The nightmare COVID-19 outbreak that forced the postponement of the Thanksgiving game against Pittsburgh grew worse Thursday with star quarterback Lamar Jackson testing positive for the virus.
It may mean the game won’t be played during its rescheduled Sunday afternoon slot either.
The news of Jackson testing positive was reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport while ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported a total of four Baltimore players and another staff member tested positive on Thursday. According to Schefter, head coach John Harbaugh told players the Owings Mills training facility would remain closed until Monday at the earliest, another sign pointing to the 1:15 p.m. Sunday kickoff against the Steelers not taking place.
Outside linebacker Jihad Ward was placed on the COVID-19 list on Thursday afternoon, joining Pernell McPhee, Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, Patrick Mekari, Matt Skura, Trace McSorley, and Iman Marshall. Williams was deemed a “high-risk” close contact on Monday while Marshall was placed on injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury in August and tested positive for the virus earlier this month.
Jackson and additional names will apparently be joining the list on Friday.
The Ravens are scheduled to host Dallas next Thursday, another game that comes into question at this point given the nature of the ongoing outbreak. The health and well-being of those infected and the rest of the organization should be paramount, but how this impacts the remainder of Baltimore’s season remains to be seen as John Harbaugh’s team had already lost three of its last four games coming out of the bye. Having upwards of a dozen players as well as multiple staff members testing positive over the last week certainly paints a trying 2020 season in a different light after the Ravens went a franchise-best 14-2 and set numerous league and team records a year ago.
With Jackson now sidelined, the Ravens will turn to backup quarterback Robert Griffin III in the short term, but No. 3 option Trace McSorley was also placed on the COVID-19 list last week. Undrafted rookie Tyler Huntley is on the practice squad and could be elevated to serve as the backup if necessary.
While many within the football world will dwell on the issue of competitive balance with the Ravens having double-digit players on the COVID-19 list, the possibility of any game being played begins with the containment of an outbreak that’s shown no signs of slowing down to this point. And with both the Ravens and Steelers already past their bye week, safely and sensibly rescheduling the AFC North showdown is easier said than done.
If the league doesn’t want to tap into utilizing the Week 18 option and pushing back the start of the playoffs, another possibility could be moving the Ravens-Steelers game back to Monday or Tuesday and subsequently moving next Thursday’s game against Dallas to the following Sunday. Of course, that option remains dependent on testing over these next few days.