The Tennessee Titans-Pittsburgh Steelers matchup won’t be played this week. It is the first game postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Thursday that the NFL is rescheduling the matchup for later in the season after an additional Titans player and one staff member tested positive for COVID-19 during Wednesday’s round of testing, per a source informed of the decision.
The league confirmed the plan to push the game following the outbreak in Tennessee.
“The decision to postpone the game was made to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel,” the NFL said in a statement. “The Titans facility will remain closed and the team will continue to have no in-person activities until further notice.”
The NFL said Wednesday it’d hoped to play the game this week, possibly pushing it to Monday or Tuesday. The new positive tests, however, led to the league taking an abundance of caution and postponing it to a later date.
The additional positive tests bring the total to five players and six personnel in Tennessee, in addition to the coach who tested positive late last week.
The Titans placed cornerback Kristian Fulton on the Reserve/Covid list Thursday.
“The NFL made the smart and safe decision to postpone our game and we are on a bye week starting now,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters Thursday. “I reminded them not to gather with each other right now.”
Vrabel made the point Wednesday that because it’s a pandemic it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault for testing positive. While the team has the right to fine players if they violate COVID-19 protocols, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported no fines are coming at this point, an indication that the Titans believe none of their members violated protocol.
“They were somewhat shocked, they were preparing to play, but I think they understood why the decision was made,” Vrabel said Thursday of his players.
Vrabel added that this week is now the Titans’ bye week and they hope to be able to return to the team facility this coming Monday or Tuesday. The league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, however, said Thursday that the NFL would not commit to a date for when the facility could reopen and the next few days would be critical.
“We’re going to want to see a period where we’re convinced there’s no transmission,” Sills said, per NFL Network’s Judy Battista.
The latest positive COVID-19 tests came following the Titans game against the Minnesota Vikings. Both the Vikings and Titans facilities shut down this week. Minnesota had no positive tests again from Wednesday’s round of COVID-19 testing and reopened its facilities Thursday morning with enhanced protocols, including rapid result “point of care” tests before entering the building, Pelissero reported. The Vikings are set to practice Thursday afternoon and scheduled to play the Texans on Sunday.
The Steelers, meanwhile, did not immediately turn this into a bye week, as they elected to practice Thursday before being given a few days off, NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala reported. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin declined to share his opinion on the cancellation of the game.
“My opinion does not matter,” he said. “We take marching orders from the National Football League. We understand they’re acting in our collective best interest.”
Tomlin was more candid when asked about his team now being in line to play 13 consecutive weeks: “We do not care.”
The postponement underscores the tenuous nature of playing sports during a pandemic. The NFL and NFLPA put in place strict protocols to help keep players and staff as healthy as possible, but as we’ve seen, once the virus begins to spread, it’s difficult to contain.