Thursday night lights for Panthers

Carolina battles a short week to prepare for its national TV game against the Texans

Coach Matt Rhule has the Panthers off to a 2-0 start, but Carolina faces a short week with Thursday's visit to Houston to play the Texans. (Jacob Kupferman / AP Photo)

By the time the Carolina Panthers completed their 2-0 start to the season, the clock was already ticking.

The Panthers play in this week’s Thursday Night Football game, which will kick off a little over 100 hours after Sunday’s game ended. That’s not a lot of time for a team to recover from an NFC South rivalry game and prepare for a Texans team that has opened 1-1. Making matters even more challenging, the game will be the Panthers’ first road game, with travel to Houston eating away at some of the time available.

“Phil (Snow, Panthers defensive coordinator) finished the game (Sunday), showered and came upstairs to the office to start working on the Texans,” coach Matt Rhule said. “The defensive coaches were working on the Texans last week after the Saints prep was done.”

The players also put in overtime on Sunday.

“After the game, players want to see their families,” Rhule said. “I’m never going to tell guys not to see their families but I came in here (Sunday) night and guys were here getting a head start on their treatment.”

It’s part of the challenge of fitting a week’s worth of work into about four days.

“Really, just whatever you’d do in a full week, you’ve got to condense that into the short amount of time you have,” running back Christian McCaffrey said. “Everything I would do during a normal Sunday-to-Sunday seven-day week, the window’s tighter to do that. You have to double up on some days on treatments, the pool work, contrast (between the hot tub and cold tub), all that stuff. … Really, it’s all day, every day, just getting right for Thursday.”

Recovering from the beating a player’s body takes on Sunday already seems like a full-time job. But it goes into overtime in a short week.

“The treatments are longer,” McCaffrey said. “An hour-long treatment, an hour-long chiropractor session turns into two hours. It starts earlier, and it kind of goes all the way up to the game.”

McCaffrey is just returning from a series of injuries that caused him to miss most of last season. Playing in back-to-back weeks for the first time in a long time, he missed time during Sunday’s game with cramping.

“Honestly, I just had some onset cramps, I wasn’t fully cramping or anything,” he said. “We just thought it was best, just precautionary, to go in there (the locker room) and pluck a couple of IVs into me, just in case so we can roll for the fourth quarter. We tried to do that really quickly, tried to do it right at the end of the third (quarter) so we could make it back for the fourth.”

Now, McCaffrey will be suiting up again with even less recovery time. In 100 hours, to be exact.

“Obviously, short week, really important that you get your body back,” he said.

The opponent also presents a bit of a preparation problem. The Texans were already starting backup Tyrod Taylor, with Deshaun Watson sidelined by legal problems. Taylor injured his hamstring on Sunday, however, and rookie Davis Mills will get his first NFL start.

The third-round draft pick entered Sunday’s game in the third quarter, which isn’t much film for Carolina coaches to work with. Rhule said the staff hasn’t resorted to watching tape of Mills from Stanford … yet. They’ve been looking at film of preseason games, however.

“This is a short week,” Rhule emphasized. “Especially early in the year, you have a lot of questions about who the other team is and what they do.”

With all the added difficulty of playing on Thursday, the benefits are twofold. First, the team will get some national television exposure as the only NFL game on the air at the time. Coming off of two down seasons, the Panthers will get to show the rest of the league — and the country — how their rebuild is progressing.

While everyone likes the attention, the real carrot for the players is the prospect of what happens after Thursday. The team essentially gets the weekend off while everyone else is playing. With an extra three days to rest, the Panthers will get a mini-bye heading into Week 4.

“You have to fit a full week of install and a full week of meetings into a short amount of time, but at the same time, on the back end, you get more days off for the next game,” McCaffrey said. “It has its perks as well. At the end of the day, it is what it is. We’ve got to just roll with the punches, and whatever the week asks of us, we’ve just got to dominate the week and go out get ready to play ball on Thursday.”