Last Sunday morning we learned Patriots defensive lineman Byron Cowart tested positive for COVID-19.
That – combined with the positive test for Stephon Gilmore on Wednesday, the positive test for practice squad player Bill Murray on Monday and the original positive test for Cam Newton the previous Friday – was enough for the NFL (with strong urging from the Patriots) to postpone their Monday game against Denver.
Yet the past two days, the Patriots had two more positive tests – center James Ferentz and running back Sony Michel. They also sent two other players to the COVID reserve list – Derek Rivers and Shaq Mason – because they were determined to be “high-risk close contacts.” Yet the game with Denver is on.
What’s different this week?
After speaking with a couple of team sources, a few things have changed. And we can start with the fact the understanding and comfort level are different now than they were in the wake of the Kansas City trip.
Remember when the Patriots flew to Kansas City in the wake of Newton’s positive? The outbreak in Tennessee which would grow to 25 cases was getting ridiculous.
The Patriots – having just flown back and forth to Kansas City – were on pins and needles that their situation might mirror that of the Titans, who had a positive on a Friday then flew to a game.
Even though the Patriots took two planes to Kansas City. Even though the NFL said there were no “high risk” close contacts for Newton on the trip. The forced intimacy of the visitor’s locker room in Kansas City, the Patriots 24-hour odyssey to play that game and the uncertainty about incubation periods and flying had everyone on edge.
Jason McCourty articulated it Saturday of last week when the Patriots went through their only walkthrough of the week. Several players and coaches stayed in hotel rooms provided by the team because they didn’t want to expose their families.
But after the game was postponed to this week, the team began stacking days with no positive tests. They also stayed away from the facility until Wednesday and didn’t get on the practice field until Thursday. As time passed, it looked less and less likely the Patriots’ situation would be similar to the Titans.
When Ferentz tested positive, nearly two weeks had passed since Newton’s initial positive. By then, both Newton, Gilmore and Murray were back at practice, none the worse for wear.
Meanwhile, the team had gone above NFL protocols in closing down the facility, going virtual most days and limiting contact since the return from KC.
Nobody’s comfortable with it but the sense I get is that players are more used to it.
Another obvious and more practical reason this game wasn’t postponed: There’s no wiggle room. Last week, the league gobbled up both the Patriots and Broncos’ bye weeks with the reschedule. Now? There would be no place in the 17-week schedule for the game to be played.
So the combination of what’s feasible schedule-wise and a greater sense of comfort that the cases are being sequestered (Michel, for example, has been on injured reserve and not taking part in any team activities) and that this won’t be a repeat of what the Titans experienced meant that, this week, they play.