The Bucs have struggled in prime time games this season, falling to the Bears on Thursday Night Football in Week 5, narrowly escaping with a win over the Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 8 and getting thoroughly dominated by the Saints on Sunday Night Football in Week 9.
The need to perform better in those night games is well understood by the Bucs’ coaching staff, scheduling two night practices on Friday and Saturday as Tampa Bay prepares to host the Rams on Monday night. Quarterback Tom Brady echoed the importance of coming out strong against Los Angeles during his press conference on Friday.
“This is a big game for us,” Brady said. “This is as big as they get on Monday Night Football. This is one, for us, that we’ve got to go out there be 100 percent ready to go.”
But preparing for nationally-televised night games is different for some of the Bucs’ players than others, as long-time vets with storied careers like Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski have a different level of experience with them than rookies like Antoine Winfield Jr.
“I just do my best to keep preparing through the event,” Winfield said. “It’s a night game so we still have that whole day to prepare, just watching film and going back over my notes constantly is something that I do to keep preparing myself to get ready to go out there and play.”
For Winfield, he welcomes changes in the Bucs’ practice schedule this week, likening it to the preparation for night games that he’s used to dating back to his time under head coach P.J. Fleck at the University of Minnesota
“For sure because we did it in college,” Winfield said about whether he likes later practices in preparation for prime time games. “When we had games at night we would go out and practice at night up in Minnesota so I enjoy doing it that way because it just gets you mentally prepared.”
But for Brady and Gronkowski the process is simple, constantly keeping in mind that your preparation and readiness shouldn’t change simply based on that week’s schedule.
“It’s just another football game and that’s how we’ve got to treat it,” Gronkowski said. “You can’t let it get to your that it’s a prime time game, that you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. No. It’s just another football game, it’s just at night this time. We’ve got to show up and do what we’ve been doing all year no matter what time the game is. There’s just no excuses.”
As for Brady, you could probably consider him an expert on prime time games, playing in 74 of them throughout his 21-year career while amassing a record of 51-23.
“As an NFL player you’re prepared to play whenever it’s scheduled,” Brady said. “There’s 1 o’clock, 4 o’clock, 8 o’clock, Thursday night, Sunday night, Monday night, whatever. It’s it’s three in the morning, it’s three in the morning. If you’ve got to go to London or Mexico, it’s about what you do for those three hours. Everything should build up to those three hours, we get one day per week to perform. Three hours, one day per week you’ve got to put yourself in a mental, emotional, physical frame of mind to be at your peak for that moment.”