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Friday's NFL: Patriots cancel practice after 5th player tests positive

Dennis Waszak Jr.
Associated Press

From New England to Atlanta to Indianapolis, the focus was not on football on Friday. It was on, not surprisingly, coronavirus tests.

The Patriots canceled practice Friday and later placed center James Ferentz on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He became the fifth player on the team to test positive for the virus.

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton

With the Colts, there were four positive tests that, when retested, came up negative. The Falcons returned to their facility one day after abandoning it when they had a second positive.

New England (2-2) already twice had the original Week 5 matchup against Denver postponed following four earlier positive coronavirus tests by players, including quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The game is scheduled for Sunday in Foxborough, Massachusetts, but now could be in jeopardy.

“I don’t really know the answer to that,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said when asked about finally playing the Patriots. “We’re under the assumption and understanding that this game’s going to go off on time. And anything that happens otherwise will happen when it happens.”

Newton and Gilmore, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, returned to practice this week for the first time since testing positive for the virus. Newton missed New England’s loss at Kansas City on Oct. 5 after his Oct. 2 positive test. He was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. Gilmore, who tested positive on Oct. 7, was activated from the list Thursday. Practice squad player Bill Murray also returned from the COVID-19 list Thursday.

Defensive tackle Byron Cowart, who tested positive on Oct. 11, was joined on the list by Ferentz.

The Broncos (1-3) haven’t played since Oct. 1. If they play Sunday, they’ll have had 16 days between games, one day longer than Tennessee’s layoff before the Titans beat Buffalo on Tuesday night following the NFL’s first COVID-19 outbreak, which affected two dozen members of the organization.

Denver’s layoff is the longest in the league since 2001, when the NFL postponed all games on the weekend following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Three teams – the Saints, Steelers and Buccaneers – had byes when play resumed a week later, so they all had 20 days between games that year. Of those three, only the Steelers won in their return to action.

Indianapolis closed its practice facility, then the four retests came back negative and the building reopened.

Coach Frank Reich did not identify who had the false positives but acknowledged if it wasn’t a player, it was someone who worked closely with the players. He did say the four were kept out of the facility.

Reich had started making contingency plans to play the Bengals on Monday or Tuesday, and also rearranged Friday’s schedule. Meetings were conducted virtually and after the second set of results came back, the Colts went through a lighter-than-normal practice at team headquarters while wearing masks.

“It just made sense that we could jog through, get all the looks we needed to get, get our bodies going a little bit, get the heart rate going a little bit but not going full speed,” Reich said. “It would have had to been masks under the helmet, so I just felt like it was the right thing to do – not go full speed with the mask under the helmet.”

The Browns, who played the Colts on Sunday, had zero positive tests Friday morning and their building was open. The negatives included one for star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was ill and sent home Thursday and not allowed to practice Friday.

Atlanta resumed in-person work under more stringent safety measures.

“Just with the intensive regulations, the mask protocol is in high effect,” interim coach Raheem Morris said. “We have to do some of those different type of deals. Masks on the field, player separation on the field. The in-person meetings only in two areas: The team meeting room and the indoor facility. All of those things we had to implement.

“Everything dealing with the disease and the COVID and what we’ve got to deal with I will follow to the highest and protect the team at all costs, even if it means shutting down a practice like yesterday.”

The Falcons play Sunday at Minnesota.

Rookie defensive tackle Marlon Davidson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday and a second person, who is not a player, subsequently tested positive.

The Panthers have guard/center Tyler Larsen on the reserve/COVID-19 list, five days after he played against Atlanta.

“I know a lot of people have had their lives interrupted in a very negative way, whether it be through the illness itself, whether it be through losing their job, whether it be through having to take a pay cut,” Fangio said. “You know, nobody deserves that. And some small businesses, people who have worked their whole lives to establish a business are really struggling right now. And I know some small business owners from all over the country where I’ve been, and they’re struggling.

“And luckily here in the NFL so far as players and coaches, we haven’t missed any paychecks, so we’re just going to keep fighting through and consider us lucky. And yes, we’ve been inconvenienced, there are a lot of protocols to follow, some of them can be a little overbearing at times but they’re necessary.

“And so I think in the big picture, we’ve been lucky.”

Big ask

The Jets’ jammed-up backfield got a little less crowded Tuesday night when Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State) was released after a disappointing stint that lasted just 19 months. So, New York now has La'Mical Perine, a fourth-round pick out of Florida; 37-year-old Frank Gore; and Ty Johnson on the active roster, with Josh Adams also on the practice squad.

But, the carries might start to shift more toward Perine when the 0-5 Jets take on the AFC East-rival Dolphins in Miami on Sunday.

“Perine is definitely going to get a bigger role,” coach Adam Gase said.

Perine hasn’t been much of a factor yet. He saw no snaps on offense against Arizona last Sunday, and has just 15 carries for 56 yards and two catches for minus-1 yard through five games.

Gase also acknowledged as recently as Monday – a day before the move with Bell – that the Jets didn’t “want to put too much on his plate too fast and kind of really stunt his growth at all.” Whether they truly believe Perine is suddenly ready now or it’s just by necessity, the Jets are handing off a big chance to the 22-year-old running back.

“I’m here for a reason,” Perine said. “I always tell myself that.”

When the Jets drafted him, Gase and general manager Joe Douglas raved about Perine’s speed and versatility out of the backfield. He was an exciting prospect whose 2,485 yards rushing rank eighth in Gators history. Perine also had 22 TD runs, and caught 72 passes for 674 yards and eight scores.

Extra points

Seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones returned to practice as a limited participant and hopes to play Sunday when the Falcons visit the Vikings. Jones has played just one half of the last three games because of a hamstring injury. 

... NFL leading rusher Dalvin Cook (groin) will sit out Minnesota’s game on Sunday against Atlanta. Alexander Mattison will get his first career start at running back.

... The Steelers will face the Cleveland Browns without Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro (abdominal) and wide receiver Diontae Johnson (back).

... Browns star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has tested negative for COVID-19 after being sent home by the team on Thursday because he wasn’t feeling well.