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Coronavirus Reduces Ravens, NFL To Quagmire

Austin Kirk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

What a mess!

No, not the Afghan puppy that’s the subject of a series of children’s books, but rather the situation the Ravens and the NFL find themselves in thanks to COVID-19.

Actually, terms like quagmire, morass or just plain catastrophe might be more appropriate than merely a mess.

What would you call a condition where over a third of one team’s roster has either tested positive or is on a restricted list, another team had no eligible quarterbacks to play Sunday and a third might not be able to play or practice in their stadium? 

If it weren’t for the fact that there are real people living their real lives in this process, the month of November in the NFL would be a parody.

And who can say it already isn’t? The Denver Broncos played without a real quarterback Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, arguably the second best team in the league.

That’s because the three on the roster came into contact with a player who presumably tested COVID-19 positive last week.

While none of the three quarterbacks have themselves tested positive, they are, by NFL coronavirus protocols, barred from playing for at least a week, forcing the Broncos to use a wide receiver from their practice squad who hasn’t played quarterback since college.

Not surprisingly, Denver was drubbed 31-3.

And speaking of barred, the San Francisco 49ers may not be able to play in their home stadium in suburban Santa Clara County.

That’s because the local government has prohibited contact sports from practicing and playing games in the county for three weeks. That means the 49ers may have to relocate their practices and gamesagainst Buffalo and Washington until at least December 13.

None of this, however, compares to what is happening with the Ravens, whose season was already teetering on the brink, what with losses to New England and Tennessee, dropping their record to 6-4 and their position in the AFC North to third.

Their nationally televised meeting with the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers, scheduled originally for Thanksgiving, is now on its third date, Tuesday night.

If the game is actually played, the Ravens will be without Lamar Jackson, the reigning most valuable player in the NFL, two of their running backs, all but three of their defensive linemen and all but six of their offensive linemen.

The status of that last group, the offensive linemen, might not seem all that dire. That is, until you consider that you need five of them at a time, meaning the Ravens will only have one backup at the most physically demanding position on the field.

In all, the Ravens have more than 20 players on the reserve/COVID 19 list. These are players who have either tested positive themselves or have been exposed to the virus.

You can call it institutional sloppiness. You could call it individual carelessness. You could even call it league-wide perseverance to the goal of finishing the season and making as much money as possible, since, to date, not a single NFL game has been cancelled.

What we ought to do is call it 2020 and get it over with. 

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.