The Ravens’ game Sunday against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers has been postponed a second time to Tuesday night, the NFL announced Friday, as one of the league’s biggest coronavirus outbreaks continues to warp an unpredictable season in Baltimore.
Over a dozen Ravens players, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, and several staff members have reportedly tested positive in the past week. On Friday, four more players, including Jackson, were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, giving the team 13 in the past week.
With the postponement, the Ravens’ game Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys is also expected to change. If Tuesday’s game is held, the Ravens would host Dallas on Dec. 7, a Monday, with the game kicking off at 5 p.m. and broadcast nationally on Fox and NFL Network. The drawn-out schedule could allow for the return of several Ravens who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or been deemed a “high-risk” close contact, most notably Jackson.
Kickoff on Tuesday night is scheduled for 8 p.m., and the game will be broadcast nationally on NBC. It would be only the third game in the NFL’s modern era held on a Tuesday; the Philadelphia Eagles had a 2010 game against the Minnesota Vikings rescheduled because of a blizzard, and the Titans had to play the Buffalo Bills on a Tuesday last month after their own coronavirus crisis.
Tennessee’s outbreak is the biggest of the season, with 13 players and 11 coaches and staff members testing positive between Sept. 24 and Oct. 11. With Ravens offensive lineman Will Holden testing positive Friday, according to a source with knowledge of the results, the team reportedly has 14 infected players, all from the past two-plus weeks.
“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 in a statement Friday.
“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.”
Friday’s postponement marked the third time this season a Ravens-Steelers matchup has been pushed back. On Wednesday, the league moved this week’s game from its Thanksgiving Day slot to Sunday afternoon in hopes that the outbreak would be contained. League officials have considered postponing games only as a last resort; Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told the NFL Network on Wednesday that the league hoped to be past the “window of vulnerability” by this weekend.
But with the growing list of Ravens on the reserve/COVID-19 list, players were told Thursday night that the game was increasingly unlikely to be played Sunday, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The NFL said in a release Friday that the decision to postpone the game was made “out of an abundance of caution to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel and in consultation with medical experts.”
A source said Ravens players, who haven’t practiced together since Monday, could be cleared to return to the team facility Saturday afternoon, depending on further testing. Tentatively, the team’s revised schedule includes on-field activities Sunday and Monday, before traveling Tuesday morning to Pittsburgh. After their second straight loss Sunday, the Ravens (6-4) will have had nine days to prepare for a pivotal game against the AFC North-leading Steelers (10-0).
They will be without Jackson, the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player; Robert Griffin III is expected to start in his place. Four other players who made the Pro Bowl last season will also be missing: running mark Mark Ingram II, fullback Patrick Ricard, defensive end Calais Campbell and long snapper Morgan Cox.
The Ravens now have 14 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, which indicates a player has tested positive or is considered a close contact: quarterbacks Jackson and Trace McSorley, running backs Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, Ricard, offensive linemen Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari, defensive ends Campbell and Jihad Ward, defensive tackles Justin Madubuike and Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, cornerback Iman Marshall and long snapper Morgan Cox.
Jackson, Ricard, Madubuike and Cox were added Friday, with Ricard writing on Twitter that he’d tested positive. Williams is the only player who’s been identified as a close contact, meaning he could be available Tuesday. Marshall, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp, tested positive about a week before the latest cluster of infections.
The Ravens on Wednesday announce they’d disciplined a staff member, whom sources identified as head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders, for conduct relating to the outbreak.
Players who returned a positive test taken after Monday would likely have missed Thursday’s game against the Cowboys. Under the NFL’s coronavirus protocols, players who test positive and show no symptoms must self-quarantine for at least 10 days. With Jackson testing positive Thursday, he could return in time to play in a rescheduled game against Dallas.
Others could be out for longer. Campbell indicated Friday on Twitter that he is battling COVID-19 symptoms, which would complicate his return.
“I pray no one else has to go thru this,” Campbell wrote. “This is bigger than football.”
While the Ravens’ COVID-19 outbreak could dramatically reshape their roster Tuesday, with practice squad call-ups earning important snaps in prime time, the pandemic has affected Pittsburgh this week, too. Steelers starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt, reserve defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs and reserve offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday and will miss Tuesday’s game.
Pittsburgh’s announcement came hours after the team canceled practice as it awaited clarification on Sunday’s game, and two days after Steelers players bemoaned another interruption in their schedule. Their Week 4 game against the Titans was moved to Week 7 because of an outbreak in Tennessee, which forced their Week 7 game against the Ravens into Week 8, effectively costing Pittsburgh a normal bye week.
If the game cannot be played Tuesday, the NFL could delay it for a third time, adding a Week 18 to its regular season as a contingency. The league has also reportedly considered expanding the playoff field from 14 to 16 teams if all meaningful games could not be played in a 17- or 18-week regular season.
By Friday, some Steelers players had acknowledged that there were more important matters than the timing of their rematch with the Ravens.
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“I ain’t even mad,” inside linebacker Vince Williams tweeted. “I just want all them boys to recover and be healthy.”