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Mike Preston: Most Ravens toe company line as they wait for more fallout from COVID outbreak | COMMENTARY

As the Ravens spoke Wednesday evening, it was as if they had all huddled around the campfire, toasted marshmallows and been brainwashed by an iconic scoutmaster.

One after another, they all carefully delivered praise to the organization for its leadership during one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in professional sports. No one was more flattering than coach John Harbaugh, who thanked virtually every individual in the NFL’s front office as well as everyone connected with the Ravens, except mascot Poe.

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Perhaps the Ravens are in a state of fear while awaiting possible heavy punishment from the league after 17 players were held out of Wednesday afternoon’s 19-14 loss against the Pittsburgh because of COVID-19 concerns.

The Ravens (6-5) would like to move on because their next five games — against the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals — are winnable, and an unbeaten streak to end the season would most likely put them in the playoffs. But they can’t escape the cloud that is hanging over the organization.

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In recent months, the NFL has fined the Tennessee Titans $350,000 and the Las Vegas Raiders $500,000 and coach Jon Gruden $150,000, in addition to stripping the Raiders of a sixth-round draft pick, for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

The Ravens have already disciplined strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders for ignoring potential COVID-19 symptoms as he worked with players and not routinely wearing his mask and proximity tracker, which the NFL requires as part of its contact tracing efforts.

So, what does that mean for the Ravens? The price could be steep.

Their game against the Steelers had to be postponed three times. The league can’t be happy about moving its fiercest rivalry from national television on Thanksgiving night and having to reschedule games for both teams and their next opponents. The Ravens had no star power Wednesday.

Absent from the roster because of COVID-19 concerns were nine starters, including seven who made the Pro Bowl last year. Among those was quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player.

It appears as if Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is going to have to write a check with a lot of zeros. It’s no wonder that Harbaugh was wearing double masks for the first time on the sideline Wednesday and that the Ravens were behaving like altar boys after the game.

Well, most of them.

“Listen, I think everybody did their best,” Harbaugh said when asked about possible discipline from the league. “Like I said, we didn’t bat 1.000, and nobody did. All around the country [and] all around the world, you’re not batting 1.000 against this thing.

“It’s not a time to take the accusatory stance; that’s not the position I would take. I’d take the position that our guys fought like crazy, and I’m proud of what they did. I’m sure we’ll have a statement on that going forward with the details and those kinds of things.”

Harbaugh has to play nice. It’s one thing to get a fine when Bisciotti has deep pockets. But taking away draft picks will hurt, especially if the Ravens have to forfeit one in the first three rounds.

It’s easy to understand why the players were so complimentary after the game. They didn’t win, but they salvaged respect by being competitive. Then it was on to Phase II of trying not to make any league officials angry.

Some truth, though, came out.

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A lot of these players are in good health and they’ll be able to overcome the virus. But what about their wives and children? And what about the parents and grandparents? We’ll never hear about those situations, only when Jackson returns to the playing field.

“What I will say, because I do think it needs to be said, is that there are things that are going on behind closed doors that we’re not privy to,” Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “As a leader on this team, when you bring the guys together and have a conversation — an honest conversation — about what’s being told to you, and you deliver that to your team, and then something happens, and it doesn’t turn out the way that it was delivered to you, you feel like you’re misleading your guys.

“We understand that this game makes a lot of money, and a lot of guys get paid to play a kid’s game for a king’s ransom. But at the end of the day, we have to make sure our guys stay safe. Because of this huge outbreak that we had within our team, it does make — to be honest with you — wives, family members, it makes them upset. It’s not about whether or not guys want to play. It’s about whether or not our safety is actually being taken into account. My wife is upset. My family is upset, for multiple reasons — we lost the game, obviously. We just want to make sure everybody is staying safe. At the end of the day, just because you’re a football player doesn’t mean you’re not human.”

Maybe the team’s top front office personnel, such as president Dick Cass and general manager Eric DeCosta, have made improvements, but there are still a lot of questions. Safety Chuck Clark is a quiet leader but widely respected on the field and in the locker room.

He wants to know more.

“You’ve got to take everything into consideration,” Clark said. “I don’t know what comes with me saying this, but, of course, on Monday and Tuesday, we’re wondering, ‘Why were we allowed back in the building if we say everything is based off contact tracing and things like that, and that’s what was told to us?’ We’ve got to look at some of those things.”

Right now, the NFL is doing that. They’re searching from top to bottom in the Ravens organization to see what went right, and why so much went wrong.

That’s what is making the Ravens nervous.

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