If the Ravens hadn’t been scheduled to play until Sunday in the first place, this week’s outbreak possibly would had been less severe. The fact that they were preparing to play on Thursday night exacerbated the situation — and quite possibly will keep the Week 12 game against the Steelers from being played at all.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league allowed the Ravens to hold walk-through practices on Monday and on Tuesday before shutting down the facility for good. The Monday gathering happened even though the Ravens learned late Sunday night of positive positive player results, based on samples collected on Sunday morning. Ditto for the Tuesday gathering; the players and coaches were in the building on Tuesday morning despite more Monday positives.
Although the team announced late Tuesday morning that the Ravens would work virtually, they actually had completed most of another walk-through practice, and they had conducted in-person meetings on Tuesday, before the facility closed. The league shut things down and sent everyone home as a result of a new round of point-of-care tests.
The unnamed staff member, reportedly a strength and conditioning coach, tested positive last Thursday, per the source. The four player positives from Sunday, the day of the game against the Titans, showed that the virus was spreading at a time when players and coaches were the most vulnerable to further transmission, given the unavoidable proximity of bodies and absence of masks.
If the Ravens weren’t due to play until Sunday in the first place, few if any players would have been in the facility on Monday and Tuesday, limiting the possibility that the virus would further spread. Instead, the fact that players and coaches gathered on Tuesday, combined with indications that the virus continues to spread and the normal incubation period, makes it difficult to conclude with any degree of confidence that the cycle won’t continue, with another wave of positives emerging on Sunday, when the Ravens and Steelers are currently due to play.
That’s why a Sunday game currently seem unrealistic. Moving the game to Monday or Tuesday would reduce the risk of further spread, but it would leave the Ravens woefully unprepared for the game. If they can return to the facility on Monday, they could conduct a walk-through before the Tuesday game.
Such an approach would represent a calculated risk that any and all exposures from last Tuesday would have resulted in positives before Monday, and it assumes that the maximum incubation period is five days. If that estimation were to be incorrect, gathering on Monday could spark a new wave of infections.
As it stands, according to the source, someone in almost every job capacity in Ravens football operation has tested positive, including strength coaches and trainers. Most people, per the source, didn’t feel safe going into the building after the Sunday positives or the Monday positives, and no one feels safe going in now.
Players, per the source, generally don’t want to return to the building until next Wednesday at the earliest. That would allow for a five-day incubation period from Tuesday the 24th and two consecutive days of negative tests.
The final decision will be made by the league. As the source put it, the league truly cares about safety, but the league also cares about the bottom line. By allowing the Ravens to gather on Monday (despite a wave of positives from Sunday) and Tuesday (despite a wave of positives from Monday), the league made a decision to try to keep on the Thanksgiving schedule one of the biggest games of the year. Ultimately, that decision made things worse.
“The league really wanted to play that game, which is understandable,” the source said. “Unfortunately, we suffered for it.”
The regular-season schedule is now potentially suffering for it, with a Sunday game between the Ravens and Steelers unlikely, a short-term postponement potentially impractical, and the contest quite possibly destined to become the first game of an eighteenth week.
The league has resisted for nearly 12 weeks the periodic temptation to bump a game into an eighteenth week. Ravens at Steelers could still be the first one to land there. The problem becomes that, for the two teams involved, there would be no margin for error when it comes to their remaining games, since there would be no opportunity to make up a second game for either team that can’t be played in the scheduled week.