When it comes to NFL teams having games scheduled on Thursday night, the vast majority of players absolutely despise it and for good reason. Playing arguably the most grueling, physical professional sport with just four days rest, their bodies don't have adequate time to bounce back from a hard-fought game on Sunday.
Back in 2017 after the Seahawks edged the Cardinals in a costly prime time road win where cornerback Richard Sherman crumpled to the turf with an Achilles tear and safety Kam Chancellor suffered a career-ending neck injury, former receiver Doug Baldwin joined a large contingency of players speaking out against Thursday night contests.
"This s*** should be illegal," Baldwin bluntly said after Seattle beat Arizona in 2017. "It is not okay. It's not okay. You can quote me on that. This is not OK... Absolutely, guys do not have enough time to recover. You can't recover in four days."
But while Baldwin and several other Seahawks are on the record over the years expressing their distaste for mid-week games on limited rest, they have been one of the NFL's best under the lights on Thursday Night Football for the past decade, joining the Patriots as the only other NFL team with nine wins in those games since 2012. They also hold the best Thursday win percentage (9-1, .900) in the entire league, as the Patriots posted a 9-2 record in that same span.
Riding a nine-game winning streak on Thursday night, what has been the biggest key to this success playing just four days after their previous game? Everything starts and ends with the brilliant play of quarterback Russell Wilson, who has been at his very best slinging the pigskin in these games on short rest.
In 10 previous Thursday night games, Wilson has connected on 68 percent of his passes, thrown for 2,176 yards, and tossed 20 touchdowns compared to only four interceptions. He's averaged a stellar 8.18 yards per pass attempt, posted a 117.8 passer rating, and added 245 rushing yards for good measure.
Trying to prepare for a game on such short notice with limited practice time primarily consisting of walkthroughs can be a tall task for any player, particularly for quarterbacks. Coaches such as offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who is preparing to call plays in a Thursday night game for the first time against his former employer, feel the stress of the tight schedule as well.
“Understanding that there is that time restraint on there, so you have to be decisive. You don’t have that extra Tuesday where you can go back through some things," Waldron said. "You have to feel confident in what some gut instincts are with the plan and go with it. If there are things that do come up throughout the course of the day, there still is maybe a little bit more time than you think because you get so much walkthrough time. So much time to tweak things or stuff that pops up that might need a little bit of an adjustment there. It’s that balance of getting that plan in initially, then using the walkthroughs and being flexible and being willing to communicate like our guys were, to adjust some things and say ‘hey we might do things a little bit different’, so it fits a little bit better for Thursday night.”
But adhering to the motto the "separation comes from preparation," which he learned from his late father Harrison, Wilson feels like he and the Seahawks have mastered the art of putting together plans for Thursday night games.
"I think the biggest challenge is always the preparation part of it, but we're always ahead of schedule with that," Wilson said on Tuesday. "As soon as we got back, I started watching film on plane and as soon as we got home, kind of get ahead of schedule really. As long as you have a plan - we've done this a lot, played those Thursday night games - but I think the biggest thing is always being prepared and ahead of schedule. It's something we've done really well, something I really pride myself in, so I feel great about what we're trying to do and how we're going to go about it."
If there's any one specific factor that has been most crucial to Wilson's success on short rest, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it revolves around his recovery routine. With a full-time trainer, physical therapist, two chefs, a massage therapist, and several other key people behind the scenes on his personal pay roll, the star signal caller reportedly invests one million dollars a year into taking care of his body.
Just as he does during a normal work week between games, when he's not in meetings or watching film, Wilson swims in the morning and gets additional work in with his mobility coach. Though he admitted he doesn't always get much of it, quality sleep along with staying hydrated are also key ingredients for him being as Dangeruss as possible on Thursday night.
"The recovery routine is honestly the most important thing, something that is super important obviously to be able to get back after a physical game on a Sunday from San Francisco, come back home," Wilson elaborated. "You start getting treatment right away from the moment you get on the plane all the way until the time you get home to getting a little rest and waking up and watching film. As I'm watching film, I'm getting treatment and doing all that to as well."
For much of his career, in large part due to the game-wrecking ability of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the Rams have been Wilson's kryptonite. He's posted an 8-11 overall record against the division rivals, including going 6-10 against them during games played on Sunday or Monday and losing in the wild card round last January. Donald has sacked him 15 times and produced 40 quarterback hits in 15 games against the Seahawks.
But even with Donald being in the lineup, Wilson has been lights out for Seattle in two prior matchups against Los Angeles on Thursday night, completing 73 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and only one interception. He's posted a 136.6 passer rating and averaged 10.4 yards per attempt while guiding his team to a 2-0 record in those contests.
Ironically, each of those wins came with the Seahawks sporting its action green alternate uniforms, which the team will once again wear on Thursday night. Last time Wilson donned those threads against the Rams, he threw four touchdowns on just 17 completions, including hitting Tyler Lockett on a seemingly impossible throw in which the receiver managed to get both feet down inbounds as the pass carried him out of bounds.
In reality, past results won't mean anything when the two teams get together again on Thursday night. Certainly the jersey colors don't matter either against an elite opponent. But considering Wilson's track record of lighting up the skies on a short week and playing in front of a raucous home crowd in what should be a playoff-like environment, the Seahawks have to feel confident about their chances of enacting a bit of revenge against their division rivals.