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Did the Patriots tell the NFL they refused to play Sunday’s game against the Broncos?

Related: Patriots-Chiefs could have looked quite a bit different under the NFL’s new Coronavirus protocols

NFL: New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: apologies in advance for the clickbait-y title. You’ll see why in a minute.

Like most of the hard-working men and women in America and around the world, your author spent most of my Monday doing the same thing as the rest of us: eating second breakfast, avoiding work at all costs, and voraciously consuming every piece of football #content I laid my eyes on, even though the Patriots game got canceled at the last minute on Sunday. Still gotta keep up with rest of the league and the non-Patriots goings-on, of course.

Then, when the Spotify-machine fired up the Patriots Talk podcast with NBC Boston’s Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry, two of the most plugged-in Patriots guys in the biz, stuff got weird.

This kind of weird:

That....well, that doesn’t seem like the kind of idea that two of the most prominent beat guys in the Patriots loop would throw around casually!

We already knew that the Patriots players were boiling over with frustration about the way the NFL’s treated them so far, especially after shipping them all to Kansas City even in the wake of Cam Newton’s positive test; as our fearless leader Bernd Buchmasser chronicled bright and early on Monday morning, the vibe from JMac and others is clear.

The NFL, and the NFLPA, both of whom are supposed to be looking out for the players’ health, don’t care. They want games, and while the McCourtys are about as well-spoken, diplomatic, and all-around good guys as it gets, to put it nicely, they were pissed.

“For us in this locker room, this is what we have between the players and coaches, administration, the staff, it’s up to us to kind of take care of one another to make sure physically, we’re all set, make sure mentally. Because I think outside of here, the people that don’t have to walk in our building, whether it’s the league office or whether it’s the NFLPA, they don’t care.”

Now, let’s drop into some of the key parts of the pod, which you can (and, in my humble opinion, should) listen to in full here or here.

(for reference purposes, and to do my best to hold myself accountable since this is serious business, I’ll list the timestamp of the pod and who said what in the excerpts below.)

Tom Curran (4:00): We both sensed as the week went along, the Patriots felt especially in the wake of the Kansas City trip, that the league didn’t have their best interests at heart in putting them on that plane, or asking them to play. The Patriots got two planes, did everything in their power to make sure they were well-protected....put 20 players on a 270-passenger plane to fly it out there, because they were more close contact, and then the league decided, “Yeah you’re not going to get extra room in the locker room.” And I know the people in the organization are still irritated about that fact. “We went to these lengths, and then we’re told, ‘We’re not going to give you extra room.’” So they were a little bit fatigued by that, and then when you have a positive emerge on Sunday, Phil, I think as you pointed it out, the timeline that exists between Adam Schefter saying the NFL’s going to press on with this game, and then the news coming the game has been postponed till the next Saturday indicates to me that the Patriots said “no.” We’re not doing anything, and we are galvanized and unified on this from the very top down to the players as to how we’re going to proceed.

Tom Curran (6:40): I think that this is kind of a watershed moment for the players. And the league has done a good job bottling up what I think is the news here, that the Patriots said “Mmm mmm, mm mmm” (editor’s note: meaning “no”), and the Patriots have allowed that to happen as well by not standing up there and saying. “No we said we weren’t going.” But that’s the fact of it. And to me, you can only do this if you’re the Patriots, to some extent. Do you agree with that?

Phil Perry (7:22): Maybe, because I think one of the things that I’ve found out in the last day or so too here is, it’s not comments from Jason McCourty in a Webex, or anybody on social media that’s on a 53-man roster that’s going to change the league’s plans that one minute go from ‘We’re going to go ahead and play this thing’ to an hour later....can we do the SpongeBob meme ‘One hour later’....where everything is suddenly off? And my understanding is, this never went to any kind of team-wide vote or discussion about “What are we going to do if this thing is still on the schedule on Monday.” Now again, there wasn’t much time elapsed between when we found out there was an additional positive and when we found out the game was moved. But that, to me, Tom, tells me the fact that it didn’t go team-wide and there wasn’t a question posed “Well, what are we going to do here?” that call that we’re kind of assuming got made got made, it had to come from somebody pretty high up the chain in the Patriots organization.

