It took playing games all seven days of the week, a wide receiver from the quarterback, numerous schedule changes, and constant revisions to health and safety protocols before the NFL hit week 17 in time.
That is a remarkable achievement in a global pandemic.
“Since March, the league, clubs, coaches and Players Association have committed to a great medically-led partnership to create a safe work environment that maintains a level of acceptable equality,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent told The Associated Press on Monday. “Protocols were diligently developed and adapted based on virus identification, isolation and containment that allowed the flexibility to adjust schedules when needed, while at the same time giving clubs and players autonomy in a non-bubble environment. Still ongoing, by all stakeholders, these efforts demonstrate the power of teamwork and sacrifice to set a season in unprecedented times. "
COVID-19 destroyed spring practices, canceled the preseason, and took 2020 into uncharted territory, but it didn't stop the NFL from conducting business under the most unusual of circumstances.
The league is pushing through with the goal of playing all 256 scheduled games in 17 weeks and the Super Bowl in Tampa on Feb. 7. What often seemed unlikely has become quite feasible.
"Contact tracking is what people don't talk about the most, but it's fundamental to our success," said Dr. Allen Sills, the league's chief medical officer. “We've been saying all along that it's nearly impossible to prevent single, isolated cases. Our entire protocol and strategy are built around reducing transmission – and the key is good contact tracking. "
The NFL implemented strict COVID-19 protocols that were updated throughout the season as more information about the virus and its control was learned. Players and coaches were tested daily, mask use became mandatory, facilities were closed at various points, meetings were held virtually and games continued.
Contact racers became the MVPs. The process is comprehensive and begins with determining who has been exposed to someone who tested positive, the level of exposure and risk level, and how to mitigate the risk.
"I almost think of it as blocking and tackling," said Sills. “Players can make the long runs and great catches, but we all know that without excellent blocking it is not possible to run those plays. That process has been really fundamental to me and there is a tremendous amount of work involved in a very big deal. number of people. It is more than the (tracking) devices, they are important, but not the sum of our contact tracking. What it involves is interviewing individuals, collecting all that data from the tracking equipment and viewing the video from team facilities and practice fields, talking to one's friends and family and others who may be involved. "
Each team has an infectious disease control officer who works with the chief athletic trainer and team physician. The trio works with the competition's three-piece team, consisting of a contact tracer, an epidemiologist and a physician.
“They will get all the data, summarize and work with the club staff, then prepare a report that they will bring back to our committee that oversees our day-to-day COVID operations, and then I will review that report, & # 39; Sills said. “So it is multi-layered, with staff and many other people. Some days we may only have two to three tracks, and some days we may have 14 to 15 tracks. "
The Tennessee Titans were the first team to experience an outbreak, and the Baltimore Ravens were hit hard last month, forcing them to play its second game on Wednesday of the league since 1949.
Several coaches were fined for breaching the mask-wearing mandate, five teams were fined for multiple protocol violations, and the Raiders and Saints were stripped of concept choices.
The Denver Broncos ended up using Kendall Hinton as quarterback in a loss to New Orleans after No. 3 QB Jeff Driskel tested positive for the coronavirus and starter Drew Lock, backup Brett Rypien and practice team veteran Blake Bortles failed to put their masks on each other earlier that week.
Hinton, who played quarterback at Wake Forest before switching to wide receiver, became the first non-QB to start in the position since Tom Matte did for the Baltimore Colts in 1965.
The Cleveland Browns lost six players due to protocols a day before losing the New York Jets on Sunday, leaving them behind in a win-of-else playoff scenario against Pittsburgh this week.
"It could just happen," said Brown's defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. "The day before a game you lose a lot of players and it's like," Ho. "At the end of the day it's all over the league and it's just one of the things that's happening right now and you understand how serious this thing can be and how quickly the tide can turn. Again, we have to stay proactive … It's just something that can't be taken lightly. "
The NBA and NHL closed their 2019/20 seasons in a bubble and isolated MLB teams for the post-season, but the NFL managed to avoid it.
“We have some contingency plans,” said Sills. “We've had it all year, and they're driven by medical safety first. Can we operate in the marketplace in a way that's consistent with what we do and have done? high number of cases of the disease, those clubs have managed to avoid positive tests. That speaks of the hard work they put in and the care they put in every day. So we'll continue to follow that same roadmap. It was a good game plan. Should continue to execute the same way we have done so far. "
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed to this report.
Top photo: Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, bottom right, runs out of the tunnel with his team for empty seats at Lujen Field for an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, December 6, 2020 in Seattle. Due to the pandemic of the Coronavirus, no fans were present at the match. (AP Photo / Elaine Thompson)
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