NASHVILLE — There will be no Week 4 game between the Tennessee Titans (3-0) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0), the NFL announced in a statement. A COVID-19 outbreak resulting in five players and seven staffers testing positive brought the proceedings to a screeching halt.
“The Pittsburgh-Tennessee game scheduled for Week 4 will be rescheduled to later this season after one additional Titans player and one personnel member tested positive for COVID-19 today,” the league’s statement read on Thursday. “An announcement of the new game date will be made shortly.
“The decision to postpone the game was made to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel. The Titans facility will remain closed and the team will continue to have no in-person activities until further notice.”
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) October 1, 2020
Football coaches and players refuse to make excuses. One could hardly blame coach Mike Vrabel if he tried.
Since being hired to replace Mike Mularkey before the 2018 season, Vrabel has seen just about everything. The first game of his career with Tennessee (a 27-20 loss) went an NFL-record seven hours and eight minutes and saw his star tight end snap an ankle, his starting left tackle get crack-back blocked and concussed and the starting quarterback come away with nerve damage. 2018’s campaign felt over before it began and Vrabel still managed to help guide that team to the precipice of a playoff berth. Not even Rishard Matthews quitting midseason or the Curious Case of Kevin Dodd could hold those Titans back until Mariota’s prolonged health struggle caused him to go down as a game day scratch in Week 17.
Last year bore out more stability, despite starting 2-4 and benching Mariota to save the season. Now, Vrabel finds himself with the first football team to lose a week of work due to the global pandemic that hovers over everything in 2020.
“I try not to panic,” Vrabel said via Zoom. “I try to assess the situation and do what’s best for the team. I think I’ve had a lot of great role models and coaches, starting with my dad who was a high school basketball coach, parents were both educators, were both principals. I think, spending eight years in New England playing for Bill (Belichick), you certainly try to take that approach. When things come up, you deal with them, you put the team first and you figure out a way to get things handled.”
Each situation presents unique challenges, but Vrabel’s guided Tennessee through it all.
What Happens Next?
The Titans future still lacks clarity.
Vrabel said he and GM Jon Robinson had a general timeline from the NFL on how they would proceed, pending the results that continued daily COVID tests bear out. Vrabel mentioned that he preferred not to speak on the league’s behalf as to what that timeline might be.
Given that Tennessee’s bye week now occurs in Week 3 and the Steelers’ bye does not come until Week 8, the AFC playoff picture could be jeopardized. Pittsburgh is scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7. Logic suggests that the NFL could move the Steelers-Titans matchup to Week 7, and the Steelers-Ravens matchup to Week 8 while the Tennessee and Pittsburgh take this Week 4 off and the Ravens’ bye gets moved to Week 7 from Week 8.
Only time and increased scrutiny on testing will tell.
“I think they were somewhat shocked. They wanted to play, and they were preparing to play,” Vrabel said of his team. “But I think that they understood and realized why the decision was made. They’ll handle this like they handle everything else. They’ll handle it with professionalism, with understanding and a compassion towards not only ourselves and those people that have been affected, but also Pittsburgh.”
Shock and adversity come as no surprise to this team. Their coach has proven, time and again, that he’ll have them prepared for anything.
Featured Image: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports.