The Patriots embarked on their second day of virtual meetings and no practice on Thursday. As Bill Belichick explained it on a Thursday morning conference call with reporters, "We made the decision to close the facility for the health and safety of our team. That’s always priority No. 1."
There are, and have been, COVID-related concerns throughout the organization since quarterback Cam Newton had a Friday test come up as positive.
To mitigate the risk of exposure and transmission over the weekend, the team sent players home from the facility on Saturday morning and they remained away on Sunday. The game was postponed until Monday, when the Patriots took two planes to Kansas City from two different cities -- one containing players who'd been close contacts of Newton's. "Fingers crossed," one team source said prior to the flights.
At the game, Belichick wore two masks and after the game when Andy Reid extended his hand for a shake at midfield, Belichick opted for an elbow. Every precaution taken, even small ones.
There are those within the organization questioning why the game was played on Monday and wondering why the game scheduled to be played on Sunday is still on. The CDC says that the median incubation period for COVID is 4-5 days from exposure to symptoms onset. Gilmore, who tested positive on Tuesday and has said he's asymptomatic, played in Monday night's game six days prior to Sunday's.
"When we feel that it’s safe for everyone to come back, then we will do that," Belichick said Thursday. "Obviously, I’m sure you have a lot of questions. I have a lot of questions. We all have questions and this is really more of a medical situation than a football situation, so we will work through the decisions and input from the people in the medical field -- a combination of Patriots and league -- and people that know the situation, know the virus and the specific circumstances that are involved here, both in the past and going forward."
Asked if he was hopeful the Patriots would be able to play the Broncos on Sunday, Belichick opted not to indicate his desire to play one way or the other.
"We're preparing," he said. "We are preparing today like a normal Thursday. We’ll see what the schedule is or isn’t, but at this point we are preparing for a normal Thursday – I mean, normal in terms of meetings, not normal in terms of practice. We can’t do anything from a practice standpoint other than watch film and talk through assignments and things like that like we did earlier this year when we were in virtual meetings."
It's an odd week, to be sure. With the team kept apart, with new return-to-play protocols coming to light, and with a game still on the schedule for Sunday.
The quarterback situation, in particular, is one that raises plenty of questions for those following the Patriots. Newton was pulled from action over the weekend. In theory he could return to the team if he produces two negative PCR tests separated by at least 24 hours.
If he can't, it'll be either Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham against the Broncos -- neither of whom saw starter reps last week and neither of whom have had an opportunity to practice this week. Whether or not practice will be held at Gillette Stadium on Friday is still to be determined.
All that's available to Hoyer and Stidham from a preparation standpoint are virtual meetings. Newton, Belichick explained, would be included in those as well.
"Yeah, sure," he said. "Why not? Anybody that’s tested positive wouldn’t be allowed to be in any in-person meetings until they are cleared medically. So, that’s that. But, in terms of virtual meetings, yeah. Absolutely."