August 4, 2021

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Inside the outbreak: How COVID-19 hit Lamar…

5 min read
Inside the outbreak: How COVID-19 hit Lamar...

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A year ago at this time, quarterback Lamar Jackson was all the rage in the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens were the league’s best team.

On Nov. 17, 2019, running back Mark Ingram first delivered the Ravens’ famous rallying cry, “Big Truss! Woot! Woot!”

Fast forward to November 2020 and Baltimore has no certainty about when its players can safely walk into the team facility, much less play its next game.

The Ravens have gone from a preseason Super Bowl favorite to the face of the NFL’s tumultuous and unpredictable 2020 season after at least 15 players, including the reigning NFL MVP in Jackson, have tested positive for COVID-19 in Week 12. The 18 Ravens players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week have totaled 66 starts and 3,918 snaps this season.

The Ravens have gone from a preseason Super Bowl favorite to the face of the NFL’s tumultuous and unpredictable 2020 season after at least 15 players, including the reigning NFL MVP in Jackson, have tested positive for COVID-19 in Week 12. The 22 Ravens players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week — seven of whom made the Pro Bowl last season — have totaled 78 starts and 4,735 snaps this season.

As of Sunday morning, Baltimore has now had seven straight days of positive tests. The coronavirus has spread throughout the organization, infecting players, coaches and support staff.

A look at how one of the toughest weeks in the Ravens’ franchise history unfolded:

Thursday, Nov. 19: A strength and conditioning coach for the Ravens tested positive, according to a source. He didn’t report symptoms and didn’t always wear a mask inside the team facility, the source added. To make matters worse, the coach didn’t wear his tracing device at all times, which made it more difficult to determine “high-risk” close contacts.

Sunday, Nov. 22: Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Ingram tested positive for COVID-19 just hours after the Ravens’ emotional 30-24 overtime loss to the Titans. These are the first reported cases of the week involving Ravens players in what would become one of the largest outbreaks in the league.

Monday, Nov. 23: The Ravens’ team facility is closed in the morning, but the NFL authorized Baltimore to reopen in the afternoon. After virtual team and position-group meetings, the team conducted a walk-through during which everyone wore masks.

“We all knew that us playing football would put us at a bigger risk,” Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon said after the walk-through. “We knew we [could] obviously get the virus, and we all knew that this wasn’t something to be played around with.”

Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who always ended his media sessions this season by saying, “Stay positive, test negative,” becomes the third player this week to test positive. Nose tackle Brandon Williams is identified as a “high-risk” close contact and is put on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Tuesday, Nov. 24: The team facility is shut down a second time at noon. By that time, the Ravens had already conducted meetings and another on-field workout, a source confirmed.

At this point, the Ravens were still scheduled to leave the next day for Pittsburgh for their Thanksgiving night game at Heinz Field. The team had chartered an extra plane to increase social distancing.

Then, three more players — defensive end Calais Campbell, starting center Patrick Mekari and backup center Matt Skura — tested positive. There’s also a report that third-string quarterback Trace McSorley, who was already on the list after being identified as a close contact last week, also tested positive. That brings Baltimore’s positive tests for players to seven.

Wednesday, Nov. 25: At 12:50 p.m. ET, the NFL announced that the Thursday night game between the Ravens and the undefeated Steelers was being moved to Sunday afternoon. This decision comes 31 hours before the scheduled kickoff. It has since been moved again, to Tuesday night.

That evening, the Ravens released a one-sentence statement that a staff member was disciplined “for conduct surrounding the recent COVID-19 cases that have affected players and staff at the Ravens.” A source confirmed this was the strength and conditioning coach who had tested positive last week and didn’t follow league COVID-19 protocols.

Defensive end Jihad Ward, who was expected to replace McPhee (who is on the reserve/COVID-19 list), tested positive. He is the eighth Ravens player to get infected. A position coach as well as a support staff member also tested positive.

Thursday, Nov. 26: The Ravens’ outbreak creates its biggest headline when Jackson tests positive. He is among the four latest Ravens players to test positive, along with a staff member, a source said. The Ravens believe Jackson was infected Sunday, when he took snaps from Mekari during the game and was in close contact with Dobbins and Ingram because his locker is right next to theirs, a source said. Under league rules, Jackson will quarantine for 10 days, which means he would miss Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh (if it’s played) as well as Thursday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys (if that’s not rescheduled).

In a span of five days, Baltimore has had 12 players test positive. Ravens coach John Harbaugh told his players they wouldn’t return to the team facility until Monday at the earliest in the interest of team safety.

“We just want to contain this outbreak! Speaking from experience … you don’t want to catch COVID!,” Campbell wrote on Twitter. “This virus is brutal! I pray no one else has to go thru this. This is bigger than football.”

Friday, Nov. 27: The Week 12 game between the Ravens and Steelers is moved from Sunday to Tuesday. Baltimore is now scheduled to play host to the Cowboys at 5 p.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 7.

Saturday, Nov. 28: The Ravens place six more players on the reserve/COVID-19 list: LB Jaylon Ferguson, OT D.J. Fluker, DT Broderick Washington, OT Will Holden, CB Khalil Dorsey and CB Tavon Young. Baltimore is in the midst of one of the biggest outbreaks in all of sports. The Ravens have placed 18 players on the list in the past six days.

Sunday, Nov. 29: Two Pro Bowl players, tight end Mark Andrews and outside linebacker Matthew Judon, added to the reserve/COVID-19 list. Andrews is one of two current NFL players with Type 1 diabetes. Baltimore has placed 20 players on this list in the past seven days. In two days, the Ravens are scheduled to fly to Pittsburgh and play the Steelers that night.

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