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Tuesday's NFL: No new positives put Titans closer to return

Associated Press

Nashville, Tenn. — Coach Mike Vrabel says the Tennessee Titans stand by how they’ve followed the NFL’s protocols for the coronavirus pandemic and hope the league will allow the team back inside the building Wednesday.

The NFL’s first team to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak has had a couple of what Vrabel called “really good days” with testing, and the coach said they’re hoping for more good news early Wednesday.

“And then we’ll kind of see where we’re at with the league and hopeful to return and get back in the building,” Vrabel said.

One positive test could derail that timeline.

If allowed back inside the team’s headquarters Wednesday, that would keep the Titans (3-0) on target to host Buffalo (4-0) on Sunday in a matchup of two of the NFL’s six remaining undefeated teams. Vrabel says he’s working through a variety of schedules to be ready for when they can get back.

The Titans had no positive tests Monday and continued that trend Tuesday.

The NFL and its players union had people in Nashville meeting with the Titans to review how the team handled the outbreak and checking protocols. The Titans, and any other team with an outbreak or exposed to a team with an outbreak, now have new protocols to follow including all meetings held virtually and everyone must wear face coverings and gloves at practice.

Vrabel said the Titans followed the protocols that were in place and that both he and general manager Jon Robinson put a lot of thought into doing just that.

“We’re going to continue to do everything that we can to make sure as we enter back in this building, that things are safe and the players are comfortable and that their health and well-being is at the forefront,” Vrabel said.

The Titans’ outbreak reached 20 cases on Sunday, the team’s sixth straight day of at least one positive, with 18 returned since Sept. 29. The players testing positive include defensive captain DaQuan Jones, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, wide receiver Adam Humphries, rookie cornerback Kristian Fulton and long snapper Beau Brinkley.

Vrabel said those players have to follow a protocol to be cleared to return to play, keeping them out of Sunday’s game with the Bills. But Vrabel is hopeful they’ll get most of the personnel affected back, and any coaches still not cleared to return won’t have a role in the game.

The Titans, who’ve won all three games by a combined six points and a made field goal inside the final two minutes of each victory, will need a long snapper. Vrabel said he and Robinson have been working through that. The NFL has extended the time teams need to bring in players for tryouts.

“I am pretty certain that they’ll allow us to have somebody in here that can snap for us,” Vrabel said. “We understand that that’s a critically important spot. Still working through some of that stuff with the league.”

The NFL and the players’ union agreed to expanded practice squads this season, and Vrabel said they’ll have enough players to make up for those who won’t be able to play.

Replacing Jones and Simmons in the middle of the defensive line won’t be easy, and Vrabel said defensive backs will have to help fill in for receivers once they practice with Adam Humphries and Cameron Batson both on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Tennessee already has had its game against Pittsburgh moved from Oct. 4 to Oct. 25 because of this outbreak, turning the missed date into an unexpected bye.

Vrabel dismissed any talk of the Titans having a competitive disadvantage.

“The only competitive disadvantage in my mind is not playing very well, and so that will all be determined on Sunday,” Vrabel said.

The Bills certainly aren’t worried about not knowing if Sunday’s game will happen as scheduled.

“I’m 4-0, man,” Buffalo safety Jordan Hoyer said. “ I’m not even thinking about that.”

The Titans’ outbreak also affected the Baltimore Ravens, who now will have a bye Week 7 instead of playing Pittsburgh. That game now will be Nov. 1.

The NFL also had to move New England’s game at Kansas City from Sunday to Monday night after Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19, as did a Chiefs practice squad player.

The NFL and the players union agreed Oct. 2 to continue daily testing, and they both agreed to ramp up health and safety procedures in the wake of the Titans’ outbreak. That includes a longer process to try out free agents and a league-wide video monitoring system.

Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams Monday noting the league has disciplined violators of NFL protocols and that penalties including potential forfeits of games for violations forcing schedule changes.

Fans on hold

The Packers say that any plans to have fans for home games this season are on indefinite hold due to high COVID-19 rates in the area.

Packers officials said that fans won’t be admitted until there’s a “marked improvement in the rate of hospitalizations, as well as the community infection rate and positivity rate.”

The Packers have played two of their eight scheduled home games already. They don’t have another home game until Nov. 1 against the Vikings.

“We are very concerned with the rate of infection in our area,” Packers CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement. “We are trending in the wrong direction in terms of hospitalization and positive cases, and based on recommendations from community health-care and public health officials, hosting fans at the stadium for games is not advisable at this time.”

During his Zoom session after the Packers’ 30-16 victory over the Falcons on Monday night, Packers coach Matt LaFleur had asked area residents to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“It’s going to take all of us, and I mean that,” LaFleur said. “We’ve just got to keep our players safe and keep everybody safe because that’s important. There’s nothing more important than your health. I’d continue to urge people to be responsible, to think of others, to wear a mask and social distance.”

Extra points

Ryan Fitzpatrick will remain the Dolphins’ starting quarterback for at least another week, further delaying the NFL debut of Tua Tagovailoa.

The Dolphins announced on Twitter that Fitzpatrick will get the nod Sunday at San Francisco. The disclosure ended speculation coach Brian Flores was about to turn the offense over to Tagovailoa, drafted with the fifth overall pick as a potential franchise quarterback.

...The Raiders placed defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (Michigan) on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Hurst didn’t attend the charity function last week that led the NFL to fine 10 Raiders players for their conduct at the event that violated COVID-19 protocols.

...Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s publishing company is putting out a collection of 30 essays over the next four weeks about abolition, policing and prisons.

Some of the pieces are written by political prisoners and family members of those who faced police violence and incarceration. Other essays are by organizers, movement leaders and scholars.

...Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard will miss the remainder of the season after rupturing his right Achilles tendon.

...Falcons coach Dan Quinn said safety Damontae Kazee will be placed on injured reserve and miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

...The 49ers released wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.

... Broncos nose tackle Mike Purcell signed a three-year, $14.8 million extension with the team.

... The Cowboys released defensive back Brandon Carr.