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John DeShazier: Thursday night game has players focused on getting their bodies right

Quick turnaround especially hard for veteran players

This is nothing new for the New Orleans Saints, this three-games-in-12-games gantlet that they will complete Thursday night against Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

They muscled through the exact same test last season against Dallas, San Francisco and Atlanta, finishing the heavyweight bouts with a 3-0 record.

The Saints (3-4), in fact, have played Thursday night games in each of the previous four seasons prior to this year – the last three on the road, the last two replicates of the 12-day survival test that they will complete against the Panthers (3-4-1), in a game that will leave the victor standing atop the NFC South standings.

But having done it doesn't mean players have to adore it, especially in a game as physically demanding as theirs.

"I'm probably more critical of the Thursday night games as a nine-year veteran of the NFL than I am as a player rep," right tackle Zach Strief said, laughing. "It gets harder and harder as you get older. I think the biggest difference is, there's no time to just let your body recover.

"You spend some time after games getting, really, like two days off (Monday and Tuesday) to say, ''OK, let's let my body heal.' And then I'll get into this kind of rehabilitation period where I'll start working on specific things. (But) it started (Sunday) night, instead of it being a situation where you just go to bed.

"It's a quick turnaround. I'm not a fan of it. I think it's tough on guys. It's hard, especially on older players. But there's also a little mini-bye at the end of it, so there's a carrot that gets dangled and hopefully we'll use that time appropriately and get our bodies back from this stretch."

Thursday is the one night the Saints haven't dominated under Coach Sean Payton's watch.

Since 2006, New Orleans is 2-4 on Thursday night. On Monday night, the Saints are 11-3 since '06 and on Sunday night, they're 9-2, including their most recent win, a 44-23 domination of Green Bay.

"I think any time you play a Thursday game the No. 1 thing is, after you play in a physical game on Sunday, just trying to get your body to feel good and go out and play at a high level," linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "All these games, they mean something. It's just something that we have to do as players."

And it means the Saints have to be extremely smart about how they approach the stretch.

"You're out of pads and you're really into more walk-throughs," Payton said. "It becomes more mental as they rest physically."

Payton said that Tuesday's practice was more half-tempo, more like a walk-through without pads.

"And that's typically what we will strive to do, much like we did last year when we traveled to Atlanta," he said.

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