Saturday’s NFL: Patriots place 3 more on COVID-IR but Broncos game still on

Associated Press

The New England Patriots went back to work Saturday in preparation for their twice-postponed game against Denver even as they added three more players to the COVID-19 injury list.

Offensive lineman Shaquille Mason and defensive lineman Derek Rivers were added to the list on Saturday, as was running back Sony Michel, who was already on injured reserve with a leg injury. The moves come a day after center James Ferentz was added to the COVID-19 list, prompting the team to cancel practice Friday and close its facility.

The Patriots went back to work Saturday one day after a fifth player on the team tested positive for COVID-19 and one day before their twice-postponed game against the Denver Broncos.

A Patriots spokesman said Saturday the team was proceeding with its usual day-before walkthrough, but all meetings would be virtual. The game against the Broncos was originally scheduled for Oct. 11, then pushed back one day and then rescheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. after a fourth Patriot tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Broncos had COVID-19 news of their own Saturday: Running backs coach Curtis Modkins has tested positive and won’t make the trip to New England. He is in isolation and has no symptoms.

Elsewhere, the Jacksonville Jaguars said that a practice-squad player tested positive. The team placed 12 players on the practice squad COVID-19 list, 11 of them because they have been in close proximity with the infected teammate.

It benefited Jacksonville that it separates practice-squad players from those on the 53-man roster, creating an extra level of protection to help prevent an outbreak.

The Jaguars also placed defensive end Josh Mauro on the regular COVID-19 list. He had been suspended the first five weeks of the regular season but rejoined the team Monday and spent the week with the practice squad.

Those on the list will need three negative tests to be removed. The Jaguars (1-4) are confident they will host Detroit (1-3) on Sunday as scheduled, even though they held football activities remotely Saturday as part of NFL safety protocols.

Also dealing with COVID issues in recent days: Atlanta, Indianapolis, Carolina and Baltimore.

The Colts had four positive tests that came up negative upon retesting. The Falcons returned to their facility one day after abandoning it because of a second positive.

New England already had the Week 5 matchup against Denver postponed following four earlier positive coronavirus tests by players, including quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and Newton returned to practice this week for the first time since testing positive. 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 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 Oct. 11, was joined on the list by Ferentz.

The Broncos 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.

Browns star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was ill and sent home Thursday and not allowed to practice Friday, had his second negative test in 24 hours. That cleared him to play Sunday at Pittsburgh.

The Ravens placed defensive tackle Brandon Williams – a key figure in Baltimore’s run defense – on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The team isn’t saying if he tested positive or came in close contact with someone infected.

The Falcons left as scheduled in two planes for Sunday’s game at Minnesota. The team said defensive end John Cominsky was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and defensive line coaches Tosh Lupoi and Jess Simpson did not make the trip.

The Falcons have moved Edmond Robinson and defensive tackle Chris Slayton from the practice squad to the active roster as COVID-19 replacements.

Earlier this week, the team placed rookie defensive tackle Marlon Davidson on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Falcons had to shut their facility Thursday but reopened Friday after one nonplayer tested positive.

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

Bell is a Chief

The Kansas City Chiefs officially welcomed running back Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State) by announcing his signing.

With the announcement, Bell is now on the 53-player roster but isn’t likely to play Monday against the Buffalo Bills given he just joined the team.

He does, however, project to be available against the Denver Broncos in Week 7, a game before the Chiefs host Bell’s former team, the New York Jets, at Arrowhead Stadium.

Nevertheless, the bigger question falls on which version of Bell are the Chiefs getting: the one who was a two-time All-Pro selection and three-time Pro Bowler with the Pittsburgh Steelers or the one who gained just 863 yards rushing in 17 games with New York before his release?

Kansas City is clearly hoping for the former scenario given the signing.

“He’s been a heck of a player,” coach Andy Reid said before the deal became official. “I wouldn’t expect any different here.”

From 2013 to 2017 while with the Steelers, Bell was regarded as one of the NFL’s elite dual-threat running backs with 5,336 yards rushing, 2,660 yards receiving and 42 total touchdowns (35 rushing).

Vander Esch poised to return

Roughly five weeks a suffering a fractured collarbone in the season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been cleared to return to the field, per a source.

All signs are pointing to Vander Esch being on the field when the Cowboys (2-3) take on the Arizona Cardinals (3-2) Monday night.

Even it’s just a limited role on passing downs, the return of the Pro Bowl linebacker will be welcomed by a Cowboys defense that ranks 27th overall and last in points allowed.

After watching Vander Esch practice full all week without an complications or setbacks, coach Mike McCarthy says he’s “definitely encouraged” about him playing against the Cardinals.

“All the arrows are pointing up right now,” McCarthy said.

Vander Esch underwent surgery in mid-September to repair a collarbone fracture suffered in the season-opening loss to the Rams.