NFL nears COVID-19 crisis as Titans, Patriots reveal more positive tests
Tennessee cases up to 22; New England star Stephon Gilmore tests positive
Tennessee will not be returning to the team's facility Wednesday after two more players tested positive amid the NFL's first COVID-19 outbreak, and the New England Patriots have cancelled practice amid reports that a third player has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The New England Patriots cancelled a practice scheduled for Wednesday after reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore tested positive for COVID-19, according to the National Football League's website.
Quarterback Cam Newton tested positive Saturday and is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and the Patriots placed a defensive tackle from the practice squad on that list Tuesday. The Patriots are scheduled to host Denver on Sunday.
"WEAR YOUR MASK. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE," Newton posted on Twitter Wednesday along with a photo of himself wearing a mask.
The Titans had no positive tests Monday or Tuesday for the first time after six consecutive days of positive results. A third straight day was necessary for the team to be allowed back in its headquarters, stopping its planned return, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said no one's perfect when asked about the NFL's stricter protocols as his Bills (4-0) prepare for a game at Tennessee that may now be in jeopardy. McDermott said no one's perfect.
"We're fighting an uphill battle," McDermott said. "I think we know that there's a challenge because of how easily this thing spreads."
McDermott said the Bills have had no positives after beating the Raiders 30-23 in Las Vegas last week. The Raiders placed defensive tackle Maurice Hurst on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday.
Instead, the Titans' outbreak now is up to 22 cases with 20 now returned since Sept. 29, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because neither the NFL nor the Titans announced the latest results.
The Titans announced they will not have any media availability Wednesday.
The new positive tests put into question Tennessee's scheduled game Sunday against Buffalo (4-0), a matchup between two of the NFL's six remaining undefeated teams. The NFL has rescheduled the Titans' game with Pittsburgh from Oct. 4 to Oct. 25.
WEAR YOUR MASK • KEEP YOUR DISTANCE <a href="https://t.co/0IBolQt3rx">pic.twitter.com/0IBolQt3rx</a>—@CameronNewton
The NFL gave New England and Kansas City an extra day after Newton tested positive Saturday, and Kansas City beat the Patriots 26-10 on Monday night. But pushing the Bills' game with the Titans back by a day will be challenging because Buffalo is scheduled to host Kansas City on Thursday night, Oct. 15.
The league is attempting to play a full schedule amid the pandemic without teams isolated in a bubble as other sports have done to protect players and staff from the virus. No games were affected through the first three weeks of the season.
Pittsburgh defensive tackle Cam Heyward said Wednesday it was "ludicrous" to think the NFL wouldn't have positive tests and warned there would be more. He said players and teams were under pressure to minimize outbreaks.
"Things are going to change every minute now," said Heyward, the Steelers' player representative. "And we've just got to be willing to adjust. I know the NFL and the NFLPA is trying to do right by the players and the coaches, but there's only so much they can do."
Breaking rules could mean forfeits, fines
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell warned all 32 teams Monday that any violations of COVID-19 protocols that force schedule changes could result in punishment including forfeiting games, fines or loss of draft picks.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he's allowing his wife and three children to attend the Steelers' game Sunday against Philadelphia. The Steelers had an unexpected bye last weekend with the Titans' outbreak affecting their schedule.
"I don't think they'll consider forfeiting our game, and of course we got the short end of the stick," Roethlisberger said.
Titans last together on Sept. 27
Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters Tuesday he was hoping to hear more good news Wednesday morning when the latest batch of daily testing results came back. Instead, he'll have to try to prepare a game plan with his team possibly not back into its facility until Saturday because it needs back-to-back days of negative tests.
Tennessee hasn't been together as a team since Sept. 27, when the Titans beat the Vikings 31-30 in Minnesota. The Titans played that game after leaving outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen in Nashville following his positive test result Sept. 26, and the NFL shut down the team facility on Sept. 29.
The franchise has continued daily testing since then, and the league sent all 32 teams a memo Oct. 1 with list of new protocols for clubs to follow when dealing with a coronavirus outbreak or having been exposed to an outbreak.
The Las Vegas Raiders put their first player on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday — defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. He didn't attend the charity function last week that led the NFL to fine 10 Raiders players for conduct violating COVID-19 protocols. The list is for players who either test positive for the coronavirus or have had close contact with an infected person.