Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For Bucs-Dolphins, mental grind of 16 straight may be toughest

photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire


TAMPA – No one can deny that the NFL’s very wise Hurricane Irma-induced decision to put family and safety first and move the Buccaneers-Dolphins season opener to their shared bye week in November has left the players on those teams with a daunting physical challenge.

The mental challenge those players are now dealing with could prove to be just as daunting, however.

The mere thought of playing 16 games in a row is already freaking a lot of the players out. At least in Tampa on Wednesday, it was the talk of the locker room and most of the players, as you might expect, were lamenting the fact they now must try to get through a full NFL season without the work break they’ve become accustomed to.

To be fair, there were a few who posed more or less dissenting opinions. Though clearly not happy about the situation, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and quarterback Jameis Winston agreed that this is simply the hand they’ve been dealt and that the best way to deal with it is to approach it like the “pros’’ they are and do what they’re paid to do, which is “play ball.’’

You get the feeling, though, that for a lot of the players, perhaps even the majority, the idea of playing so many games in a row will be weighing on their minds and possibly even effecting the way they practice or play from this point on. And that’s in spite of the fact that neither team was slated to have a week off until Week 11 in the first place.

The real challenge for the players then is to try to approach the first two and a half months of the season, at least, as if nothing has changed. That, in fact, will almost certainly be what Bucs coach Dirk Koetter urges his players to do upon their return to work next week, because that’s how he intends to approach that stretch.

“Our Bye Week was going to be until Week 11, and it’s not like I was going to try to save up any time for Week 11 before (this happened), so why would I do it now,’’ Koetter said. “I mean, don’t know what’s going to happen between now and then, so we’ll just see how it all goes.’’

Koetter added that typically, he and other coaches usually begin shortening their practices and making them a tad lighter late in the season anyway and that he will almost certainly do that this year in keeping with a lesson he learned back in the day from Jack Del Rio.

“When I first came into the league (with the Jaguars) I was working for Jack Del Rio, a former player, and his whole deal was, ‘Get the players to the game fresh,’’’ Koetter said. “So we always try to do that here. We try to do it at training camp and we will try to do it in Week 11. But I’m going to be worried about Week 11 then. Right now, I’m worried about Week Two.’’

Koetter would like his players to be thinking the same way and some probably are. Many, however, will have a hard time getting the grind ahead out of their mind, but perhaps they can find some solace in the fact that they won’t be the first to go through such an ordeal.

After first adopting the 16-game schedule in 1978, the NFL went 21 years without giving the players a bye week to rest up physically and re-energize themselves mentally.

Granted, the game has changed a lot in the 27 years since then. It’s faster now and in some ways more physical and wisely the NFL has made changes to accommodate for that.

Adding the bye week was one of those changes, but as Koetter pointed out, playing 16 straight has been done before and the best way for the players to deal with it is to get the negatives associated with it out of their minds.

“We’ve got to adjust and we’ve got to deal with it,’’ he said. “I mean, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. Again, this isn’t going to affect us one bit until we get to Week 11.

“And if we’re 10-0 at that time, we’d probably want to keep playing anyway. If we’re 0-10, I probably won’t be standing here. But let’s just be real about it. We’ve got a hurricane, so let’s deal with that and then move on.’’



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