Editorializing a bit: the last sentence there seems extremely important, because to Tom’s point, it wouldn’t matter one bit if a few players said they weren’t playing. Assuming this scenario is true, that’s either a top-to-bottom consensus, or it’s Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft making an executive decision. Both of whom are A) not the NFL’s favorite people, and B) are probably on a very short list of people league-wide that can make a decision like this.

Anyway, fast forward a while.....

Tom Curran (25:09): One other thing, too: the owners will be meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. Our friend Judy Battista, from the NFL Network — hope to have her on perhaps later in the week to talk again — but as they meet on Tuesday and Wednesday, I wonder how rankled some of the owners might be at the Patriots. Because they have to figure out a way to approach things going forward, and as much as we have been embedded in this conversation, there are 30 other franchises who are not. This is not an outbreak right now among the league, it’s not an outbreak here in New England. It is in Tennessee. But the ripple effects are compounding everywhere. So that’s why I look at the league and people are wondering, how many positives does it take, why haven’t they shut it down?

And the league is just saying, “Look, we knew there were going to be positives within different organizations throughout the entire season. We can’t hide under the covers when something happens that we knew was going to happen.” It’s not to say what the Patriots did in this instance, I think that their confidence was betrayed earlier in the week. But those could be contentious meetings, I think, Phil, as these owners air how they want things to proceed, and maybe not everyone shares the Robert Kraft/Bill Belichick mantra of “I’m doing what’s best for those guys behind me.”

Phil Perry (26:22): I’m really fascinated to understand how those meetings go, because even if you just look at the Patriots case, Tom, look at all the schedule changes that had to happen around football just to make sure that Patriots-Broncos game didn’t go off. And it got postponed by one week. And you had, it felt like, a dozen changes that followed after that. How happy can owners of other teams, coaches, players around the league, we know the Broncos are pissed, but if you’re the Dolphins, whose bye I believe was shifted because of this, or if you’re the Steelers, who just had to have their bye week really early because the Titans couldn’t play, get their stuff together, and be healthy enough to get a game in....there are going to be some people who are very unhappy.

But I would say to all of them ‘this is just how this year is going to be. And if any of you feel like you have to pull your team off the field, we can’t force you to play, other than maybe, I don’t know, maybe some fines get thrown around at that point. But, nobody’s shoving you out on the field to make sure you go and play a football game. But if that happens, there are going to be all kinds of changes, and everyone’s just going to have to be OK with everything this year because that’s the way 2020’s going.

Editorializing again: you can said that last part again, man.

The guys move on into other league-wide news at that point, like the universally gut-punching Dak Prescott injury, but since A) this is a Patriots blog, and B) yes, it is always about us: let’s focus on the former part of that discussion for a second.

Tom and Phil are reeeeeally walking a fine line here. Meaning that for as many times as they (seemingly deliberately) avoid just outwardly saying “the Patriots said ‘we’re not playing this game’ to the NFL”, they imply it so many times that that certainly seems to be the takeaway; otherwise why would we spend 30 minutes of a 45-minute podcast talking about it?

And...

Those aforementioned owners’ meetings are going to be extremely interesting later this week because...this is Week 5. It does not take an actuary, which one would assume the NFL has a small army of, to conclude that if this same scenario, god forbid, were to happen in, say, December....that is an absolute nightmare with potentially tremendous playoff implications. Not to mention, at the risk of challenging Captain Obvious for his job, the potential for the guys we buy jerseys for, spill nachos cheering for, and spend the money our budget spreadsheet allocates for game tix to go see, to possibly get sick and be out for a week or two, or far, far worse.

As for right now? Feel free to argue with me below (respectfully, of course), it just seems like the logical course of action to see that the NFL’s plan has holes and call them out on it now, as opposed to later, when it could help everyone now?