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Over the past 20 years, the New England Patriots have seemed like an unstoppable force of nature. No matter what happened in a given season, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady found a way to pull everything together; the team always found a way into the playoffs and, more often than not, made a legitimate run at the Lombardi Trophy. COVID-19, however, doesn’t care about anyone’s football resume.

Last week, the New England Patriots experienced the challenges of playing football in a pandemic firsthand. On Sunday morning, however, things got even tougher for Bill Belichick and his troops.

The New England Patriots had a COVID-19 scare in Week 4

During an ordinary NFL season, every team will have to deal with a few unlucky injuries along the way. In 2020, however, COVID-19 adds another complicating factor to the injury report; just ask the New England Patriots about that.

Heading into their Week 4 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, the coronavirus dealt the Patriots a serious blow. Cam Newton, who has looked pretty good during his first three starts, tested positive for COVID-19.

In addition to keeping Cam on the sidelines, that positive test started a difficult domino effect. The Patriots were supposed to play in Kansas City on Sunday afternoon; that game, however, was pushed to early Monday evening. The club also flew to Missouri on Monday morning, creating a more complicated game day routine.

To add even more insult to injury, the Patriots probably should have won the game, but shot themselves in the foot with repeated quarterback mistakes. If Cam Newton was under center instead of Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham, things could have ended much differently for Bill Belichick and company.

The New England Patriots’ practice facility was suddenly closed

After their game against the Chiefs, the New England Patriots have reportedly had two more positive tests: one belonged to Stephon Gilmore and the other to practice squad player Bill Murray.

In light of those positive tests, the Patriots’ game was pushed back to Monday. The team also took extra precautions to keep everything ship-shape; according to an Adam Schefter tweet, they moved their meetings online and didn’t practice in-person. Those efforts, however, don’t seem to have helped much.

Early on Sunday morning, Schefter reported that “NFL [was] shutting down the Patriots’ facility this morning, marking the third shutdown there in 10 days.” According to a subsequent tweet, it seems like another positive test prompted that decision. At best, they’ll be facing another difficult game-day situation for the second week in a row; in the worst-case scenario, they could be facing a Tennessee Titans-style outbreak.

The NFL is learning that it’s tough to play football and avoid COVID-19

Under ordinary circumstances, the NFL has plenty of pull; thanks to the league’s enormous financial and cultural might, Roger Goodell can get away with virtually anything. COVID-19, however, doesn’t care for celebrity status.

Coming into the 2020 campaign, the NFL bet on itself. The league wagered that a bubble wasn’t necessary; with their protocols in place, football could go ahead as usual. While that always seemed a bit optimistic, things have come home to roost in the past few weeks.

The Tennessee Titans, for example, couldn’t take the field in Week 4; they’re currently scheduled to play on Tuesday of Week 5 and could be facing some serious punishments for violations of COVID-19 protocols. The New England Patriots have had two consecutive games rescheduled, while other teams have experienced their own scattered positive tests. Even if things are yet to collapse, the house of cards is starting to wobble.

While everyone knew that the 2020 NFL season would be a unique challenge, we’re venturing into unexplored territory. When you start playing with the schedule, altering travel plans, and closing facilities the day before a game, competitive balance starts to come into play; no one wants to see their team lose because of a positive test or an inability to practice in-person leading up to a game. Those scenarios, however, are becoming more and more likely.

That’s all looking at the big picture, though. On the smaller scale, we do know one thing: the New England Patriots are facing another COVID-19-related issue ahead of Week 5. Even if you’re coached by a living legend, it’s probably not ideal to do an entire week of preparation online.

UPDATE: Adam Schefter has since reported that the Patriots’ game has since been canceled. They will be playing the Denver Broncos on Sunday of Week 6.


The Titans’ COVID-19 Crisis Just Forced the NFL to Consider an Unprecedented Change