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The Weekly Kickoff with Geoff Schwartz: NFL Week 4

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Editor’s note: The Weekly Kickoff is a weekly column from the pen of former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz. Check back every week for the latest edition.

Sports got shut down in the middle of March as the novel coronavirus took hold of our country and communities. When suspended spring sports returned, the leagues opted for one of two methods of resuming games: A bubble environment, like the NBA and NHL, or out in the open, like MLB.

The NFL continued to evaluate the options and decided to return at the end of July without a bubble, but with extreme protocols in place.

When players returned to the facility from the months long break, they were all tested for COVID-19, with most players testing negative. Since then, NFL players were tested every day in training camp, and while the testing has slowed down just a tad (there’s no testing on gameday), it’s still on the cautious side. It always had to be this way.

Teams retrofitted their facilities, where players spend most of their day, to meet CDC social distancing requirements. Lockers spaced out every six feet. Same with the meeting rooms. 

Players and personnel have been wearing personal protective equipment and tracking devices and being mindful of being in close contact with anyone. The NFL put the time, effort and money into this process and, until this week, it’s worked fantastically.

I have to credit the players and staff for doing their part to get the league through training camp and the first three weeks of the NFL season. There’s temptation to break protocol, especially away from the facility, and everyone has done their job to remain healthy. 

Well, that ended this week with a COVID-19 breakout in Tennessee among Titans players and staff. Their game against the Steelers has been postponed, to be made up at a later date. 

There’s a way to shuffle bye weeks, or just wait until the end of the season to determine if this game needs to be played. Alternatively, the league could just add a week 18 to make up games.

While this news of a COVID-19-related shutdown came as a surprise, because the NFL has had two months of quiet on the coronavirus front, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with realistic expectations for the season. 

Remember folks, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. This was bound to happen, and it’s going to happen again at some point. 

This is why the NFL put in protocols and they learned the lesson from major league baseball. You have an outbreak, you follow the plan as designed. So I can only credit the NFL for shutting down the Titans and figuring it out later. It was a tough call, but the right call. 

Lastly it’s important to remember this season won’t be fair. The Steelers were heading into Tennessee this weekend looking to move to 4-0 and having the tiebreaker against a possible playoff team in the Titans. 

Now, both teams have a bye and their schedules could be shuffled, which would remove the Steelers’ bye and give them no rest for the toughest part of their season. Originally they’d encounter the Browns, Ravens, a bye and then Dallas over the next four weeks. Now it’s likely Browns, Ravens, Titans and Cowboys. That’s just tougher no matter how you cut it. 

But when Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about this today, he said “We do not care.” 

This is the right attitude. Changes will be made this season. It won’t be fair. We should not care.