By Nathan Tucker
Those who aren’t glued to the sport of football’s every move may wonder why I am writing a recap of the football weekend on a Thursday. Well folks, the NFL weekend just concluded, at about 6 pm Central Standard Time Wednesday night.
As the title suggests, and the league has billed, a COVID-delayed Pittsburgh Steelers/Baltimore Ravens game played on a Wednesday afternoon created the “longest week in NFL history”. A week ago today the NFL kicked off Week 12, as usual, on Thanksgiving.
The Steelers and Ravens were originally penciled in to be the primetime Thanksgiving game, two of the AFC’s best and divisional foes in the AFC North going head to head. In theory, a high quality game of NFL football to watch as the tryptophan of your Thanksgiving turkey consumes you on the sofa.
But early in the week, it became clear that the NFL and both teams would struggle to play this game of football. On Sunday, Nov. 22, multiple Ravens tested positive for COVID-19 following their overtime victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Ravens closed down their practice facilities to limit spread.
On Monday the 23rd, Baltimore held “virtual preparations”, or football practice, but on Zoom. Even moving virtually, Ravens running backs, JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram, both tested positive. The team was now down their top two rushers, with three days before the originally scheduled game.
Tuesday the 24th wasn’t any better, with another smattering of Ravens testing positive, including starting linebacker Pernell McPhee. The NFL, and both teams, still believed the game would be played on Thanksgiving at this point.
Wednesday the 25th rolls around, Thanksgiving eve, and even more Ravens players and coaching personnel tested positive. The NFL finally announces the game won’t be played on Thanksgiving, and will instead be played Sunday. Derek Wolfe, a Ravens defensive lineman, tweets the following:
“‘Player safety’ (crying laughing emoji) (crying laughing emoji) (crying laughing emoji)” what a joke”
Derek’s got a point there. Instead of just cancelling the game and giving the Ravens a chance to quarantine for a little while, the show (or game) must go on. The NFL hasn’t cancelled a single game due to COVID-19, and it damn sure wasn’t gonna start taking the virus any more seriously now.
The Ravens internally disciplined a strength and conditioning coach for failing to follow COVID protocols. Another three players test positive.
On less of a public safety note, the Steelers, waiting to play a football game, grew more and more frustrated by the continued delays. The Steelers enter the game as the NFL’s only undefeated team, and want to seal a first round bye and home field advantage in the upcoming playoffs with a few wins in the final month of the season.
The game being delayed now impacts their preparations and practice for weeks ahead. Crucially, they now have less time for preparation for games that could make or break their playoff position.
Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Day arrives, and while people are sitting on their couches watching an empty Thanksgiving Day Parade, Ravens starting quarterback Lamar Jackson is found to have tested positive.
Ravens coach, John Harbaugh, says players will continue working remotely until “Monday at the earliest,” which flies in the face of the NFL’s plan to play the game on Sunday afternoon. Now down all of their starting backfield between Jackson and running backs JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram, it looks impossible for the Ravens to play a competitive game, if play at all, on Sunday.
The NFL announces on Friday, Nov. 27, that the game will now be moved to Tuesday night, Dec. 1, following Harbaugh’s comments a day earlier. The Ravens were scheduled to play the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football on Dec. 3, which is now moved to Monday the seventh.
Baltimore now confirms that starting QB Lamar Jackson has tested positive, along with three other Ravens. Not to be left out of the party, the Steelers now add three players of their own to the COVID/reserve list.
On Saturday, Nov. 28, the Ravens conduct widespread rapid testing which reveals another six players have tested positive. The team now stands at 17 players who will be unavailable for the Tuesday game. The NFL doesn’t change its plans.
Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead tests positive on Sunday, Nov. 29, but the NFL’s plan for a Tuesday game remains unchanged. The league’s plan was for the Ravens players to travel and play on the same day, to limit possible spread while in Pittsburgh.
Monday, Nov. 30 arrives, the day that Ravens coach John Harbaugh earlier said would be the team’s return to practice. Even more players test positive and get added to the Ravens’ COVID/reserve list.
The NFL finally budges and announces the Tuesday game will be moved again, this time to Wednesday afternoon. Why a Wednesday afternoon time slot for an NFL football game? Because the game is to be aired on NBC, which is also airing the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony that night, and that tree gets great ratings. The game is scheduled to kick off at 3:40 pm Eastern Time, making it a lunchtime game for football fans on the west coast.
The Ravens announce more players on their Covid/reserve list on Tuesday, Dec. 1, but the NFL remains set on the Wednesday game. The Ravens offense is depleted, starters are missing on defense and the Steelers, despite a few absences, aren’t missing anyone that would greatly impact the result of the game.
Wednesday, Dec. 2, game day finally arrives. As expected, the team missing their starting backfield and relying on Robert Griffin III in the year 2020 did not play a good game of football. The 28-24 scoreline shows just how bad Pittsburgh played too.
All in all, a near week’s delay because of COVID ended up in a bad team playing a team underperforming in strange circumstances, all because the NFL just absolutely couldn’t cancel this game.
No amount of COVID cases is enough for the NFL to cancel a game and tell teams to quarantine because that’s what’s important right now. To the league, as a pandemic roars on at rates never before seen, playing games through it is a sign of their strength, their resilience to the virus, and it’s accepted putting its players at risk.
Not just players, either, as Ravens backup Robert Griffin III told the media in a press conference following the game. Griffin stated that several players who tested positive had family members testing positive as well. It’s more than football the NFL is risking losing, it’s people’s lives.
As ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter loves to tweet on football Sundays: Game on!