As the hours continue to tick until what is now assumed to be a theoretical football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, amid a myriad of upset Steelers fans, I found myself with one singular thought:
Postponing this game was/is the correct decision. Before I'm fed to the hungry lions as a sacrifice, let me make a few concessions.
I've been very critical of the NFL's planning (or lack thereof) for a COVID-19 featured football season. I stood disappointed with Steelers fans when Pittsburgh's bye-week was moved up to accommodate a virtually non-compliant Tennessee Titans squad, and I stand disappointed with everybody else that a primetime matchup with the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving was taken away due to another variable out of Pittsburgh's control.
As stated earlier, I don't have all the answers. I'm not sure what the league's perfect plan to accommodate both teams is, nor do I believe such a plan exists. The NFL banked on teams strictly following protocol, and in Pittsburgh's case, two teams failed to do just that. It's annoying, even as somebody who sits behind a computer and analyzes games from the comfort of my home.
The reality is, the Ravens are in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak within their facility. As of Thursday night, Baltimore had eight starters (ten total players) on the reserve/COVID-19 list, with new positive cases appearing each day throughout the week. The outbreak is believed to be caused by Baltimore's strength and conditioning coach, who was "disciplined" for failing to report symptoms to the club while also not wearing a mask or a tracking device mandated by the league.
Irresponsible by said strength and conditioning coach? Absolutely. However, since the Titans faced very little punishment from the league from their earlier incident, don't expect Roger Goodell and friends to come down hard on the Ravens. That would include forcing Baltimore to potentially forfeit their road game at Pittsburgh.
Another reality is the unfortunate uncertainty COVID-19 brings and how we as a society are slowly learning more on the subject. This includes contact tracing, the spread of the virus, origination and all the other details the league tries to identify when an outbreak such as Baltimore's happens. Through eleven full weeks of football in a COVID world, we've seen various scenarios proving just how uncertain the virus can be.
The league nor the Ravens truly know who is positive and who is negative. Should the game have been played on Thursday night as suggested, it's likely the Steelers may have seen their own outbreak after facing Jackson. From there, the team would endure their own outbreak and potentially sabotage a Lombardi-worthy season.
Case in point: Postponing, canceling, whatever the league will ultimately decide upon is a much better method of handling business than simply forcing a single game to happen and risk unnecessary consequences that could carry significant weight down the road.
The idea is to ensure every team remains at full health, and while playing on Thanksgiving was a missed opportunity, the added time off now gives extra time for players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster (foot) and Joe Haden (knee) to heal, as both were questionable to play on Thursday.
Of course, this isn't the preferred route. The last thing the NFL needs is more scheduling headaches this season, whereas the Steelers would have benefited from a ten-day period of rest prior to their next game. Don't think Baltimore had any plans up their sleeves either, as the team now loses days of rest/preparation ahead of their Thursday night matchup next week vs. Dallas.
It's incredibly frustrating. I sympathize with both players and fans in this situation. However, I think back to comments made last week by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in regards to seeing the bigger picture:
"Personally, the goal isn't to go undefeated," said Roethlisberger. "The goal is to win the Super Bowl. We're just going one week at a time. We're not worried about anything other than this week."
It's difficult, but I'm asking you to see the bigger picture: Rolling the dice with COVID-19 hasn't worked well for NFL franchises. Forcing one game to be played simply isn't worth the risk of losing multiple games to be played down the road. With Pittsburgh sitting at 10-0, it's hard to imagine the Steelers' season completely decimated by the postponement of one game. If so, there are bigger fish to fry within the organization.
Mix the above factors in with potential long-term health effects for players down the road, and it's essentially in everybody's best interest to keep as many players as safe as possible.
No NFL season is perfect, and 2020's version featuring COVID-19 has already proved to be a difficult task to handle. Unfortunately, the Steelers have seen the short end of the stick for what is now a second time, both times the franchise not at fault.
Disappointing? Absolutely. A victory over Baltimore on Thanksgiving night would have set the tone for the rest of the season, essentially putting the nail in the coffin for Baltimore's divisional title hopes along the way.
Yet this Steelers team is special, and had the Ravens ultimately spread COVID-19 to Pittsburgh, I can't help but feel an overwhelming amount of fans would be angry with the league for allowing the game to happen.
I know Steelers nation is emotional at the moment, but I believe hindsight will prove the decision to move the Ravens game elsewhere correct.
Hopefully, hindsight looks a lot like a Lombardi Trophy.