NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday the league remains committed to finishing the regular season as scheduled.
Goodell also said on a conference call that while the NFL is considering a bubble format for the playoffs, it wouldn’t necessarily resemble what the NHL and NBA used in successfully in completing their seasons.
“It will take partnership and discipline to complete this season. I’m confident we’ll be able to do it,” Goodell said, referring the NFL Players Association, the clubs, and the players.
Added Dawn Aponte, the league’s chief football administrative officer: “In terms of the guidelines we have used, our guiding principle is medical and we are trying to ensure we are playing all games safely. Providing we can do so within 17 weeks, that is what our objective is and will continue to be.”
Goodell and Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, noted that a bubble concept can have many iterations.
“We don’t see the bubble as most refer to it in one location,’' Goodell said. ’'We feel strongly that our protocols are working. We’re willing to adjust and adapt those protocols, take additional steps. But I don’t see us doing the bubble in the sense that the media focuses on it.”
Sills pointed to the need “to recognize whenever we think about structuring something for the teams, look at the risks and benefits. There is no plan that will be completely risk free. We have to make what we think is the best and safest decision.
“All options remain on the table and will be driven by what the data show us. We have adjusted our protocols nearly every week.”
Sills also stressed that the NFL won’t be seeking any preferential treatment when vaccines become readily available. He emphasized that vaccines must first go to the front-line health workers.
“We want to obviously work with authorities,” Sills said. ’'We never want to do anything that hinders the public health effort. If it becomes appropriate for us to have vaccines available for coaches and players and staff, and not hinder the public health effort ... then certainly we will consider that. We are in no way going to ‘cut the line.’”
For Week 12, the NFL was forced to reschedule the Baltimore at Pittsburgh game from Thanksgiving night to Sunday, then Tuesday, and finally Wednesday because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Ravens.
Also, the Broncos played their regularly scheduled game with the Saints on Sunday despite having no experienced quarterbacks due to violations of the league’s coronavirus protocols. Goodell said NFL protocols do not call for postponing a game because one position group is impacted by COVID-19, as happened with the Broncos.
There’s also been disruption to the Week 13 schedule because of the Ravens’ situation.
“We will not postpone or reschedule games because of COVID-19 in a specific position group if we are comfortable the rest of the team is not at risk, which was exactly the case in Denver,” he said.
“Let me be crystal clear, as we have been with our clubs since last March. Health and medical take precedence. We follow the facts, the science, and recommendations of our medical experts are first and foremost the bedrock of our decisions.”
The most recent coronavirus testing showed from Nov. 15-21, 42,809 tests were administered to a total of 7,886 players and team personnel. There were 28 new confirmed positive tests among players and 42 among other personnel.
For Nov. 22-28, a total of 42,264 tests were administered to 7,819 players and team personnel. There were 33 new confirmed positives among players and 53 among other personnel.
Sills emphasized that the league and teams learn from every result.
“I think those numbers suggest to us that our clubs are doing a terrific job of avoiding risk,” Sills said. “Again, we know this is hard. We’re certainly not out of the woods. But you can see the effects of the procedures we’ve put in place.
’'I think the strategic decision to close the club facilities the last two days reflects that. We made that decision after a number of weeks of discussion based on the fact of potential additional risk of exposure during the holiday season last week. We’re going to continue to monitor that. We’ll obviously need to continue to evolve and to adjust based on what our data shows as we move forward, but we’re seeing some very positive trends in the numbers.”
QB Lock apologizes
Many viewers cringed at Denver’s ugly loss to the Saints behind a rookie receiver pressed into duty because every Broncos quarterback was barred by the NFL over coronavirus concerns.
Among them was Drew Lock.
“It hurt my heart, hurt my soul,” the Broncos starter said. “It was tough. It was really tough. It wasn’t something that I enjoyed doing. I would much rather have been out there on the field helping my teammates out.”
Lock and backup Brett Rypien returned to the practice field about an hour later, but veteran practice squad QB Blake Bortles was isolated in case the Broncos run into another quarterback quandary this season.
