Generally, football players like to have a routine that they follow week in and week out. They also like to have all the time they can to rest after a typical Sunday game.
This week is about as atypical as they come for the Falcons. After playing a physical division game on Sunday against the Bucs, they'll turn around on Thursday night and host another division rival, the Saints, in what is expected to be yet another tough game, one more in a string of them for the Falcons.
The Saints always bring their best when it comes to playing the Falcons and the short week makes things even more interesting.
Both teams enter Thursday with a lot to play for. The Falcons face a number of scenarios that can see them clinch the NFC South or a playoff spot. The Saints are staring being bounced out of the playoff hunt right in the face. While neither team is or should be using that as motivation, those are the storylines.
The real storyline, however, is how well the Falcons have played on short-week scenarios under head coach Mike Smith. The challenge of a short week didn't exist too much before 2006, when the Thursday night game was introduced. Thursday Night Football expanded to 13 games starting this season.
Under Smith the Falcons have faced two short weeks, one in 2010 and once again in 2011, winning both games.
In 2010, the Falcons followed up a 27-21 win over Tampa with a tough 26-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens. The win over the Ravens was a true "respect" game for the Falcons, securing a fourth-quarter comeback win with little time remaining. The win, against a playoff-caliber team, was one of the best games the Falcons played that season.
In 2011 in late December Atlanta went from a 31-23 win in Carolina into a Thursday night contest with the Jaguars. It was another win, 41-14, and one of the best games the Falcons played in 2011, but not because of the level of the opponent. Jacksonville was struggling in a number of ways and Atlanta came out firing on nearly every cylinder possible that Thursday night.
On Tuesday Matt Ryan said a short week means you have to get things in order mentally very quickly, regardless of what happened previously. The prior experience in the locker room of handling short weeks with success is in the Falcons' favor.
"We've done it before so we understand what it takes to get yourself prepared on a short week," Ryan said. "Your mental focus has to be better than what it is during a regular week because you're not going to have the same amount of reps physically that you'll usually get. I think everybody's focus has been really good so far this week and it needs to stay that way."
The short week is not helpful for those players dinged up by the previous 12 weeks of the season. The quick turnaround doesn't allow them the normal time to prepare their bodies physically. On the other hand, the Falcons will have extra time coming out of the Thursday night game to heal up. They'll have nine days free before they play another game on December 9 against Carolina.
On Tuesday, the Falcons had 11 players on the injury report, most notably Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson (did not participate), and linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon (both limited participation).