The last time an NFL team had a bye in Week 14, it was out of necessity – the Houston Texans didn’t exist yet, and the league had an uneven number of teams. So each week, at least one team was on a bye.
That was 2001. But in 2021, with the NFL schedule expanding to 17 games, the league gave Week 14 byes to four teams – the Colts, Patriots, Dolphins and Eagles. All four of those teams have had to play 13 games without much of a break before, finally, getting an extended opportunity to recharge mentally and physically.
The Colts had a “mini-bye” after Week 9’s Thursday Night game against the New York Jets, one which amounted to a long weekend. That certainly helped, but the bye week is a legitimate chance to take a mental and physical break: Players will have Tuesday through Sunday off, while coaches will be off starting Thursday.
The entire team will re-convene at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center next Monday to begin prep for Week 15’s Saturday night game against the New England Patriots.
“We trust the players,” head coach Frank Reich said. “We set a clear vision for what we think the bye should look like. Obviously players have the freedom that they have to do what they want to do, but we have a plan, we set a vision for what we want it to look like, where we’re trying to come back.
“The goal is, the win for the week — if you want to win the bye week, you want to come back refreshed and primed and ready to go. … This is why we can’t look at this as a vacation, because what happens when people go on vacation? They need a vacation to recover from their vacation. We all know that, and that can’t happen. That can’t happen.
“We have to get back in the building, and the moment we step our foot in this building we need to be fresh and ready to go.”
How each player and coach spends the bye week will be different, and will depend on where those guys are mentally and physically.
For example, Darius Leonard – who’s dealt with ankle issues all season (but hasn’t missed a game) – he’ll spend his bye week getting treatment and spending time with his family.
“I’ve been struggling with this ankle all year but this is my first year that I’ve played all (of the first) 12, 13 games,” Leonard said. “I’m just trying to make sure I play all (17) plus the playoffs, so just trying to take care of my body as much as I can.”
Tight end Jack Doyle said he’ll mentally unplug and spend time with his family, but safety Khari Willis – who was activated from injured reserve on Saturday – will get in his playbook a little more while spending time with his kids, too.
And while running back Jonathan Taylor said he’s feeling “surprisingly good” after 13 games without a break, he’s going to still focus on taking care of himself physically while recharging over the next week.
“Just relaxing, a lot of body work, a lot of body work,” Taylor said. “That’s most important, your body is your temple. So, just getting a lot of body work and just getting your mind off of football until the last two days when you kind of reset and start getting back into that mode. But kind of completely unplug so you can refresh and be ready to go for the home stretch.”
But the over-arching goal of the bye week is for the Colts to be able to hit the ground running next Monday, six days before they welcome the Patriots to Lucas Oil Stadium for a primetime Saturday showdown. It’s a break, not a vacation, after all.
And while it didn’t come until three full months of the season were played, the week off is an important opportunity for players and coaches to get in the right mindset for the make-or-break stretch run that looms on the horizon.
“I think we’ll all enjoy it quite a bit,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “Thirteen weeks without a break is a long time. I think our bodies and our minds definitely appreciate a little time off, a little time to spend with the family and all that and come back, I know we’ll be ready to go once we come back.”