Late on Friday, just a few hours before the New England Patriots were scheduled to hop on a plane and fly to Missouri to take on the Kansas City Chiefs, the team received a positive Coronavirus test back: starting quarterback Cam Newton had been infected, putting the team’s plans on hold and the entire league on high alert.
What followed was a frantic scramble for information and to keep Newton’s teammates and coaches safe. New England shut down its facility at Gillette Stadium, while the NFL decided to postpone the upcoming game in Kansas City. Two straight days of all-negative test results coming in from the Patriots and Chiefs, however, have led to the league deciding on a new date for the contest relatively quickly.
As was officially announced on Sunday morning, the two teams will square off on Monday night.
This obviously puts plenty of pressure on the Patriots shortly after losing their starting quarterback for at least five and possibly more days. They will have to fly to Missouri on Monday morning before kicking off their game against the Chiefs just a few hours later, and need to refocus quickly coming off a weekend dominated by uncertainty and questions about a pandemic that has affected more than 7.3 million Americans so far.
The league’s rescheduling plans will also put its Coronavirus protocols to the test in a major way, however, and could have a lasting impact on the 2020 season.
Moving the game back one day (and the Patriots’ plane trip two days) signals that the league is feeling good about the screening procedures it has implemented. The fact that no other players or coaches tested positive on Saturday and Sunday suggests that they are working, but there are no certainties when it comes to a situation like this.
Just take a look at the Tennessee Titans. While the league believes the team to be an outlier that may even have violated protocols, the matter of fact remains that it had its first positive test on September 24 and its second two days later. As of today, 10 days after the initial diagnosis, 10 players and 10 additional staff members have tested positive. The Titans’ trip to Minnesota on September 27 could have been a critical moment in furthering the outbreak.
While the reasons behind the current situation in Tennessee are all speculatory in nature, the team is still a perfect example for how quickly the virus can spread if given a chance to do so. By rescheduling the Patriots’ game against the Chiefs to Monday, the NFL, meanwhile, is showing considerable confidence that Cam Newton’s positive test and that of Kansas City practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu are both isolated incidents.
And yet, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, enhanced protocols will be in place for the game — from mandatory mask-wearing, to daily testing even on game day, to non-quarterbacks having to wear gloves during pre-game warmups. The league is taking the situation seriously, as it should, but also quite a risk by having the two teams play each other on Monday to begin with.
Just look at it this way: if this goes wrong, and infections spike after the Patriots’ trip to Kansas City, the protocols that have been implemented and used as the basis of the decision-making process would have demonstrably failed.
The game, as opposed to the message the NFL was sending by scheduling it for Monday, would not have been safe under those circumstances. That would obviously be the worst-case scenario, and there is no guarantee that a development like this is in the cards, but the situation has the potential to derail not just the two teams but the season as a whole.
The league therefore has to hope that the Monday night game better turns out okay — not just for its own sake, of course, but most importantly for the people involved in the contest.