Last Monday, the Ravens shut down their facility in Owings Mills after the team learned running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins tested positive for COVID-19. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was also listed as a high-risk close contact and was sent to the list as well.
And for a while, it seemed as if everything would be OK. The Ravens’ facility re-opened on Monday and the team had a light walkthrough just a day after their loss to the Titans.
But soon enough, the Ravens-Steelers matchup was postponed — three times — and 23 players and multiple staff members on the Ravens roster ended up on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Mass confusion spread about when and if the game would be played and, somehow, there was still a game to be played on Wednesday afternoon.
It was the wildest week of the NFL season, and the Ravens were right in the middle of it. Some of them, though, still have lingering questions about what they just went through.
“From the players’ perspective, it was a lot,” safety Chuck Clark said. “We’re trying to figure out whether we’re going to play, whether we’re not. We’re hearing different things from different sides, and I think there was some frustration at some point with players and with what happened. But then, we looked at the positive – that younger guys were going to go out there and get opportunities or guys who don’t play as much were able to get opportunities.”
The Ravens were down 17 players during Wednesday’s 19-14 loss to the Steelers and were forced to make 10 practice squad activations before the game. They still almost took down the unbeaten Steelers at Heinz Field.
In addition to the Ravens’ being down those key contributors, the week was filled with uncertainty from the status, day and time of the game, as well as their practice schedule, travel schedule and if they’d be infected with a virus that has killed more than 250,000 American citizens.
The Ravens maintained throughout the entire process that they wanted to play the game, wherever it was, whenever it was. They just didn’t want to do so unsafely.
After the game was scheduled for Tuesday at 8:00 pm in a second postponement, Ravens players expressed frustration about the lack of practice time, but also, the fact that they couldn’t be certain the virus had been totally contained before their travel to Pittsburgh. That left a few Ravens questioning the league’s protocols as it relates to them, but the league as a whole.
“You’ve got to take everything into consideration,” Clark said. “I don’t know what comes with me saying this, but, of course, on Monday and Tuesday, we’re wondering, ‘Why were we allowed back in the building if we say everything is based off contact tracing and things like that, and that’s what told to us?’ We’ve got to look at some of those things.”
More than just the contain of the virus, a few Ravens were concerned about the lack of practice time the team had before the game against an unbeaten Steelers game. They were able to have two light, socially-distant walkthroughs before Wednesday afternoon.
Those concerns may have been legitimate, too.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III, who called the practices “abnormal,” thinks the lack of practice time resulted in a few injuries for Ravens players.
“For myself, I pulled a hamstring today — I’ve never pulled a hamstring in my life,” Griffin said. “Jimmy (Smith), I think, pulled his groin or something. It just…You see guys going down left and right, and it’s the reason that there were a lot of precautions taken going into this game.”
Multiple Ravens said they didn’t believe anyone on the roster was in a serious bout with coronavirus, but the issue was still scary for a lot of the roster.
“I think the main thing that needs to be put in perspective is this isn’t just about football,” Griffin said. “This is about guys’ families. This is about their wives and their children and anybody else that is in close contact with them at home. So, when we get a call saying that one of our players is positive, a million things run through your mind. It’s not whether you’re going to be able to play, or whether you test positive, it’s a matter of, ‘Is this going to affect my family?”
The Ravens are now, everyone hopes, through the worst of their COVID-19 outbreak that nearly crippled part of the Week 12 schedule. But they still have questions and they still have concerns.
For now, they’re happy to just be through Week 12.
“When you’re sitting at the house for days and not knowing what’s coming, especially when we have the Steelers, we just wanted to get to that game,” outside linebacker Tyus Bowser said. “So, of course we had time to think about it. We had to figure out what the schedule was, but we were able to make it happen tonight, and I was just glad we were able to get back on the field — most of all.”