Sunday dawned with Sean Payton and his Broncos already snug and comfortable in their hotel-room beds in western New York, even with kickoff against the Buffalo Bills still roughly 36 hours away.
That is a result of their extended itinerary for the trip. Their team air charter was wheels up to Buffalo nearly 50 hours before the scheduled kickoff time at Highmark Stadium.
Over the years, the Broncos have tried varied travel strategies for venturing to the Eastern Time Zone for games. They’ve left two days before kickoff. They’ve departed the day before, as is custom for most road trips.
But this game against the Bills will bring something different: They won’t just arrive early — leaving Denver for western New York on Saturday — but they will remain late, returning to Denver during the day on Tuesday.
For Payton — who became more accustomed to long westbound trips in his years coaching the New Orleans Saints — it’s about figuring out what works best for a western team headed east.
“The challenge when you went west was always the next week,” Payton said.
“So, I think when we looked at this itinerary at the start of the season, we looked at, ‘Get out there, get rest, [Sunday] morning meetings, just like we would here Saturday. We’ll get a half-hour walk-through.”
The Broncos have done this sort of thing before for East Coast trips. But that was usually for games that took place at 1 p.m. Eastern time — not after 8 p.m. That gives them some time to kill.
“Well, we have meetings. There’s a pregame meal. Some of [the players] take naps. Buses really begin to head over [around] four o’clock,” Payton said. When you look at the morning schedule, it works out.”
And the late kickoff time leads to Tuesday being different.
Teams typically fly home soon after the game’s conclusion. Thus, after a Monday Night Football game, teams usually bus to the airport and are airborne approximately three hours after the game’s conclusion.
Such a plan leads to an overnight flight — and, for a trip like the one the Broncos face headed to Buffalo, means that the team would expect to land at Denver International Airport in the wee small hours of the morning, likely between 3 and 4 a.m.
Payton would prefer to avoid that, keeping the following game in mind.
“The focus, the following week, our decision to stay and return in the morning, that kind of thing – that’s changed over the years, but that was all kind of mapped out,” Payton said.
And it’s just another example of Sean Payton is putting his stamp on the Broncos.