NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Titans have heard some of the calls for the NFL to punish them harshly for the team's role in the league's first COVID-19 outbreak, and they have some words of caution after first-hand experience.
It's still a pandemic.
And testing, even as much as the NFL does, is not perfect.
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Saturday it's been a roller coaster as people with no symptoms test positive while others with full-blown symptoms receive consecutive negative tests on multiple days. He noted everyone had said from the beginning that testing would not prevent the virus from being spread.
“It was really eye-opening and just the fact of we really don’t know, so we have to treat everyone as if they have the virus, unfortunately," Tannehill said. “I feel like we probably lost faith in the testing system just through everything we’ve been through over over the past week and a half.”
As the Titans' outbreak grew to 23 with 21 positive tests returned since Sept. 29, safety Kevin Byard said he heard calls for Tennessee to forfeit games as the NFL first postponed, then rescheduled its game with Pittsburgh to Oct. 25. The league also moved Pittsburgh-Baltimore to Nov. 1.
The Titans (3-0) hope now to host Buffalo (4-0) on Tuesday night.
“If anybody went into the season thinking that there weren’t going to be a couple of positive tests or outbreak somewhere of all 32 teams, I think that was kind of foolish to think,” Byard said. "I mean, obviously, we wasn’t trying to be the team that had the outbreak. We’re not trying to get COVID-19.”
What the Titans weren't talking about was just how this outbreak occurred, not until the NFL and NFL Players Association speak first.
“We've been completely transparent with the NFL, the NFLPA throughout this entire process, and we’re going to wait for their summary before commenting further on any of those discussions,” coach Mike Vrabel said.
The Titans and the New England Patriots had no positive COVID-19 tests Saturday, allowing both teams to return to their facilities. The Patriots had not been at their facility since reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore's test came back positive Wednesday.
Tennessee (3-0) hadn't been together on a field since Sept. 27 when the Titans beat the Vikings 31-30 in Minnesota. Rain forced the Titans inside for practice Saturday.
Vrabel said the Titans have been transparent with both the NFL and the NFLPA during the review about how they followed protocols. Every player and coach was made available to talk with the officials running the investigation.
As a result, the Titans have moved 30 lockers from their locker room to their indoor practice field. Vrabel said the team made adjustments to the way meals are taken, and any in-person meetings among coaches will be held at the indoor field.
Both Tannehill and Byard declined to comment when asked about player workouts Sept. 30, a day after the NFL closed the Titans' facility, saying they had been “transparent” with the review done by the NFL and union. Vrabel said they're very confident in how they've handled their end of the review.
“I’m sure that this won’t be the first time that somebody says something bad about us or one of our players or one of our coaches or me or our team," Vrabel said.
New England coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots won't be making any decisions or long-range plans until they have more information. His plan was to get through Saturday with a practice planned to maximize their time back on a field. Their game with Denver was moved from Sunday to Monday.
“One thing we’ve learned this year is that we all have to be able to adapt to changes and adjustments and make adjustments, so that’s what we’re going to do," Belichick said.
Tennessee has gone without a positive test for the fourth time in six days with the latest results, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the NFL nor the Titans announced the latest results.
Now that both the Titans and Patriots are back at work, the question is whether either team gets any of the players currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list back for their next games. The NFL and union updated protocols for when players who test positive can return to play, depending on whether the player experienced symptoms.
Neither Gilmore nor quarterback Cam Newton, both on the reserve/COVID-19 list, practiced Saturday. Belichick, speaking before practice, would not say whether either would play Monday.
Vrabel said the Titans might get some players back if they clear the protocols to return, including long snapper Beau Brinkley. The Titans have possible replacements going through testing protocols in case Brinkley isn't back for a team that won its first three games by a field goal inside the final two minutes.
Later Saturday, the Titans activated offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson, their first-round pick who had been out since Sept. 6, and defensive back Greg Mabin, a member of the practice squad, off the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Jets scheduled a walkthrough at their facility. All players and coaches tested negative for COVID-19 after being sent home from their training facility Friday because of a presumptive positive coronavirus test for one player. Their game Sunday against Arizona will be played on time.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and freelancer Gethin Coolbaugh contributed to this report.
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