The New England Patriots were originally scheduled to take on the Denver Broncos last Sunday, but the game had to be postponed not once but twice. First, it was moved back one day after cornerback Stephon Gilmore testing positive for Covid-19 forced the Patriots to close their facility for three days. One day after the team’s return, another player — defensive tackle Byron Cowart — tested positive as well leading to another shutdown.
Cowart becoming New England’s fourth Coronavirus case within an eight-day span also led the NFL to reschedule the game against Denver once again: it was moved from Monday night to Sunday, October 18. As a result of the postponement, the Patriots’ bye was also moved up one week to keep the integrity of the schedule as intact as is possible.
While this may have helped New England keep the virus outbreak under control — the team is returning to work on Wednesday after a string of days without any new cases — it did cost the players their bye in a traditional sense: they still spent the week preparing for Denver, and did not know until Sunday that the game would eventually be pushed back.
The team is apparently not lamenting the fact that the schedule was changed, however, as running back Rex Burkhead noted during a media conference call on Wednesday morning.
“With this season, you had an understanding from the get-go that things can constantly change. Anything could happen,” Burkhead said. “There’s going to be games already rescheduled and all that, and so I didn’t have any big plans to go anywhere during the bye week. My mindset was kind of just stay here, do what I can to prepare myself mentally, physically, whenever our game was going to be played.”
Burkhead was among the earlier players to arrive at Gillette Stadium today, where the Patriots are reconvening for the first time since Cowart’s positive test on Saturday. The setting will still be anything but traditional, though, with position groups reporting one after the other — running backs came in during the morning, for example, with the offensive line following later during the day — and schedules being spaced out to minimize the number of people at the facility.
New England’s first practice of the week, meanwhile, is expected to take place on Thursday. It will be the first such gathering since last Saturday’s walkthrough, and the first true practice session since quarterback Cam Newton became the first Patriot to test positive for the Coronavirus on October 2.
Along the way, however, the players’ mindset has remained the same as Burkhead noted during his media call.
“Just stay ready. Whether that’s mentally, physically, just being able to control what we can control. That’s all we can do,” the veteran running back told reporters. “And follow the protocols to the best of our abilities, and just try to make the most of every single day, whether that’s in the facility or outside. Just do what we can to prepare for Denver when we play them.”
As things currently stand, the Patriots and the Broncos are scheduled to meet on Sunday at 1 pm. Anything seems possible this season, though, despite New England’s recent series of negative tests being an encouraging development. As Burkhead pointed out, therefore, the team’s “stay ready” mindset will need to remain in place this week — and beyond.