The NFL postponed the Ravens’ Thanksgiving Day game against the Pittsburgh Steelers to Sunday afternoon amid a coronavirus outbreak, disrupting Baltimore fans’ plans to watch the game on the holiday.
Three more Ravens — defensive end Calais Campbell and offensive linemen Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura — were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, after all reportedly tested positive. Five other players have been added to the list since Friday, a spike in cases that forced the NFL to move Thursday’s rematch in Pittsburgh to a 1:15 p.m. kickoff. The game will be broadcast nationally on NBC.
The Ravens’ outbreak has weakened an already vulnerable team headed to Pittsburgh (10-0) on a two-game losing streak.
Seven Ravens who were on the reserve/COVID-19 list, which is for players who have tested positive or are considered a “high-risk” close contact, are either starters or significant contributors. Under coronavirus protocols, any player who returned a positive test taken after Monday would likely miss both the Steelers game and the Ravens’ next game, a Dec. 3 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.
In a statement Wednesday, the Ravens said an unnamed staff member had been disciplined for “conduct surrounding the recent COVID-19 cases that have affected players and staff.” According to the NFL Network, the staff member was a strength and conditioning coach who had failed to report symptoms and had not consistently worn a mask or tracking device, as required by NFL protocols.
The NFL’s decision to postpone Thursday’s game came less than 24 hours before the league’s Thanksgiving Day schedule was set to begin.
Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, told the NFL Network Wednesday that, through contact tracing and other measures, NFL officials “feel like we have a really good handle on exactly when transmission occurred and how it occurred.”
“Obviously, you have to take each day as it comes and look for any new data that may emerge, but right now, we simply feel that, as of tomorrow, we would not have confidence in going forward,” Sills said. “But I think we feel we’re very close to the end of that transmission event.”
Wednesday’s postponement marked the NFL’s first schedule change since Week 7, when the league moved the Las Vegas Raiders-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game out of its important Sunday night time slot “out of an abundance of caution” due to COVID-19 concerns.
In early October, the Ravens (6-4) had their Week 7 game against the Steelers postponed a week after a coronavirus outbreak in the NFL forced several schedule changes.
Now, with the Ravens’ hopes of defending their AFC North title fading, the team will have a significantly depleted roster for its rematch with undefeated Pittsburgh.
“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 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.”
The Ravens have not been allowed in the team facility since Monday, when coach John Harbaugh announced that running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins had tested positive for COVID-19. Ingram is the team’s normal starter, and Dobbins leads all Ravens running backs in yardage.
Starting defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who missed Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans with an ankle injury, was added to the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday as a close contact. Depending on his test results this week, he could be available for Sunday’s game.
On Tuesday, Pernell McPhee, perhaps the team’s top run-stopping outside linebacker, joined Williams on the list. Third-string quarterback Trace McSorley already was sidelined with reserve/COVID-19 designations, as was injured cornerback Iman Marshall, who tested positive.
Campbell’s availability for the Ravens’ game this week was already in doubt, as he was still recovering from a calf injury that kept him out Sunday. With their Pro Bowl defensive end unavailable, the Ravens will have to rely once more on veteran starter Derek Wolfe and rookies Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington. Defensive end Jihad Ward also will likely play for the first time since Week 6. Practice squad call-ups could help the team’s depth.
Along the offensive line, Mekari has started the past three games for the Ravens, and he replaced Skura as the team’s starting center Sunday after starting two games at right guard. Tyre Phillips, the team’s Week 1 starter at right guard, was designated to return from injured reserve this week, but he’s had to rehabilitate and prepare virtually amid the outbreak. Skura played as a situational lineman Sunday and did not miss an offensive snap over the Ravens’ first nine games.
This week’s postponement leaves the Ravens with a relatively short turnaround next week. The Cowboys will play the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving, giving them a full week to recover and prepare. The Ravens could be short-handed for that game, too, as any players who test positive must self-quarantine for at least 10 days.
Any players who returned positive tests would be unable to play unless they test negative twice at least 24 hours apart.
Note: Under new Pennsylvania-wide restrictions on large gatherings that will take effect Friday, the Steelers will not host fans for Sunday’s game. Only friends and family of players and the organization will be allowed in the seating bowl at Heinz Field, where capacity will be limited to 2,500, including coaches and players.
Sunday, 1:15 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 1090 AM, 97.9 FM
Line: Steelers by 5