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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

NFL plays Russian roulette with decision to let Titans back on field

Ryan Tannehill hands off to Derrick Henry on September 27, the last time the Titans took the field.
Ryan Tannehill hands off to Derrick Henry on September 27, the last time the Titans took the field.
Photo: (Getty Images)

In the 15 days since the Titans played the Vikings, nine have involved a member of the Tennessee organization testing positive for COVID-19.

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Tuesday marks the Titans’ third straight day with no positive test results, so things are on an upward swing for the squad that has so far endured 23 coronavirus infections. This milestone means the Titans are cleared to play Tuesday night against the Buffalo Bills — but the NFL’s greenlight could prove dangerous.

Look at what we saw from the Patriots last week after Cam Newton tested positive. The next player to get a positive result was Stephon Gilmore, five days later. That’s a significant delay.

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Gilmore was seen talking with Pat Mahomes following the Pats’ Monday night game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

You can’t tell me Roger Goodell didn’t shriek when he saw Gilmore right in Mahomes’ face. He must have. So far Mahomes has not tested positive, but why is the NFL rolling the dice once again with tonight’s Titans-Bills game?

If you need more evidence of how long it can take different people to test positive after being exposed in the same setting, look no further than the White House. Twenty-nine people, including Trump and his wife, tested positive after a White House event with Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26.

White House staffers didn’t all test positive all at once — results instead trickled in over the next week or so. Just like in the NFL.

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Between active roster and practice squad, the Patriots now have four COVID-19 positive players. The cluster prompted the team to shut down its facilities and move to virtual game prep.

New England was supposed to play the Denver Broncos this week, but the game has been postponed to next Sunday, according to ESPN, messing with the Patriots and Broncos schedules in the process. The game between the Broncos and Patriots, which was initially postponed to Monday night, will now be played during the Patriots’ Week 6 bye. The Broncos were supposed to play the Dolphins in Week 6, but that game is being rescheduled. The Steelers and Ravens have also seen games moved around in this shuffle.

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These interruptions could have been predicted before the season, which makes all this scrambling bewildering at the very least.

The NFL had six months! Six months to figure this out.

Six months to make sure they had a concrete plan for if — or when — a team couldn’t compete for a few weeks.

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Instead the league office has been scrambling. Goodell called an emergency meeting last week with owners and GMs in hopes of putting out the fire. And what did they come up with? A strongly worded press release.

This scenario couldn’t have been speculated on and sorted through three months ago, when MLB’s Miami Marlins were facing a similar hurdle?

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No? OK.

At the start of the season, there were many questions about what would happen if a COVID-19 hotspot arose within a locker room. Over the past few weeks we’ve gotten some answers to those questions. But we’re still left with many unknowns.

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The league has determined if games can’t be made up within its 17-week regular season window, the postseason seeding will be based on win percentage.

But it’s hard for me to see the league denying a team who has wielded off the virus from competing in the postseason because their win percentage is slightly lower than a team who has won less games and battled an outbreak?

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Based on that logic:

A 9-4 team makes the postseason.

A 10-6 team doesn’t make the postseason.

I don’t want this to seem like I am blaming teams who do have a COVID-19 flare-up, but when you see Tennessee players last week practicing when they were told to quarantine, someone has to be accountable, right?

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And what do you tell teams who played all 16 games as originally scheduled, followed all the medical protocol, but finished with a slightly lower win percentage?

No team is in this predicament yet because we’re only five weeks into the season, but this will be a huge question come December.

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It’s hard to believe, given the culture Bill Belichick has established in New England, that Patriots players would step out of line and coordinate a practice when they should be quarantining, as the Titans did last week.

“We made the decision to close the facility for the health and safety of our team. That is always priority number one,” Belichick said last week after Gilmore tested positive for COVID-19 .

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“We’re relying on the doctors and the people in that role. These aren’t football decisions. These are medical decisions.”

And with Belichick putting his foot down, with no physical practice sessions this week and last, his team will still likely be fully prepared for Sunday against the Broncos.

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So in the Titans case, who deserves accountability for defying the rules? If the season goes the distance of the entire 17 weeks, all organizations have to follow medical guidelines, and if they don’t, there needs to be ramifications outside of a fine, like forfeits.

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