Carolina Panthers

Facing Cardinals in early game could benefit Panthers

Panthers defensive end Tyler Brayton, who played for Oakland for five years, says West Coast teams have it rough playing at 1 p.m. on the East Coast.
Panthers defensive end Tyler Brayton, who played for Oakland for five years, says West Coast teams have it rough playing at 1 p.m. on the East Coast.

CHARLOTTE -- If the Carolina Panthers have an advantage this week against Arizona, the biggest might be the clock, because it's so different from what the Cardinals are used to.

Sunday's 1 p.m. kickoff will feel like 10 a.m. for the visitors, and such early starts are rarely good for teams that have to make the long journey this direction. Far more than the other way, teams making that trek have to prepare their players for mid-morning kickoffs.

"You're playing at 10 o'clock in the morning your body's time. You're waking up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning to get ready to go," said Panthers defensive end Tyler Brayton, who did it for five years with Oakland. "It's tough to get your body ready and your mind ready to go."

Opinions on the effects vary.

Wide receiver D.J. Hackett, who spent four years with Seattle, just shook his head when asked about those trips.

"It's just so early and you're playing, it's like you're just getting woke up by halftime," Hackett said. "It's hard to overcome that."

Veteran long snapper Jason Kyle disagreed, saying the three hours shouldn't be a problem.

"It's nothing a cup of coffee won't fix, anyway," Kyle said. "Once you're in front of 70,000 fans, if you can't wake up, there's more than just the time difference that's a problem."

The evidence is more anecdotal than scientific, but if you want numbers, here you go.

The eight teams in the AFC and NFC West have made 17 road trips east this year, crossing at least one time zone. The only win was St. Louis (which is on Central time) beating Washington in interim coach Jim Haslett's first game.

But taken as a whole, the Western teams have been beaten by a combined score of 521-215 in the Eastern and Central time zones.

Granted, much of that might be caused by those two divisions being so weak, but those who have done it say there's some reality to the perception.

Panthers guard Keydrick Vincent was an Eastern time guy (Pittsburgh, Baltimore) before signing with the Cardinals last October.

"I got out there week four, and it took me a month to get acclimated to everything," he said, laughing.

The Cardinals have traditionally struggled on the road, regardless of time.

Since the beginning of the new divisional alignment in 2002, Arizona's a wretched 10-41 on the road, 27-22 at home.

Under new coach Ken Whisenhunt, they're 9-2 at home, 3-8 on the road. They dropped their two East Coast games this year, despite staying on this side of the continent between games to reduce travel.

"I don't know what we need to do, but we just need to become more consistent," Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said. "Somehow, some way we need to figure out how to prepare ourselves, how to handle these road trips, how to do whatever our bodies need to be done, to go out there and play like we do at home. I don't know what the answer is, but we've got to figure it out.

"That is the next step for this organization and this team is to figure out a way to win on the road. You might not win them pretty or you might not play your best football, but you have to start getting confidence by winning some games on the road."

Going the other direction is traditionally easier.

Coach John Fox used to take his team west the day before the game, and just keep their schedule on Eastern time. But after absorbing a beating in the 2005 NFC Championship game in Seattle, he changed his mind, and they've flown out on Fridays since.

Teams on the other side of the country have to fly to the East Coast two days early to have a chance at normal sleep patterns.

Those who have done it say there's usually no curfew on Friday night, since there's no point making an adult go to bed at 11 p.m. when it feels like 8 p.m. Vincent called the whole process "just weird," and the kind of thing it took days to recover from.

"Even if you come out two days before, it's still tough," Hackett said. "You want to go to sleep, but you really can't until 1 in the morning. Then you've got a 7 or 8 o'clock wakeup, and not too much sleep. It's a drag."

That dragging continues through the pregame routine.

"You'd always see a couple guys that morning, a little sluggish, a little rough," said tackle Jeremy Bridges, who spent two years with the Cardinals.

"Once you get going, it's fine," Brayton added. "It's just initially getting up."

Kyle laughs about the process. He thinks people can talk themselves into disadvantages, and that the time factor can become a convenient excuse.

"Coaches get a little wrapped up in that, but as a player, once you get in your routine, getting ready for the game, you kind of forget about that time difference," he said. "Everybody's looking for a reason to win or lose. I guess that's probably better than some of the other reasons you hear."

Be sure to visit Herald reporter Darin Gantt's Panthers blog and listen to his new weekly podcast for Panthers updates at heraldonline.com

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