Why NFL refused to push back Saturday’s Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers game

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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If the Denver Broncos can play a game without a quarterback, the Detroit Lions can make due without their head coach.

Interim Lions coach Darrell Bevell said Thursday the team asked the NFL for a work-around to the COVID-19 issues that have left the Lions without five coaches, including Bevell, for Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The NFL denied the request, and the Lions will play the Bucs as scheduled Saturday with Bevell quarantined in a local hotel.

“I know that we did push to have things that could help us,” Bevell said. “Again, it’s between the league and the club on that. I’m just, like I said, I am disappointed. I know if the game was on Sunday I would be there, because the time frame would be up, and really, all these coaches would be able to be there, so I think that’s the most disappointing part. But we’ve got to go with what they’re telling us.”

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The NFL has rescheduled several games this season because of COVID-19, but only for health and safety reasons.

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers had their Thanksgiving game postponed three times before eventually playing six days later on Dec. 2, after the league believed it had sufficiently traced Baltimore’s COVID outbreak and identified at-risk personnel with no increased risk to the participants.

The Ravens played without 10 players from their active roster, including star quarterback Lamar Jackson.


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Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez hand out gifts for the Detroit Lions, and predict the game vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press

Similarly, the league pushed back the Tennessee Titans-New England Patriots game earlier this season after a virus outbreak in the Titans’ facility was contained. The Patriots played that game without quarterback Cam Newton.

The Lions reported two positive COVID cases Tuesday, one by practice squad linebacker Anthony Pittman and a second by an unidentified coach, but have not had any further incidents.

“We make all reasonable efforts, consistent with underlying health and safety principles, to play all regular and postseason games as scheduled,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email. “This is grounded in a commitment to the players, the clubs and fans. Adhering to the jointly developed NFL-NFLPA protocols, it was determined by medical professionals that there was no risk of additional transmission of the virus among the team or facility and the game could be played safely as scheduled.”

The NFL has consistently declined to reschedule games for competitive reasons, and last month forced the Broncos to play a game against the New Orleans Saints when their entire quarterback room was in quarantine.

The Broncos used practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback and lost 31-3.

On Saturday, Bevell and top defensive assistants, coordinator Cory Undlin, defensive line coach Bo Davis, linebackers coach Ty McKenzie and defensive backs coach Steve Gregory, will not be available for the Lions.

With Darrell Bevell out, Robert Prince takes over as Lions head coach ]

Wide receivers coach Robert Prince will serve as head coach, while quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan and head coaching assistant Evan Rothstein handle offensive and defensive play calling duties, respectively.

NFL rules require high-risk close contacts of known COVID positive cases to quarantine for five days. To date, more than 25 individuals identified as high-risk close contacts have later returned positive tests.

Though the Lions may be at a competitive disadvantage without a large chunk of their coaching staff, defensive end Romeo Okwara said they cannot let that impact their play on the field.

“At the end of the day, it’s their say and whatever they say goes,” Okwara said. “So we’re just going to adjust, like we’ve been doing all year and we’re ready to go on Saturday.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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