Friday’s NFL: Ravaged by COVID-19, Ravens face issues beyond new schedule
With reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson under quarantine as part of an outbreak of COVID-19 that has ravaged the Baltimore Ravens, the team has turned its focus from breaking out of a slump to simply getting healthy and back to practice.
The Ravens have more than a dozen players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and their training facility is closed to prevent the spread of the virus . Jackson tested positive this week and will not play against the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers next Tuesday night, a game that was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night and postponed to Sunday before the NFL moved the game again.
The makeup for the makeup will be held at 8 p.m. ET and telecast nationally by NBC.
With that game moving to Tuesday, Baltimore’s game against Dallas, scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 3, will instead be played at 5 o’clock on Monday, Dec. 7 and telecast by FOX/NFL Net/Amazon.
The NFL also has ordered all team facilities not involving teams playing Monday or Tuesday to be closed on those days. The Eagles and Seahawks play Monday night, and the Ravens and Steelers play on Tuesday.
“We appreciate the efforts of the NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers throughout this process, while we all work to create an environment that keeps the health and safety of everyone involved at the forefront of each decision,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Our organization has a plan in place, and we will be prepared to play the Steelers. We thank everyone for their adaptability and look forward to the challenge of facing a very good football team at Heinz Field on Tuesday night.”
Baltimore (6-4) will be decidedly short-handed against Pittsburgh (10-0).
Jackson, fullback Patrick Ricard, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, and long snapper Morgan Cox were added to the COVID-19 list on Monday. They join quarterback Trace McSorley; running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins; defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Jihad Ward; linebacker Pernell McPhee; and centers Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura.
A year ago, the Ravens finished with the best regular-season record in the NFL behind the play of Jackson, who threw 36 touchdown passes and set a single-season record for yards rushing by a quarterback. Now Jackson is part of a massive breakdown by a team that couldn’t avoid COVID-19 in the midst of a season the NFL staged in the middle of a pandemic.
Baltimore’s problems started after an overtime loss to Tennessee on Sunday, the third defeat in four games for a team that has gone from a 5-1 start to scrambling to make the playoffs for a third straight year.
Ingram and Dobbins were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list the following day, starting a chain reaction that has decimated the roster.
Robert Griffin III is slated to start at quarterback for the Ravens on Tuesday against the Steelers. He will be taking snaps from a third-string center and handing off to backup running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill.
“We just want to contain this outbreak! Speaking from experience … you don’t want to catch COVID!,” Campbell wrote on Twitter. “This virus is brutal! I pray no one else has to go thru this. This is bigger than football.”
The Ravens have disciplined one of their staffers for failure to follow protocol, reportedly a strength and conditioning coach.
This isn’t the first time this season COVID-19 has toyed with Pittsburgh’s schedule.
The Steelers were scheduled to play Tennessee in Nashville on Sunday, Oct. 4. The league then pushed the game to either Monday or Tuesday. When the positive tests continued to roll in for the Titans, the NFL eventually moved the game to Sunday, Oct. 25, forcing the Steelers, in essence, to give up their scheduled bye initially set for Sunday, Nov. 1 – and finish the regular season by playing 13 consecutive weeks.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stressed he was hardly concerned with the switch, saying emphatically “we do not care” when asked about the team’s routine being thrown off.
Pittsburgh has cruised along anyway, though the league’s last unbeaten team has been forced to deal with its own COVID-19 issues in recent weeks. Tight end Vance McDonald tested positive following a win over Dallas earlier this month. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and inside linebacker Vince Williams were among a handful of players forced to self-quarantine for five days due to contact tracing. Roethlisberger and Williams still ended up playing in what became a 36-10 rout of Cincinnati.
In a sign of just how pervasive COVID-19 has become, shortly after the league announced it was moving the contest to Tuesday, the Steelers placed defensive end Stephon Tuitt, offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins and defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs on the COVID-19 reserve/injured list.
Tuitt is in the middle of a career year. His seven sacks rank third on the team behind outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree.
Trubisky gets nod
After being benched in Week 3, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will start against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, Bears coach Matt Nagy said.
Trubisky took all the first-team snaps at practice this week but Nagy had stopped just short of designating him the starter, just in case Nick Foles (Michigan State) was able to return from a hip and glute injury. But Foles was unable to practice again Friday and Nagy turned to Trubisky.
“He’s worked hard this time that he’s been the backup to be prepared for if and when this time comes, whether it’s through performance or whether it’s through availability or injury with Nick,” Nagy said.
The Bears are trying to end a four-game losing streak, and they’re more focused on that than their long-term future at quarterback.
Foles is doubtful for the game and Nagy said it’s still possible Foles could be the backup. Tyler Bray is the other option.
Trubisky suffered a right shoulder injury Nov. 1 against New Orleans while he ran on a zone-read, his only play since being benched against Atlanta in Week 3. Foles’ injury occurred on a sack in the fourth quarter of a 19-13 loss to Minnesota on Nov. 16.
Nagy turned to Foles seeking a spark for his team’s offense, and Foles rallied Chicago from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Atlanta after Trubisky was benched. But the Bears are 2-5 with Foles as the starter, averaging 16.7 points per game.
Foles has completed 202 of 311 passes for 1,852 yards with 10 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 81.0.
Trubisky is 51-of-86 for 560 yards with six touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 87.4.
Darnold to start
Jets coach Adam Gase announced that Sam Darnold will start Sunday against the Miami Dolphins after the QB’s injured right shoulder progressed throughout the week, barring any setbacks.
“Unless something changes today, which I don’t anticipate,” Gase said, “everything looks good to go.”
After practice, Darnold wasn’t listed with an injury on the team’s final report and it sounded as though the quarterback was counting on being back under center to try to lead the 0-10 Jets to their elusive first win.
“I feel really good,” said Darnold, who was a full participant at practice for the second straight day. “I’m continuing to take it day by day at this point, but I felt really good today and yesterday.”
Darnold missed the last two games against New England and the Los Angeles Chargers as Joe Flacco started in his place.
Darnold was first hurt against Denver on Oct. 1, when he sprained the AC joint in the shoulder on a hard tackle to the turf. He reinjured it at Kansas City on Nov. 1 on another hard hit and missed the next two games.
Linebacker Cory Littleton (COVID list) is set to play on Sunday when the Raiders (6-4) visit the Falcons (7-3). Defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell (COVID list) is also a possibility. Right tackle Trent Brown and slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner remain on the COVID-19 list.
...Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (concussion) is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Giants.
...Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (foot) has been activated from injured reserve after missing the past seven games.
...Bills starting left guard Cody Ford (knee) will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury, while receiver John Brown (ankle) has been ruled out from playing against the Chargers on Sunday.
...The Texans released veteran wide receiver Kenny Stills