Few if any teams in the NFL were hit as hard by the Coronavirus as the New England Patriots last year. While they luckily did not have any serious cases within their organization, their team still was impacted quite a bit.
Not only did a league-high eight of their players decide to opt out before the season — including defensive cornerstones Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung — the team also was challenged repeatedly during the years. One of their games had to be rescheduled, while core players such as quarterback Cam Newton or cornerback Stephon spent time on the newly created Covid-19 reserve list.
In total, 19 of New England’s players either opted out due to the Coronavirus or spent time on the Covid-19 list. In part due to the issues caused by the pandemic, the Patriots went just 7-9 for their first losing season in almost 20 years.
Fast forward one year and the situation as a whole is a much more comfortable one for the Patriots. The vaccine has helped limit the impact the virus has on the NFL season as a whole, while New England did not experience any opt-outs this time around.
That being said, the disruptive power of Covid-19 is still on full display, and the Patriots experienced it just this week: starting safety Kyle Dugger and reserve running back J.J. Taylor were sent to the reserve list within three days of each other.
Dugger and Taylor are not the first Patriots to miss time under the league’s Coronavirus protocols this year. Offensive linemen Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu, for example, also had to be moved to Reserve/Covid-19 in October. Both had to miss their team’s game against the Houston Texans as a result.
Over the summer, quarterback Cam Newton missed three training camp practices — including one joint session with the New York Giants — due to an apparent “misunderstanding” of protocols: Newton left Massachusetts for a club-approved medical appointment, becoming subject to the five-day reentry period for unvaccinated players.
Newton’s absence allowed rookie Mac Jones to get an extended look with the starting unit. A few days later, the incumbent starter was released with Jones taking over as New England’s new QB1.
The Patriots’ coaching staff was also not immune to Coronavirus-related moves: co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich left the team over a disagreement about the league’s protocols and vaccination standards.
Now, Dugger and Taylor have become the latest Patriots confronted with the reality of pro football in a still ongoing pandemic.
Their respective returns will depend on their vaccination status — all signs point towards Dugger being vaccinated, making a comeback before the team’s Week 13 game against the Buffalo Bills at least theoretically possible — but the fact remains: Covid-19 can still have a major impact on a team, even one with as high a vaccination rate as the Patriots.