Social media has Throwback Thursday (#tbt), but the NFL should just throw out Thursday games the way it’s been going this year. For the first week of the season, the NFL has it so right … and then does so wrong by its players after that.
No league puts on a spectacle like the National Football League. Their Super Bowl tickets are insanely expensive, where the high rollers get every opportunity to burn straight cash, homey. Wanna get away to Arizona in February? Tickets for XLIX are starting for around $2,200. Better get them before they really go up in price.
But perhaps nowhere is the excitement of the season as palpable as the start, when even the worst of teams still hope for the best of times. That’s when Thursday night football makes sense. Kick off the season with fireworks, a pop star singing, and a great matchup from the previous season’s playoffs. And with fresh players.
But even in the NFL’s “kickoff” to the season, that game was a bit deflating, as Seattle flexed its 12th-man muscle and made a mockery out of a contest that was once tied at 10 midway through the second quarter. The Seahawks won easily, 36-16, and sadly that was as good as it would get for Thursday night games – never mind what the ratings say.
Russell Wilson was brilliant and efficient, connecting on 19 of 28 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns in the opener, relying on defense and the silent assassin of the ground attack, Marshawn Lynch, for 110 yards and two more touchdowns.
Since then, Thursday night has provided mostly matchups that make you go “Meh!” despite every effort by the NFL to support their own TV dollars on NFL Network (and with the new partnership with CBS). Ratings have been sky high; excitement has been hellishly low for everyone but the team owning the lopsided wins.
Week 2 was an AFC North tilt that was tilted toward the Ravens from the start, with them taking a 10-3 lead into halftime and extending it to 26-6 by the final gun. But the flavor of the week on that Thursday night was very vanilla. No 100-yard rusher or receiver, no 300-yard passer – or even 220-yard passer, for that matter.
It got even uglier in Week 3 as the featured divisional game traveled to the NFC South, where the Falcons dismantled the messed-up Bucs, 56-14. The Falcons didn’t have even a 55-yard rusher, but they did have Julio Jones, who took Tampa to town with a nine-catch, 161-yard, two-touchdown prime-time performance. That was worth watching, but not much else was must-see TV.
Fortunately, that was as bad as the blowouts have been on Thursday. Unfortunately, they haven’t ceased.
The Thursday nighter at the quarter-pole of the season was exciting only for New York Giants fans that reveled in the 45-14 thrashing of the Washington Redskins, and any fantasy owner that for was quick on a trend and picked up Larry Donnell (the formerly anonymous tight end who had three touchdowns) or Eli Manning (formerly the “other Manning” who threw four touchdowns). Other than that, the second half left little drama after the G-Men built their 24-7 halftime lead.
What happened this Thursday night was a continuation of decline in Thursday night excitement. If you had Green Bay Packers on your fantasy team, ride them to the Week 5 win. If you were looking for a close divisional game, this time in the NFC North, Thursday night drama was probably more prevalent on the cable news channels. The Packers torched the Vikings 42-10, but unfortunately for regular Thursday night football aficionados, that was only the second-biggest margin of victory on Thursday night this year.
So what gives? Why all the Thursday night carnage?
Perhaps it’s the injuries that and general wear and tear that NFL players have such a hard time recovering from in four days before they are placed in front of the national spotlight. Maybe that contributes to a losing team in the first half turning into a (rotted) pumpkin before 10 o’clock snacks are summoned on the East Coast.
In Week 3, the Bucs were without tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the Falcons were without receiver Roddy White. In Week 4, the Redskins were missing Robert Griffin and receiver Santana Moss and the Giants lacked receiver Odell Beckham. In Week 4, the Packers were without receiver Jarrett Boykins and the Vikings were missing tight end Kyle Rudolph, linebacker Chad Greenway and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
In some of those cases, the players would have been available with a full week to recover and the viewing value would have been increased. Bridgewater admitted Thursday night he would have played if the game were on Sunday.
In a league in which the executives say they are concerned with the health of the players, dollars still win out. Money is to be made with the only NFL game for two days on either side of it. Teams are getting blown out and the viewers are the real losers.
The games will go on, the money will continue to flow, but at the very least let’s hope the blowouts are a five-week mirage and competitive games return with the Autumn chill.
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