NFL Countdown #12 and The Messiest Week in NFL History
NFL Countdown #12: Week 12 was by far the craziest of an already messy 2020 NFL season. A full-scale outbreak within the Ravens organization led to multiple rescheduled games, the 49ers were kicked out of their stadium, and the entire Broncos QB room watched from home as a practice squad WR started for their team.
When I was mapping out what I would be writing about over the course of the 30 days leading up to the NFL season, I knew I would have to write at least one blog specifically dedicated to COVID-19. I originally planned go the obvious route and write about it on day 19, but after going back through all the events of the 2020 season, I realized that Week 12 perfectly encapsulates the panic and uncertainty brought about by this virus.
In the months leading up to the 2020 season, decision makers within the NFL had been scrambling to figure out how to play 256 games of a sport where so much close physical contact was required. The league was originally optimistic about playing out the season essentially as normal, but began to change pretty much everything on the fly as players started opting out or speaking publicly about their concerns. Players were notified that they would have until August 6th - the scheduled date of the first preseason game - to exercise their right to forego the 2020 season. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a lineman for the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs and medical doctor, became the first player to opt out on July 24th. Tardif’s decision was followed by 66 more opt-outs that trickled in before the deadline, slowly raising the panic levels of everyone who hoped this season would be able to proceed as normal.
After initially only canceling the Hall of Fame Game, the rest of the preseason schedule was eventually scrapped as the season approached without an end to the pandemic in sight. Despite all of the changes to nearly every aspect of how teams went about their day-to-day business, things seemed relatively normal for the first few weeks of the regular season. The Titans became the first NFL team with a major COVID-19 outbreak, traced back to the signing of a free-agent player on 9/21 and his positive test result on 9/24. Within a week, 20 members of the organization (10 players and 10 personnel) had tested positive and the Titans’ Week 4 matchup became the first regular season game to be postponed. Over the course of the 2020 season, 22 total games ended up being rescheduled as at least 262 players and 464 other personnel tested positive for COVID-19.
[Data published in MMWR scientific journal 1/29/21]
There were several moments where many believed the entire season would come crashing down, but none were more concerning than the events of Week 12. On the Monday before Week 12, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they had several positive cases in their lockerroom, and their Thanksgiving night matchup with the Steelers was eventually postponed three times. The Ravens outbreak was traced back to a strength and conditioning coach who refused to adhere to league-wide safety protocols, and eventually led to at least 25 positive tests, including offensive stars Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, and JK Dobbins. The Ravens ended up playing their divisional matchup against the undefeated Steelers without their reigning-MVP quarterback on 12/2, marking the first football game on a Wednesday in 64 years. Their next game was also postponed, becoming just the second Tuesday NFL game since 1946.
Another team was forced to play without their starting quarterback in Week 12 after an unsanctioned meeting of every signal caller in Denver. The Broncos were given just over 24-hours notice that all of their QBs were ineligible for their matchup with the NFC-leading New Orleans Saints, and decided to promote practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton to their active roster. Hinton met most of the Broncos offensive players just hours before the game, and performed about as well as you would expect given the circumstances. Hinton completed just 3 of his 9 passing attempts, but two of those were caught by the opposing team. The Broncos generated just 112 yards of offense (12 passing, 100 rushing) and six first-downs in their 31-3 loss in Week 12. This Broncos-Saints game was the most glaring piece of evidence that the 2020 season could be outright canceled.
That same Saturday, the San Francisco 49ers were effectively evicted from Levi’s Stadium after new regulations in Santa Clara County suspended all contact sports. The Cardinals opened their doors to Kyle Shanahan and company, letting the 49ers play the remainder of their home games in Arizona. Still working out the kinks in their temporary home, the 49ers lost all three games in Glendale. The 2020 NFL season marked the first time in league history where home teams won fewer games than away teams (127-128-1), and this is certainly in part due to the 49ers dropping three games in their temporary “home”.
Week 12 of the NFL season was an unmitigated disaster, with games being postponed or played as “normal” with many players absent due to positive COVID-19 cases within their team. This was far and away the worst week for COVID-19 inactives, as star players such as Lamar Jackson, Myles Garrett, DeForest Buckner, Adam Thielen, James Conner, and Larry Fitzgerald were among those shelved for their Week 12 matchups. The 49ers were kicked out of the state of California, Matt Patricia was kicked out of the Lions organization, and Will Fuller was handed a suspension for PEDs before the week officially ended on a Wednesday. It was a complete and total cluster, but hey, at least we got to watch the Steelers beat Trace McSorley and the Ravens in the middle of a workday?