Broncos left with no quarterbacks as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on NFL
49ers in search of home, Ravens-Steelers game in doubt ... again
The Denver Broncos have no quarterbacks. The San Francisco 49ers have no home stadium or practice facility. And the Baltimore Ravens may not have enough players available for their next game, which has already been pushed back twice.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruptions around the NFL on Saturday, again calling into question the league's plan to play a full schedule after several weeks that went relatively smoothly.
Multiple people familiar with the NFL's investigation told The Associated Press that all four of the quarterbacks on Denver's roster were ineligible to play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
One person told the AP that starter Drew Lock, backup Brett Rypien and practice squad veteran Blake Bortles were deemed high-risk close contacts with No. 3 quarterback Jeff Driskel on Wednesday, the day before Driskel tested positive for COVID-19
Statement from the Broncos: <a href="https://t.co/HDgIV3l1y8">pic.twitter.com/HDgIV3l1y8</a>—@Broncos
Another person said the four quarterbacks apparently weren't wearing their masks the whole time they were together as required by the league's pandemic protocols.
The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the NFL and the Broncos hadn't made any announcements after Lock, Rypien and Bortles were ordered off the practice field Saturday and into isolation. The Broncos were scrambling to prepare practice squad rookie receiver Kendall Hinton and No. 3 running back Royce Freeman to play QB against the Saints.
Ravens-Steelers in doubt
The Ravens, meanwhile, put six more players on the COVID-19 list, which is for players who've either tested positive for the virus or had close contact with an infected person. Baltimore had already disciplined an unidentified staff member for violating COVID-19 protocols, and the outbreak — the worst on any team this season — left the Ravens with three defensive linemen and one quarterback available.
The Tennessee Titans previously had their Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak, giving both teams an unexpected bye week, and their subsequent game against Buffalo was pushed back to a Tuesday.
Here’s why Sunday’s Saints-Broncos game is on: Language in here about not postponing games due to Covid and position groups. It was discussed at the fall league meeting, and this memo was sent to all 32 teams at its conclusion: <a href="https://t.co/K8CRzBF7c0">pic.twitter.com/K8CRzBF7c0</a>—@AdamSchefter
The Ravens' game at rival Pittsburgh was initially scheduled for Thanksgiving night and was moved to Sunday before being postponed again for Tuesday. Some Steelers players complained about their schedule being disrupted again because of another team's failure to contain an outbreak. But the Steelers placed starting running back James Conner on the COVID-19 list Saturday, joining three other teammates.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has warned all 32 teams that forcing changes to the schedule could lead to them being stripped of draft choices or even forfeiting games. The league has thus far avoided any forfeits and was on track to complete its regular season on time.
But the league has few options should the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game need to be further delayed. The league also moved Thursday night's matchup between Baltimore and Dallas to Dec. 7.
Broncos without pivots
The Broncos also have been affected by outbreaks on other teams. Their game last month at New England was pushed back, first by a day and then by a week, resulting in a domino effect to their schedule and essentially costing them their bye week.
Broncos players appeared incredulous at the latest news.
"I'm not one to complain, but [NFL] y'all can't possibly send us into a game without a QB," tight end Noah Fant tweeted. "The most important position to a offence. We don't even got a back up...."
Linebacker Von Miller jokingly volunteered to step in, tweeting: "Been waiting my whole life for this moment. `Von ELWAY'."
For the 49ers, the latest complication arose from the local government trying to contain the spread of the virus in the county where they practice and play their home games. Santa Clara County banned all contact sports from holding games and practices for the next three weeks.
The ban was to take effect Monday after the 49ers returned from their game at the Los Angeles Rams. It's set to last until Dec. 21.
The 49ers have home games scheduled for Dec. 7 against Buffalo and Dec. 13 against Washington at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. The team also practices at that site.
"We are working with the NFL and our partners on operational plans and will share details as they are confirmed," the team said in a statement.
The NFL declined to comment other than to say the league has been in contact with the 49ers. San Francisco could look to play at Oakland Coliseum — the Raiders' old home — or possibly the Giants' baseball stadium in San Francisco, if those cities don't adopt similar bans.
Elsewhere in the league on Saturday:
- The active Ravens players placed on the COVID-19 list were outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, right tackle D.J. Fluker, defensive lineman Broderick Washington and offensive lineman Will Holden. Two others — defensive backs Khalil Dorsey and Tavon Young — were on injured reserve before also joining the list Saturday. Others on the list for Baltimore include quarterback Lamar Jackson and running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins.
- The Saints placed starting left tackle Terron Armstead on their COVID-19 list, leaving him ineligible for Sunday's game at Denver.
- The Indianapolis Colts will be without running back Jonathan Taylor on Sunday. He is one of three Indy starters sitting out because of COVID-19 when Indianapolis hosts Tennessee for the AFC South lead.
- The Las Vegas Raiders said running backs coach Kirby Wilson won't coach this week because of COVID-19-related reasons. Senior offensive assistant John Morton will handle Wilson's duties on Sunday against the Falcons. The Raiders currently have three players on the COVID-19 list.