Let’s run through a scenario. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, the Titans’ outbreak doesn’t happen. And let’s say, to continue on that, the infected Patriot quarterback is Jarrett Stidham, not Cam Newton.
Does the NFL push for Sunday’s Chiefs-Patriots game to be played tomorrow?
I think it’s fair to say it probably would have. The fact is, the Titans flew to Minnesota seven days ago after consecutive days of positive tests—practice squad corner Greg Mabin took a test Thursday that turned up positive Friday morning, and outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen took a test Friday that turned up positive on Saturday morning. And everyone else in the team’s traveling party took tests Saturday that turned up negative Sunday morning.
All those guys, as such, were cleared to play and coach against the Vikings. Now, obviously, it didn’t get the attention Newton’s case did in large part because even a fervent Titans fan would have trouble picking Bowen or Mabin out of a lineup, and the Patriots' quarterback, conversely, is one of the most recognizable names in the sport.
But it’s not like COVID-19 decided to get more contagious to football players when Newton was infected than it was with Mabin or Bowen, which, of course, illustrates why the scrutiny was so intense on Saturday, and also proves something more significant.
The Titans’ case really changed everything.
Because Tennessee underwent a sort of worst-case scenario—where the incubation period of the virus allowed the invisible enemy to sneak in the backdoor and fester for days—the rules of engagement, at least for the time being, have shifted. And that’s not just in league mandates, but also in how players are looking at their day-to-day lives.
Here’s Example No. 1: Before Sunday’s game was postponed, there was very real trepidation among Patriots players about boarding a flight under the current circumstances. And my guess is, and this is just my guess, that trepidation may not have been there had the Titans’ situation not unfolded like it did the last few days.
Obviously, from there, the league acted accordingly.
Here’s some more of what we know on how Saturday played out in K.C. and Foxboro.
• The Patriots and Chiefs both have made the decision to close their facilities not only for Saturday, but Sunday as well. That’s why playing a game Monday seems unlikely.
• The drop-dead time for the NFL to make a decision on the game will likely come Monday morning. The league plans to administer the normal PCR testing plus point-of-care testing daily for both teams (everyone in Tier 1 and 2 will be required to do the tests) until further notice. The NFL wants to see results from Saturday and Sunday before making a call, and the Sunday PCR tests won’t be back until late Sunday/early Monday.
• If all tests come back negative (and this is if the decision is made to go forward with the game this week), the Patriots will likely still have to clear point-of-care testing on Monday morning in order to travel.
• That’s why the game, if it’s played in Week 4, would almost have to be played on Tuesday. The reason Monday’s been kept alive is the chance that the NFL and NFLPA green-light the Patriots traveling and playing on Monday. Day-of-game travel is prohibited under the COVID-19 protocols, so that would mean making a special exception.
• So how did this play out on Saturday? New England had a squad meeting around 8 a.m., so players and coaches were in the building in the morning, ahead of their scheduled midday flight to Kansas City. A second squad meeting was called at around 10:45 a.m., at which point coach Bill Belichick told the players that everything was on hold, and they could go home and wait for word on how to proceed.
• As for the Chiefs, they had morning meetings and a walkthrough before word came down from the league that the game was being postponed.
• Both teams administered additional point-of-care testing on Saturday for their players, and no additional positives have come up yet.
• It’s at least worth noting that these have been two of the cleanest teams on the COVID-19 front. The Chiefs have had one player go on the COVID-19 list—and that was UDFA WR Aleva Hifo, whose positive test came in late July, at the start of camp—with practice-squad QB Jordan Ta’amu now set to be the second after his positive test came back Saturday morning. Newton will be the first Patriot to go on the COVID-19 list.