Detroit Lions’ Matt Patricia: NFL’s coronavirus outbreak reminds us ‘COVID is still real’

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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We knew it wouldn’t last all season, and kudos, really, to the NFL for making it this long.

But this week’s (hopefully) small-scale COVID-19 outbreak on the Tennessee Titans — and the postponement of their Sunday showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers — is a reminder once again how thin the ice is that we walk on during this pandemic.

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The NFL and its teams have mostly done a good job containing the novel coronavirus.

Dozens of players landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list at the start of training camps in July, but cases largely dried up in August and through most of September.

The Detroit Lions have not had a player with a confirmed positive since July 30, and teams and the league have extensive protocols in place to prevent outbreaks.

The Titans, presumably, were following those protocols, including daily testing and temperature taking and persistent mask wearing, when at least nine members of their organization, four players and five staffers, contracted the virus.

More: After Matthew Stafford’s false positive, NFL alters COVID-19 testing protocols

The Titans shuttered their facility Tuesday and continued to test all players and coaches, and their opponent last week, the Minnesota Vikings, did the same.

Tennessee’s building will remain closed for at least a few more days, and the NFL announced Wednesday that Sunday’s Titans-Steelers game would move to Monday or Tuesday at the earliest.

The Vikings have yet to register a positive test, which means their game Sunday against the Houston Texans remains on. That’s good news, not just from a competitive balance standpoint, but perhaps when it comes to the spread of the virus, too.

Titans nose tackle Daquan Jones, one of the players placed on the reserve/COVID list, played 45 defensive and six special teams snaps against Minnesota last week, all of them in close proximity to Vikings players. As of now, it does not appear he transmitted the virus to any of his opponents.

Tennessee, which also placed long snapper Beau Brinkley and practice squad tight end Tommy Hudson on reserve/COVID, is not the only team dealing with COVID positives right now.

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The Atlanta Falcons placed cornerback A.J. Terrell on the reserve/COVID list last week, and the team informed media members that someone in the press box for last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears tested positive, too.

All that has caused the NFL and teams to double down on precautions that have made both game days and practices an experience like no other this year.

The NFL issued a memo Wednesday, shared by Sports Illustrated, threatening to dock teams draft picks and suspend offenders for not following COVID protocols, including wearing a mask on the sideline during games. Already, the league has fined coaches and teams in excess of $1 million for violating those rules.

More: How COVID-19 will change sports as we know them: ‘The virus is shaping the sports world’

Lions coach Matt Patricia said Wednesday he had an honest talk with players about the Titans situation, and warned them to remain diligent about the virus.

“We’re in our world of testing every day and being in the building and kind of trying to do everything right, but COVID is still real,” Patricia said. “It’s out there and we’ve got to be careful, we’ve got to do our diligence to take care of each other and take care of our families and our teammates’ families and just be disciplined with it.”

Patricia has been more disciplined than many of his peers when it comes to staying masked up during games, though he’s far from perfect at it. And the Lions have been strict in both their adherence to and enforcement of team and league protocols.

Players are largely forbidden from seeing anyone outside of the official travel party on road games, and visitors are only granted access to certain areas of their Allen Park practice facility, and only then after having their temperature taken. Players are restricted from meeting in large groups on the day after games, and select media members still are undergoing routine coronavirus testing.

None of that ensures an outbreak won’t happen, and the truth is, the longer everyone stays healthy, the easier it becomes for people to let their guard down.

That goes for both football and life, and that’s why Patricia said Wednesday, “I’m just trying to make sure that I’m keeping my family safe and keeping the players safe.”

With 14 weeks to go, it’s a given that more players will test positive for the virus, and there’s a fair chance that will cause more games to be postponed or cancelled.

The league deserves credit for getting to the point where this week’s COVID outbreak came as a surprise, and it must continue to operate with caution so the next one is, too.

“COVID is something that we’re dealing with and we have to be careful all the time,” Patricia said. “It’s hard, but it’s just kind of what it is right now.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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