The Thanksgiving night game between the Ravens and Steelers has been switched to Sunday because of coronavirus issues with Baltimore.
The NFL announced the move Wednesday, but did not specify a time of game nor which network would televise it. Previously, it was scheduled for NBC’s prime-time telecast.
Baltimore placed outside linebacker Pernell McPhee on the reserve/COVID-19, joining running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins and defensive tackle Brandon Williams. The Ravens also have been doing team work virtually.
This isn’t the first time the Steelers have been forced to adjust their schedule because of COVID-19 issues with opponents. Their trip to Nashville on Oct. 4 to face the Titans turned into an unexpected bye week when Tennessee was hit with an outbreak.
The tweak forced the Steelers to play 13 straight weeks to end the regular season. They had hoped for at least a mini-break by playing on Thanksgiving — the franchise’s first-ever home game in Pittsburgh on the holiday — and then getting the weekend off before starting the home stretch.
Instead, they find themselves adjusting on the fly once again.
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster wasn’t exactly thrilled with the development.
“First the NFL takes away our bye week because another team can’t get their Covid situation together, now they take away our Thanksgiving primetime game for the same reason. Smh,” he posted on social media.
The silver lining for Smith-Schuster is that it gives him a few extra days for the right leg he tweaked during a freak play in Jacksonville — when he twisted his leg after stepping on a penalty flag — to get ready for the Ravens.
Coach Mike Tomlin has praised his team’s ability to stay light on its feet in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic as part of their success. The Steelers were hit with their own COVID-19 scare earlier this month when tight end Vance McDonald tested positive following a victory over Dallas, forcing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a handful of teammates to self-quarantine before facing the Bengals. Roethlisberger ended up playing and throwing four touchdowns in an easy victory.
Roethlisberger shrugged on Tuesday when asked if it was right for the Steelers to face the Ravens without Baltimore being able to practice as a precaution.
“This is just an unusual year when it comes to everything we have to do, that everyone has to do. We saw it early, obviously, with the Titans game, byes, all these kinds of things,” he said. “What are you going to do? You just have to do what they tell you and go play ball.”
Also, the Cleveland Browns were practicing in shifts and holding players out as a precaution while dealing with a new round of COVID-19 issues.
The team temporarily closed its headquarters in Berea, Ohio, after another yet-to-be identified player tested positive. The Browns are conducting contact tracing to see if others players were exposed to the infected player.
In the meantime, coach Kevin Stefanksi said practice ahead of Sunday’s game at Jacksonville will be spaced out to reduce the risk of possible spread. Rain has forced the workout to be held in the team’s indoor field house, which is also being used as a weight room due to COVID protocols.
“We’ll space this out a little bit,” Stefanski said. “We’ll bring in the offense, let them get a lift, get them out on the field in the field house to work out, get an individual period and move them around. And then we’ll bring the defense in and have a similar schedule. So we’ll space the two groups out.”
The Browns (7-3) already have four players, including star defensive end Myles Garrett on the reserve/COVID list. Garrett missed Sunday’s win over Philadelphia and he’ll also sit out this week’s game against the Jaguars (1-9).
Stefanski has not provided any specifics on Garrett’s condition, but said it’s possible the 24-year-old who has 9 1/2 sacks, could return for the Dec. 6 game against Tennessee.
Cleveland’s defense responded without Garrett and had five sacks, a safety and returned an interception for a touchdown in the 22-17 win over the Eagles. Defensive end Olivier Vernon had three sacks — and the safety — and was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Stefanski said fullback Andy Janovich and defensive end Joe Jackson will also miss this week’s game. Offensive lineman Chris Hubbard has a chance to be activated from the COVID list this week, Stefanski said.
This has been a steady, familiar pattern for the Browns, who have had to shut down their headquarters several times in the past few weeks to do contact tracing as the virus continues to wreak havoc across the NFL and country.
“The guys are adapting, they’re being flexible,” Stefanski said. (Offensive coordinator) Coach Van Pelt showed a picture of Stretch Armstrong this morning, and that’s who we are, and that’s who’ve got to be.”
Stefanski said top cornerback Denzel Ward, who injured his calf against the Eagles, could miss a couple of games with the latest injury to strike Cleveland’s secondary.
Ward picked off Carson Wentz late in Sunday’s win and leads the league with 15 passes defensed. The Browns have been without rookie safety Grant Delpit this season after he ruptured an Achilles tendon in training camp as well as starting cornerback Greedy Williams, who remains sidelined with a nerve injury in his shoulder.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and Sports Writers Tom Withers and Will Graves contributed.
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