ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If the Denver Broncos played any more games in prime time, they might qualify for an Emmy.
Unless their regular-season finale in Oakland is flexed into the late spot with quarterback Peyton Manning chasing single-season records and the team chasing home-field advantage, Thursday night’s game against the San Diego Chargers will be the Broncos' sixth and final foray into prime time before the start of the postseason.
The Broncos opened the regular season on a Thursday night with a win over the Baltimore Ravens, have defeated the Raiders on a Monday night and have gone 1-2 on Sunday night this season with a win over the Kansas City Chiefs and losses to the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.
“You know they’re coming, and you adjust," Broncos coach John Fox said. “We have a schedule of how we do things for whatever slot we’re in."
But Sunday night seems to be fine, Monday night too. Thursday night games? Not so much. Not with a four-day turnaround for the weeknight affairs. Especially this late in a season with a long line of players in the trainers’ room. Or as Manning put it: “I am not a fan of Thursday games."
Some in the league agree with his assessment. They privately say the quality of play has suffered around the league this season on Thursday nights that aren’t the traditional Thanksgiving games. The week is simply too short to get done what needs to be done.
For a quarterback like Manning, it means three fewer days to prepare for an upcoming opponent. The Broncos’ coaching staff, however, had the scouting done on the Chargers as the game plan was constructed on Monday instead of the usual Tuesday. Fox said he dialed back practice some, at least in terms of contact, because of the short week. The Broncos didn’t have a fully padded practice as they usually would on a Wednesday.
“It’s a challenge for both teams, and certainly we knew it was on the schedule and it takes real discipline by each player to get themselves physically ready to play," Manning said. “Get your rest; at the same time, trying to study your opponent getting ready to play them. But there’s no question it’s a challenge."
In Fox’s tenure with the team, the Broncos are 3-0 on Thursday night. The Broncos defeated the Jets on Thursday night in 2011 and beat the Raiders on Thursday night last season to go with the opening night win over the Ravens this season. Fox said in his time as a head coach, which includes nine seasons in Carolina, he has tested out different approaches to practice, meeting schedules and most anything else that comes with a short week.
Some have worked; some have not. Some ideas have been retained while others have been tossed aside. Asked to share what has, or hasn't, worked, Fox said, "That's a competitive issue. We'll let our opponents figure that out for themselves."
“But it’s like everything. What we do, what you do, what everybody does, a lot this stuff is trial and error," Fox said. “… What’s the tempo going to be, shorts or pads, but truth be told, it’s all still trial and error. That’s the nice thing about experience, with any job you’re in, is you can learn from it. We’ve had our opportunity with it, we’ve won three in a row with it."
This week, Fox said he even took into account the play totals from Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans. The Broncos offense ran 95 plays, including penalty snaps. The official snap count for the Broncos offense in the game was 91 -- compared to 49 snaps for the defense.
“We just look at everything, at least we try to, and I’m sure the other team does too," Fox said.
It often doesn’t afford a player enough time to recover from an injury who might otherwise have benefited from a couple of extra days, but if the team does escape the game without too many additional injuries, it also serves as sort of a mini bye week with the coaches having the ability to give players two days off that aren’t there to give in normal circumstances.
“I kind of like it," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “It’s kind of cool to play on the national stage. The positive thing is that we’re playing a team that we’re familiar with, and it would have been a lot tougher if we were playing a team that we hadn’t played before.”
“Yeah, if you win," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. “You don’t want to be on the losing end of a Thursday night game, thinking about that for 10 days until the next game. If we do what we’re supposed to do, then it will be good to get a little break."