The trio served what was essentially a one-game banishment for not wearing their masks last week around quarterback Jeff Driskel, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Thanksgiving.
In addition to isolating Bortles, the Broncos began putting quarterback Kyle Shurmur, son of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, through COVID-19 protocols to possibly be signed later in the week. A three-year starter at Vanderbilt, Shurmur spent last season on the Chiefs’ practice squad.
The Broncos’ four QBs went into work on their day off last Tuesday to watch film, but they didn’t have their masks on the entire time. After Driskel’s positive test, a league investigation deemed Lock, Rypien and Bortles as high-risk close contacts and ordered them into quarantine Saturday.
The QBs were pulled off the practice field Saturday and the Broncos scrambled to get Kendall Hinton up to speed on a truncated playbook that mostly involved hand-offs.
Hinton, who played quarterback at Wake Forest, was promoted from the practice squad shortly before kickoff and completed just three passes, two of them to the Saints in Denver’s 31-3 loss.
Hinton returned to catching passes, not throwing them, when he went back to the practice squad Wednesday.
Coach Vic Fangio, who fined his QBs this week for violating COVID-19 rules, called out his quarterbacks after the game for putting the team and the league in a precarious position, something that upset Lock’s mother, Laura, who defended her son on social media.
Lock said he had no problem with anything Fangio said.
“He’s my boss. He’s the leader of this team and whatever he says goes,” Lock said. “I feel like we were taking a little bit of leadership by coming in and getting ready by ourselves and doing that by ourselves on a day when everyone else was at home. So, that shows leadership.
“But again, we didn’t do the right thing, we didn’t have them on the whole time we were in there.”
As for his mother coming to his defense, Lock said, “Moms will be moms. That’s just a fact. They’re going to back up their kid. They’re going to stand up for their kid regardless of the situation, and my mom is a fiery human. There’s never a game where I played bad and wasn’t more scared of her than my dad.”
Lock praised Hinton for stepping in on very little notice and making his NFL debut at the league’s toughest position — against the NFC’s top team, no less.
“Gosh, he had to go out there, not take a rep at quarterback, play against one of the best defenses in the league. What else can you ask this guy to do?” Lock said. “I mean, he went out and he played his butt off.”
Lock said he was sitting in his vehicle Monday awaiting results of his rapid COVID-19 test when he saw Hinton and told him, “It takes a lot of guts and a lot of heart to go out there and do what you did in the circumstances you did.”
Fangio said he was disappointed the events of last weekend “overshadows all the good work everybody has done here, starting with the players” to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“That part bugs me a little bit, but hey, it is what it is,’' Fangio said. ’'We had that mistake with the quarterbacks and we have to own it.”
Team president Joe Ellis, who battled the coronavirus last month, met with Fangio and general manager John Elway on Monday and said, “While it’s easy to point fingers, all of us must take responsibility and work together to prevent it from happening again.
McCoy eyes start
With quarterback Daniel Jones nursing a hamstring injury, Colt McCoy is preparing to start for the NFC East-leading Giants (4-7) on Sunday against the NFC West-leading Seahawks (8-3) in Seattle. Jones was injured in the third quarter of last weekend’s win over Cincinnati and did not practice Wednesday . . . Quarterback Mike Glennon will get another start for the Jaguars (1-10) even though Gardner Minshew is fully healthy. The move could be an indication that coach Doug Marrone has given up on the 2019 sixth-round draft pick, who was a rookie sensation . . . Bears coach Matt Nagy said Mitchell Trubisky will make his second straight start when the Bears host the Lions despite last weekend’s prime-time flop against the Packers. “Yes,” Nagy said. “Mitch is gonna start” . . . Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was limited in practice because of a lingering thumb injury, leaving in doubt his availability Sunday against Cincinnati . . . The Lions put cornerback Desmond Trufant (hamstring) and former Patriots defensive tackle Danny Shelton on injured reserve . . . A 12th former NFL player has admitted to participating in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud the league’s health care benefit program. Cornerback Carlos Rogers pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in Lexington, Ky., to one charge of conspiring to defraud a program set up to reimburse former players for out-of-pocket medical expenses, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.