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NFL running out of options for fitting in games amid pandemic

By Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Football

The Ravens issued a statement Monday night that they had held a "safely distanced walk-through/conditioning session" at their headquarters, and plan to hold another one Tuesday.

"Players arrived already prepared to work out on the field," the team said, "and they did not enter the locker room or training room."

With different types of coronavirus-related situations affecting NFL teams on both coasts, the league is trying to chart a path forward by keeping the schedule somewhat intact. Through the first 11-plus weeks of the season, there have been postponements but no cancellations.

The biggest test has come in Week 12, not only with the pushing back of Ravens versus the undefeated Steelers, but also with a coronavirus crackdown in Santa Clara County, California, which prohibits the San Francisco 49ers — and anyone else involved in contact sports — from practicing or playing host to games for three weeks.

So the 49ers are headed to Arizona, where they will share State Farm Stadium with the NFC West-rival Cardinals. Where the 49ers will practice is still up in the air, but their home county's new regulations prohibit them commuting from the San Francisco Bay Area. Anyone who has traveled more than 150 miles from Santa Clara County is required to quarantine for 14 days upon return.

Paradoxically, the 49ers will be relocating to a county that over the last week has had more than twice as many reported coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents as the county they're leaving — from Santa Clara (172.3) to Maricopa (357.3).

In consecutive weeks, the 49ers will play Buffalo and Washington on the home field of the Cardinals. But at this point, at least those games are on track to be played.

Ravens-Steelers is like a discarded mattress on the freeway, getting knocked around and starting to cause a traffic jam.

By taking the extreme step of moving that game to a Wednesday — something the NFL hasn't done since 2012 when the kickoff opener conflicted with the Democratic National Convention — the league has to deal with a massive ripple effect.

 

Dallas-Baltimore, originally scheduled as this week's Thursday night game, already had been moved to Monday night, because the Ravens can't play two games in rapid-fire succession.

The NFL also moved Washington at Pittsburgh, originally scheduled for Sunday, to Monday night, when it will be the early game before Buffalo-San Francisco.

Any further postponements of Ravens-Steelers, the game that started this mess, would require more down-the-line postponements, which would impact not only Week 13 but also Week 14.

With multiple teams playing on short weeks, the NFL runs a serious risk of increased injuries and a diminished product.

For evidence, look no further than the game between New Orleans and Denver on Sunday, when the Broncos had to start a practice-squad receiver at quarterback because none of their four quarterbacks were available. One tested positive for the virus, and the other three didn't follow protocols in terms of face coverings and social distancing, and therefore were at heightened risk.

The game was a debacle, an embarrassment for both the Broncos and the NFL, with Denver finishing with more interceptions (two) than completions (one) in a 31-3 defeat.

"That was the craziest game I've ever been a part of," Broncos tackle Garett Bolles said Monday. "It's a game that I'll tell my grandkids (about) one day and say, 'Hey, I played a game with no quarterback. We had to get a quarterback off the practice squad.' "

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