The schedule shuffling continued when the Patriots-Broncos game was postponed until next Sunday after New England returned another positive COVID-19 result from Saturday night’s tests, a league source confirmed Sunday.
Defensive tackle Byron Cowart tested positive, according to Pro Football Talk, joining quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore as confirmed Patriot cases. In addition, defensive tackle Bill Murray also is on the COVD-19 reserve list, though it’s unclear if he’s positive or has been exposed to someone who has been.
The Patriots closed their Gillette Stadium facilities Sunday and players, coaches, and staff were sent home after undergoing another round of tests. It’s unclear when the doors will reopen, but it likely won’t happen until there’s at least two more days of clean tests. Last week the Patriots stayed shuttered for three straight days.
If the Patriots can return Wednesday, it would put them on track for a normal practice week for the Broncos.
This is third time in two weeks that the coronavirus has forced the postponement of a Patriots game. The Week 4 game in Kansas City, Mo., was pushed back a day and the Broncos tilt has twice been pushed back.
There could be a silver lining in the delay for the Patriots, who could get Newton and Gilmore back provided they pass the protocols. Gilmore has posted he is asymptomatic and Newton’s father, Cecil, said his son hasn’t been sick. It’s unknown if Cowart is feeling any symptoms but the second-year player was at Saturday’s practice.
"I was asking [Cam] about his immune system and how he felt and whether the symptoms were like fever, chills, headaches, coughs, that kind of stuff,'' the elder Newton said in an interview with ABC 11 in North Carolina. "He had none of the symptoms, so I think he’ll be able to combat his way through it.''
Cecil Newton added that he’s sure Cam is “roaring” to get back with his teammates.
Under NFL rules, players with positive coronavirus tests can return if they meet one of two criteria: Ten days have passed since their initial positive test, or returning two consecutive negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart.
In addition, a positive player must be cleared by a team doctor after consultation with officials at the Infection Control Education for Major Sports and approval of the NFL’s chief medical officer.
Fox Sports reported Sunday that Newton has yet to return back-to-back negative tests, though Sunday marked 10 days since his initial positive test result. Gilmore tested positive Oct. 6.
Initial reports that the game would go on as scheduled Monday were met with skepticism by some Patriots players, who used gifs and emojis to express their thoughts.
Bill Belichick praised his players, coaches, and staff for their ability to roll with the many changes this season and Sunday presented some more.
"They’ve done a good job of adjusting all year,'' Belichick said Saturday. "We’ve done things differently this year than we’ve ever done them before or probably anybody’s ever done them before. So, they’ve done an excellent job of adjusting and adapting. We’ve had to make some last-minute changes and adjustments to our schedule, to our routine.''
The Broncos, who were scheduled to board an afternoon flight to New England, got word early in the morning the game would be pushed back, coach Vic Fangio said Sunday.
Similar to Belichick, Fangio said he’s preached flexibility to his team.
"It’s just part of the COVID season here that we’re playing. There is going to be adjustments that have to be made. They’re going to happen late. They’re going to happen when you might not be prepared,'' he said. “I was prepared for this. We’re just going to roll with the punches and adjust. My initial message to the team all the way back in training camp was that this was going to be an improvise and adjust season, and we’re being called on to improvise and adjust. We’ll do that.”
Fangio said he has put his faith in the NFL and the NFLPA to guide teams through these uncertain waters.
"I trust anything and everything that comes out of the league office because I know that the Players Association is involved with it and is giving them their blessing,'' he said. "We have both sides of the table here working together and however it turns out, it turns out. I’m fully prepared to react and improvise no matter what happens.
“And in a weird way I’m kind of happy to see some of this stuff happen because you get to see who the whiners are, who the bitchers are, and who can’t handle adversity. And I’m going to try hard that the Denver Broncos don’t fall into any of those categories.”