it's just not as quality as being in a meeting room or your own home office or wherever you do your film study. The coaches literally sleep two hours a night because they are so busy working on, first of all, game planning, and then they're trying to teach you the game plan, then they're trying to correct the film and correct the game plan so that they have something that looks like a normal game plan by the end of the week. And the kicker: Everything is pretty much taught and absorbed via walkthrough. 

From a preparation standpoint, it's a race to finish. But on game day, it's the team that comes out hot that almost always enters the long weekend feeling great.

Starting fast is really important on a Thursday because you have those players that are already feeling beat up and tired and they're looking for an excuse to give up and start resting up for the next week. 

When we played the Bengals on a Thursday night in 2014, we knew if you gave them a chance early in the game — and they felt like they could win — they had a lot of talent and they could boat race you. But if you jumped on them early, and you gave them that feeling like it was going to be a long and physical day, you could control the game. I think that first series, we said, "We're going to be more physical than them, we're going to be faster than them, we're going to set the tone in stone that we're going to be kicking ass and taking names in this game." Lo and behold, that's exactly what we did, and we controlled the entire game.

So, how does that help the 2020 Browns? 

Well, they're a pretty good running team and this might be a good week to say, "Hey, we want to get the bad taste out of our mouth from last week. We want to be somebody different. We want to set the tone early. And we're just going to smash the ball on you guys and try to dictat the tempo in the tone early on and see what type of resilience they have."

As hard as it might be to get your body and brain ready for a Thursday night game, nothing beats how you feel on a Sunday after you've already won on a Thursday.

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