The NFL and Patriots got good news Saturday night and Sunday when the team’s follow-up COVID-19 tests all turned up negative.
Cam Newton has been the only Patriot to test positive, giving the NFL confidence it can move ahead with the Patriots-Chiefs game. No one else on the Chiefs tested positive, either, other than practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu.
The game, originally scheduled for 4:25 p.m. Sunday, will be pushed back less than 27 hours to 7:05 p.m. Monday.
But two questions need to be asked of the NFL, the Patriots and Chiefs:
Are you nuts?
Did you forget the Titans?
The Patriots should not be getting on airplanes Monday to play a game in Kansas City, and not because they might get crushed with backup Brian Hoyer filling in for Newton.
The Titans' current situation should have been all the proof the NFL needed to postpone Patriots-Chiefs.
The Patriots may have tested negative for back-to-back days, and they may be mitigating the risk by reportedly taking two planes to KC — one for the 20 or so people exposed to Newton, and one for everyone else.
But traveling Monday to play this game is far too risky, given the realities of COVID-19.
The Titans all tested negative last weekend, too, before getting on a flight to Minneapolis. But they won’t be playing a game in Week 4, because of a full-blown COVID outbreak that has affected 20 team members.
It was a valuable lesson about exposure to COVID-19 and the incubation period. Six days after the Titans disbanded, they still were getting positive tests.
The Titans were negative when they left Nashville on a Saturday, but when they reconvened last Tuesday, eight players and staffers turned up positive. The Titans immediately shut down the team facility and sent everyone home, but the virus had already taken root. The Titans turned up at least one positive each on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, affecting 10 additional players and coaches.
Not only did their Week 4 game against the Steelers get postponed, but their Week 5 game against the Bills also is in doubt. The Titans won’t be able to reopen their team facility until they go at least two days without a positive test, putting it at Wednesday at the earliest.
The NFL is investigating why the Titans had a major outbreak and why the Falcons didn’t, even though both teams had a person test positive last Saturday. It could be that the Titans didn’t follow the league’s COVID protocols closely, in which case a punishment should be coming.
It could also be because the Falcons played at home last week, while the Titans were on the road. The Titans’ players and coaches were crammed together on an airplane, team buses and in a hotel for 48 hours.
Which brings us back to the Patriots and their game against the Chiefs. It’s certainly a good sign that everyone in both organizations has come up negative in the multiple tests they have taken since Saturday morning. And taking two airplanes is certainly better than one.
But the idea that the Patriots are clean, and therefore are good to go for Monday night, is bonkers.
The Titans just provided a real-world example of how long it can take for the virus to appear. Assuming the Patriots do kick off Monday night, it will have been less than 72 hours since Newton turned up positive. Newton spent all day Friday around his teammates without knowing he had the virus.
Talk about taking a massive, unnecessary risk. And talk about mixed messaging from the NFL. Head coaches get fined $100,000 for not wearing a mask on the sideline, but it’s OK to put a team on an airplane two days after its quarterback tested positive?
The Patriots won’t be staying in a hotel on their trip to Kansas City, and they will take another round of tests Monday morning before heading to the airport. But the Patriots will be in enclosed spaces together on planes and buses. If the virus is still incubating in one or more players, it could quickly spread throughout the team. And the NFL and Patriots could have a full-blown crisis on their hands, far worse than having to postpone one Week 4 game.
We didn’t hear from the Patriots’ players Sunday, but veterans such as the McCourty twins and Matthew Slater, who considered opting out before the season, can’t be thrilled about getting on a plane and playing this game Monday night. Even with everyone wearing a mask on the flight and the buses, it has to be unsettling to know that the virus could be silently spreading throughout the team.
I understand why the NFL is trying to play this game now. Unlike the Titans-Steelers game, which was fairly easily moved to Week 7, there was no obvious place to move the Patriots-Chiefs game without blowing up the schedule. The NFL could create an extra week after the regular season and use it to play all of the games that end up postponed this year. But there is so much unknown when it comes to COVID that the NFL wants to play when it can, and not push too much into the future.
Plus, one positive test isn’t supposed to cancel a game in the NFL’s world. The league expected people to get infected, and changed its rules to give teams significantly more roster flexibility.
But this isn’t just one positive test — it’s the Patriots’ starting quarterback, who touches the ball on every play and comes in close contact with every member of the offense. And it seems unnecessarily risky to put everyone on the Patriots together on an airplane just 48 hours after Newton turned up positive.
The NFL should have found a way to play this game at a later date, or just called it off completely. The Patriots should be getting the week off to get healthy and ready for next Sunday’s game against the Broncos.
Instead, they will be getting on airplanes, flying across the country, and putting the entire team at risk.
The Titans, apparently, have been forgotten.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.