For a Ravens-Steelers rivalry in which we always say to “expect the unexpected,” the expression hit a different tone this week due to Baltimore’s COVID-19 outbreak.
On Wednesday, the NFL announced the scheduled Thanksgiving night game at Heinz Field would be moved to Sunday at 1:15 p.m. on NBC. The decision came after multiple Ravens players and team personnel tested positive for the virus beginning late Sunday night.
“This decision was made out of an abundance of caution to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches, and game day personnel and in consultation with medical experts,” the league said in a press release.
Many have focused on the competitive balance aspect of the decision, but we always understood there would be positive tests and players missing games in a season being played in the midst of a pandemic. That alone wasn’t justification for a postponement, but a team dealing with a virus outbreak that’s lacking sufficient evidence of containment made this the only call. Of course, that reality didn’t stop some Steelers players and fans from expressing anger as they’ve now had two games postponed this season due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the opposing team.
Having already placed running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee on the reserve-COVID-19 list this week, the Ravens added centers Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura as well as defensive end Calais Campbell to that list on Wednesday. It’s unclear which of these new additions were from positive tests or being deemed “high-risk” close contacts, but any player having tested positive still wouldn’t be able to play against the Steelers on Sunday. Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed Monday that Ingram and Dobbins had tested positive while Williams was a “high-risk” close contact.
Third-string quarterback Trace McSorley was placed on the COVID-19 list late last week while injured cornerback Iman Marshall tested positive for the virus earlier this month, leaving a total of nine players on the list through Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, defensive end Derek Wolfe and tight end Mark Andrews were among the Ravens players apparently expressing concerns about proceeding with the game as originally scheduled.
The postponement meant neither Ravens-Steelers game this season would be played on its originally scheduled date announced in May. Pittsburgh’s 28-24 win in Baltimore on Nov. 1 was supposed to be played in Week 7 before the Steelers’ Week 4 game with Tennessee was rescheduled to due to the Titans’ COVID-19 outbreak.
According to NFL Network, this is the fifth postponement of the season in which a game has been moved after teams had already put in preparation for the original kickoff time that week.
“We appreciate the NFL for its diligence in working closely with us to ensure the well-being of players, coaches, and staff from both the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers organizations,” the Ravens said in a statement. “Protecting the health and safety of each team, in addition to our communities at large, is of utmost importance. We will continue to follow guidance from the NFL and its medical experts, as we focus on safely resuming preparations for Sunday’s game.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, it was unclear when the Ravens would be able to reopen their Owings Mills training facility to continue preparations for Sunday’s game. After learning of the initial positives late Sunday night, Baltimore closed its facility Monday morning, reopened that afternoon for a team walk-through, and then closed again Tuesday morning with new positive tests returning.