Redskins players, history agree: Early bye’s negative effects may be overblown

October 2, 2018

ASHBURN The Washington Redskins returned to practice Monday after a ridiculously early bye week that no doubt will have a negative impact on the team and ruin its momentum. Or will it?

Contrary to what may be the general publics impression of having a Week 4 bye week, history supplies no evidence that teams lose momentum from the early week off.

Since 1990 when bye weeks first appeared in the NFL’s modern era teams have a .526 winning percentage the first game they play after a bye, according to Pro Football Reference’s historical data. But zoom in on the 162 times a team had a bye week in Week 4 or earlier, and that average in fact rises to .543.

NFL bye weeks are commonly seen as a break from the grind of a football season, but that isn’t why the concept was introduced in 1990. The league needed to stretch the season by one extra week to accommodate a new television deal it had struck.

And between 1999 and 2001, the league had an odd number of teams, 31. So logistically, schedule-makers had to give one team off every week including Week 1 and Week 17.

The Redskins are 14-15 in games following a bye week since 1990 and 2-2 in the Jay Gruden era. Last season, they eked out a win at home against the pre-Jimmy Garoppolo San Francisco 49ers after a similarly early Week 5 bye. In 2016, they beat Minnesota after having Week 9 off.

The Redskins coach said he didn’t believe there were real “pros” and “cons” to having an early bye. But he did hold a full workout Monday for the Redskins to get back into the daily swing of things.

“The guys have been out of the office for four or five days,” Gruden said. “We have to make sure we get their minds back into Redskins football.”

That aside, Gruden doesn’t think he and his staff will struggle with “motivating the cats” to play Monday against the New Orleans Saints.

“I think playing on Monday Night Football helps a lot,” the coach said. “I think you should be pumped up to come out of the tunnel against the Saints on Monday night. They’re 3-1 and obviously led by a Hall of Fame quarterback again.”

Redskins players did not reveal a preference for having their bye in the middle of the season, late or early. But the week off is always welcome for teams that have multiple key players with minor injuries. The Redskins did not have starting guard Shawn Lauvao in Week 3, and he is still dealing with a calf injury. Left tackle Trent Williams used the bye week to have a minor bursa sac surgery on his knee.

Running back Adrian Peterson (sprained ankle), cornerback Josh Norman (hamstring) and right tackle Morgan Moses (concussion) all were hurt in the Week 3 win over the Green Bay Packers. Peterson and Norman were limited Monday, but aren’t expected to miss any games.

“It depends on how your team’s feeling,” linebacker Zach Brown said. “For us, we felt like we came in, we had a lot of nicks and bruises. Me, I’m loving the early bye week. But we don’t care. Give it to us early, late we’re gonna have to get it sometime.”

Aside from the injury angle, a September bye can be perceived as a momentum killer for a team just getting the ball rolling. The Redskins’ most recent outing was a 31-17 triumph over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

“Coming off the Green Bay game, which we thought was a good win for us and a good way for us to respond coming off the Colts game, guys were feeling pretty good,” running back Chris Thompson said. “We felt like we had some momentum going. I think, as I’ve seen today, that guys came back in with the exact same attitude and just ready to continue to prove ourselves throughout this season.”

“It feels good to get out there and practice today, get the kinks out,” wide receiver Paul Richardson added. “Guys were at least taking care of their business during bye week. I don’t think there’s much momentum lost, I think we’re ready to get into the game plan.”

If anything, any deleterious effects of the early bye won’t be felt this week, but late in the season. Washington now has to play 13 games in 13 weeks. Last year, after their Week 5 bye, injuries to the offensive line piled up as the season wore on.

“That’s going to be the biggest challenge, you know, 13 straight weeks of nonstop football,” Gruden said. “We have short weeks in there ... That’s going to be tough, keeping these guys healthy and ready. If I have to taper off practice from time to time, I will. But the big thing is they have to handle the grind. They’re pro football players. They should be able to.”

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