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NFL can’t run away from its COVID-19 crisis

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This was the fear long before the NFL season began, a star quarterback testing positive for COVID-19, the virus reminding one and all that, despite the best-laid plans of mice and Infection Control Officers, it is the one in control — always has been, always will be.

All the protocols in place could not keep Cam Newton safe, and with hotspots getting hotter around the country as the weather gets cooler, a season no one imagined could have even made it to October in the absence of a bubble is now confronting a chilling moment of truth.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Social distancing. Contact tracing. Point of care testing.

And now the virus laughs.

For a short while, it was first down after first down for the NFL.

It isn’t fourth-and-long just yet … but the virus just sacked Newton, one of the NFL’s marquee quarterbacks.

It is the marquee quarterback, more than anyone, who impacts the competitive balance.

So now Patriots-Chiefs has been moved to Monday or Tuesday, and while no one will cry for Bill Belichick, he will be forced to play Brian Hoyer at quarterback against Patrick Mahomes.

As long as no one else tests positive.

Patriots
Cam Newton talks to Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels on the sidelines.Getty Images

Fingers crossed all across the NFL.

Chiefs practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu — playing the part of Newton in practice — has also tested positive.

The three-to-seven-day incubation period calls into question whether it is risky business having the Patriots fly to Kansas City.

The outbreak began with the Titans, the NFL’s version of the Miami

Marlins, and the league is investigating why and how it began when outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen tested positive on Sept. 26, the first of the club’s 16 positive tests, as of Saturday. And so Steelers at Titans was postponed until Week 7.

Because of the size of NFL rosters, a regular-season bubble was never deemed practical.



Some kind of postseason bubble or bubbles was never ruled out.

But now the NFL should do itself a favor and rule it in.

The NFL has mapped out every imaginable contingency plan knowing an outbreak was possible, if not likely.

One fumble can make all the dominoes fall.

One negative test one day can become a positive test the next day, and now the rubber has met Roger Goodell’s road.

It would have been a challenge for the late, great Gale Sayers to change direction on a dime to dodge these obstacles.

If you are looking for any silver lining in a dark cloud, it’s the fact that the Vikings, who played the Titans last Sunday, reported no positive tests among players and staff.

It is not as if the NFL has not been obsessively vigilant. The league fined four head coaches — Jon Gruden, Sean Payton, Vic Fangio and Sean

McVay — for not wearing masks on game days, and NFL executive VP Troy Vincent sent a memo this week that threatened all 32 clubs with further discipline, which includes suspensions and a loss of draft picks, for any lack of compliance.

Seahawks rookie Kemah Siverand became the poster boy for non-compliance when he was caught on video trying to sneak a female visitor into the team hotel, and he was released immediately.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we’ll be able to handle it,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on Friday.

There should be less doubt now.

Super Bowl 2021 is scheduled for Feb. 7 in Tampa, Fla. That date is not etched in stone. If the league has to play it in March, it will. From the start of the pandemic, it was common sense to think that the NFL, the sport with all the blocking and tackling and breathing in the huddle, would be playing with fire.

The fire is here.

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