“The decision to postpone the game was made to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel,” the NFL said in a written statement.
Titans Coach Mike Vrabel called the NFL’s decision “smart and safe.” He said in a video news conference Thursday that he had sensed another few positive tests might lead to the game not being played in Week 4.
“I kind of figured as much,” Vrabel said. “There was nothing formally said to me. But you don’t sleep much and you wake up early waiting for the [testing] results, and you kind of know that could be a possibility.”
The NFL said Wednesday that it was postponing the game, originally set to be played Sunday in Nashville, until Monday or Tuesday.
The Titans’ facility will remain closed and the team will have in-person activities suspended “until further notice,” the league said Thursday. The Titans and Minnesota Vikings closed their facilities after the Titans had eight positive test results — including three players — returned Tuesday from tests performed Monday. The Titans had another player test positive in the results returned Wednesday from Tuesday’s testing.
The Vikings, who played the Titans on Sunday in Minneapolis, reopened their facility Thursday and announced they had no positive test results among players, coaches and team staffers. The NFL plans for the Vikings-Texans game to be played as scheduled Sunday in Houston.
The postponement of the Titans-Steelers game was the first change to the NFL’s schedule during the 2020 season as it operates during the pandemic. The league did not immediately announce when the game will be played.
“I’m disappointed because we were preparing to play and we’re not getting an opportunity to,” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said in a video news conference. “But we understand the nature of this environment we’re in in 2020, and so we’re just adjusting accordingly.”
One possibility mentioned previously is that the Titans-Steelers game could be played in Week 7. That’s the bye week for the Titans. The Steelers’ game at Baltimore in Week 7 would be moved to Week 8, now the bye week for the Steelers and Ravens, in that scenario.
The reworking of the schedule could have negative competitive implications for the Steelers. They, like the Titans, could end up playing 13 straight weeks to close the regular season after this unintended Week 4 bye. Tomlin did not take issue with the league’s decision.
“My opinion does not matter,” Tomlin said. “We take marching orders from the National Football League. We understand that they’re acting in our collective best interest, and I have a great deal of comfort in that.”
The NFL sent a memo to all teams Thursday outlining additional protocols for any team experiencing an outbreak or exposed to one. Those “supplemental intensive protocols” include daily point-of-care testing for players, coaches and some team staffers in addition to their normal daily testing, including on game days; virtual-only team meetings; mandatory wearing of masks by players and staffers on the practice field (players can opt for helmets with face shields). Players also should wear gloves on the field, according to the memo, with the lone exception being a quarterback’s throwing hand. Team and player gatherings away from the facility are prohibited.
Vrabel referred to “different protocols” earlier Thursday and said he told his players not to gather away from the facility. Vrabel said he informed his players of the postponement in a remote team meeting Thursday morning. The Titans had begun preparations, working virtually, to play Monday or Tuesday, hoping to be back on the practice field this weekend.
“I think they were somewhat shocked,” Vrabel said. “They wanted to play. They were preparing to play. But I think that they understood and realized why the decision was made.”
Vrabel said he hopes the Titans will be permitted back in their facility early next week. Some of those in the organization who developed symptoms after testing positive this week “are starting to feel better,” Vrabel said. He continued to maintain that the Titans had followed all health and safety protocols.
“What we’re focused on as a team right now is using these next few days like we would our normal bye week to mentally and physically prepare ourselves for a push for the rest of the season,” Vrabel said.
The Titans placed cornerback Kristian Fulton on their covid-19 reserve list Thursday after previously adding linebacker Kamalei Correa, defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, long snapper Beau Brinkley and practice squad tight end Tommy Hudson this week. That list can be used for players who test positive or who are found through contact tracing to have been exposed.
Tomlin, a member of the league’s competition committee, said there were “hypothetical conversations during the summer” on issues related to playoff seeding if some teams are unable to play all 16 regular season games. “But I think that’s everybody’s hope,” Tomlin added, “that doesn’t come to fruition.”
Amid the Titans-Steelers postponements, the NFL sent a memo to teams Wednesday stressing the need to adhere to all health protocols, including the directive for coaches and other team staff members to wear face coverings properly while on the sideline during games, if the season is to proceed without interruptions.
“We are only through Week 3 of the season,” Wednesday’s NFL memo said. “If we are to play a full and uninterrupted season, we all must remain committed to our efforts to mitigate the risk of transmission of the virus. … Selective or inconsistent compliance threatens to undermine fan confidence in our health and safety protocols and the competitive fairness and integrity of the NFL season.”