The NFL postponed the Baltimore Ravens’ game in Pittsburgh from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon because of the Ravens’ ongoing issues with the coronavirus.
The league announced the postponement Wednesday and later said the game is rescheduled for 1:15 p.m. Eastern time Sunday on NBC.
The Ravens announced Wednesday evening that they had disciplined a staff member “for conduct surrounding the recent COVID-19 cases that have affected players and staff at the Ravens.” The Ravens also could face disciplinary measures by the NFL if violations of the sport’s coronavirus protocols are firmly established, according to a person familiar with the situation. Such discipline of the team is not ruled out in this case, that person said. The Tennessee Titans were fined $350,000 and the Las Vegas Raiders were fined $500,000 and stripped of a sixth-round draft pick for protocol violations.
Seven Ravens players tested positive for the coronavirus this week, a person familiar with the testing results said Wednesday. More than five Ravens staff members also tested positive, that person said, but the exact number was not immediately available.
“We appreciate the NFL for its diligence in working closely with us to ensure the well-being of players, coaches and staff from both the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers organizations,” the Ravens said in a written statement. “Protecting the health and safety of each team, in addition to our communities at large, is of utmost importance. We will continue to follow guidance from the NFL and its medical experts, as we focus on safely resuming preparations for Sunday’s game.”
This Week 12 postponement is the first coronavirus-related change to the NFL schedule since the league preemptively moved the Raiders-Buccaneers game out of the Sunday night time slot in Week 7. That game was played earlier that day, Oct. 25. The NFL rescheduled several games in Weeks 4 and 5. It has not canceled any games as it attempts to play a full season while operating during the pandemic with teams based in their home cities.
Some within the Steelers organization did not take the NFL’s postponement decision well.
“First the NFL takes away our bye week because another team can’t get their Covid situation together, now they take away our Thanksgiving primetime game for the same reason. Smh,” Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster wrote on Twitter.
The Steelers are the NFL’s only unbeaten team. They had their bye moved to Week 4 of the season because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Titans, who had 24 members of the organization test positive in late September and early October.
The NFL has said its decisions about game postponements are medical decisions, not decisions about competitive issues related to a team having a depleted roster. When games were postponed, league leaders have said, those decisions were based on concerns about ongoing transmission of the virus within the team setting.
The NFL recently had been able to get games played when a team had a small number of coronavirus cases after modifying its protocols to mandate a five-day quarantine for anyone identified as a high-risk close contact to an individual with a confirmed case.
That led to competitive issues for some teams, such as when the San Francisco 49ers had a depleted lineup for a Thursday night game Nov. 5 against the Green Bay Packers. But the protocol change involving the high-risk close contacts helped the NFL to avoid another large outbreak and, until this issue with the Ravens, get games played as scheduled.
“The NFL played a Thursday Night Game two weeks ago (Packers-49ers) with positive tests on both teams, despite ability to push into weekend,” former Packers executive Andrew Brandt wrote on Twitter. “Difference here appears to be continuing positive tests on one team. Precedent and policies evolving each week.”
The postponement leaves the NFL with two games on Thanksgiving: Texans-Lions at 12:30 p.m. and Washington-Dallas at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
Ravens Coach John Harbaugh confirmed Monday that running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins tested positive for the coronavirus. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was placed in quarantine as a high-risk close contact, Harbaugh said Monday.
The Ravens placed linebacker Pernell McPhee on their covid-19 reserve list Tuesday. That list is for players who test positive for the coronavirus or those determined through contact tracing to have been exposed to the virus. The Ravens placed offensive linemen Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari and defensive end Calais Campbell on their covid-19 reserve list Wednesday. Third-string quarterback Trace McSorley was placed on the list late last week.
Players who test positive for the coronavirus are put in isolation and cannot rejoin team activities for at least 10 days under the NFL’s treatment protocols.
Further testing results for the Ravens probably will determine whether the game can be played Sunday, as now scheduled. The NFL potentially could delay the game further if needed, perhaps until Monday or Tuesday. The Titans played a rare Tuesday night game Oct. 13 after their outbreak.
The Ravens also are scheduled to play a Thursday game next week, Dec. 3 in Baltimore against the Dallas Cowboys. So that game also would be affected and probably would have to be pushed back if the Ravens-Steelers game is delayed beyond Sunday.
If the Ravens-Steelers game cannot be played by early next week, that would have larger scheduling implications for the NFL. The game cannot be rescheduled for later in a 17-week season because the Ravens and Steelers already have had their bye weeks. In that case, the NFL might be forced to add a Week 18 to the regular season. League leaders have said they will add a Week 18 only if all games cannot be played in the current framework.