There were at least two irrefutable lessons Super Bowl-contending teams can glean from Sunday’s action.
1. Don’t single cover Tyreek Hill.
2. Wear a mask.
It should not have required disastrous on-field results to understand these truths were self-evident.
Yet, such reaffirmation was provided, first by Tampa Bay, which was torched by Hill to the tune of 269 yards, three touchdowns and one backflip. If opponents are going to let Hill run free for Patrick Mahomes, we might as well just hand Kansas City another Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Then, there is Denver, which was forced to play a wide receiver from the practice squad at quarterback because it lacked some of the most basic of football values — self-discipline, dedication and respect for teammates and coaches.
The Broncos’ entire quarterback roster was lax in wearing masks during meetings and thus, by violating the NFL’s crystal-clear protocols made themselves unavailable to play against New Orleans. Denver promptly lost 31-3.
As currently scheduled, the Super Bowl is 10 weeks away and the playoffs begin in a little over a month.
Whether that schedule is adhered to, let alone who wins this thing, is going to come down to the concepts that football coaches preach from Pop Warner to the NFL.
The best team doesn’t always win. The most disciplined and committed organization often does.
Namely, the ones that followed the rules. The ones that complied with the guidelines. The ones filled with individuals who care about only the common goal, not their own individual preference.
It doesn’t matter if you’re tired of wearing a mask. It doesn’t matter if you think masks don’t work. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s an infringement on your individual rights. It doesn’t matter if it interferes with your ability to scream at officials. It doesn’t matter if you think the players will all be fine and the contact tracing guidelines are ridiculous and overly stringent.
Doing your job is what matters and following the rules is part of that job.
You can think the NFL does too much to protect quarterbacks and bludgeoning them upside the head should be allowed.
It’s the same with masks, social distancing and behavioral choices that range from meeting rooms to sidelines. The NFL is watching, and in both words and action, it has shown it will enforce its rules regardless of how it impacts competitive balance.
“Absent medical considerations, games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group,” the league wrote in an early November memo.
Denver found out the hard way on Sunday. Baltimore might on Wednesday, when it might play Pittsburgh without nearly two dozen players who have been ruled out due to positive tests and contract tracing.
At 6-4, the Ravens need victories just to make the playoffs. Their present situation makes that significantly more difficult. This apparently stems from a single “staff member” who the team announced late last week was “disciplined ... for conduct surrounding the recent COVID-19 cases that have affected players and staff at the Ravens.”
So one person might upend an entire season for a team that entered the year as a Super Bowl contender? Worse, due to a lack of conditioning work at the closed facility and a low number of available players, there is the potential increase for injury. That could impact not just a single game, but the rest of the season, not to mention potentially careers.
The pandemic is new, but some of these concepts are old. Winning teams tend to avoid penalties, especially dumb ones. They limit turnovers. They play smart and together. They speak of being a family. They stand up for one another. They don’t beat themselves.
This is different, yet the same.
Denver’s quarterbacks were selfish and stupid. Someone in Baltimore couldn’t be bothered to care. They aren’t alone. All over the league, there have been fines and even sanctions handed down — New Orleans, a legit title contender, was just fined $500,000 and stripped of a 2021 seventh-round draft pick for violations.
The league has come this far. So many players and coaches and staffers have sacrificed to get here. The Super Bowl is coming.
Is a team going to throw it all away because its personnel choose not to follow some rules?
Masks and distancing won’t guarantee COVID-19 doesn’t seep into a team. But not doing it is going to eventually cost you, like leaving Tyreek Hill in single coverage.
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