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NFL owners pass two more rules changes before meetings end

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ORLANDO, Fla. — As a busy NFL meetings neared its conclusion Wednesday, team owners passed two more rule changes and approved several procedural bylaw alterations.

Most noteworthy, the league eliminated the requirement that a team that scores a winning touchdown at the end of regulation kick the extra point or go for a 2-point conversion.

In a January playoff game that Minnesota memorably won on a final pass play, New Orleans players were required to return to the field after leaving for a meaningless extra point. The Vikings took a knee.

Of course, bettors and fantasy players could have a stake in the PAT, but neither participating team did, particularly now that points scored or points differential is so low in any tiebreaking procedures.

The owners also approved closing an overtime loophole that could have been embarrassing had it ever occurred.

Now, if the team that gets the ball first scores a field goal, then the opponent loses possession by an interception or fumble on its first series, the down will be permitted to run to its conclusion, including awarding points scored by either team during the down.

Previously, the turnover ended the game regardless — even though the team getting the takeaway conceivably could itself turn over the ball on that play and see it returned for a score by the opponent.

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Tennessee Titans COVID-19 outbreak – What we know about the positive coronavirus tests; will NFL games be postponed?

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The NFL has its first COVID-19 team outbreak. At least nine members of the Tennessee Titans have produced confirmed positive test results in the past four days, a rash of coronavirus infections that could potentially have spread during Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Titans have closed their practice facility until at least Saturday, while the Vikings have closed theirs until they have further test results. Decisions on both teams’ Week 4 games are pending.

Here’s what we know at the moment, with appropriate context. We will continue to update as news develops.

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Timeline for return to facilities
Could games get postponed?

So this started with the Titans?

Yes. On Saturday, Titans linebackers coach Shane Bowen returned a confirmed positive test. The Titans received the results before they departed Nashville for Minneapolis, and Bowen was held back from making the trip.

Were the other eight Titans employees infected by Bowen?

We don’t know. What we do know is that the entire Titans traveling party was tested Saturday, as they would ordinarily be. The Titans had those results by Sunday morning. All were negative, meaning every coach, player and staff member was eligible for Sunday’s game.

The Titans stayed Saturday night at the JW Marriott, adjacent to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, according to ESPN’s Courtney Cronin. League protocol requires all members of the traveling party to have their own rooms and also prohibits them from “congregating, visiting or mingling with individuals outside of the Traveling Party once they have arrived in the game city.”

On Sunday, they defeated the Vikings won, 31-30. The team flew back home after the game ended.

So no one was tested on Sunday?

Correct. The protocols call for daily testing on every day except game day. Neither the league or the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has explained explicitly why, but timing is likely a substantial part of the answer. Results for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, performed on the morning of a game by nasal swab, probably wouldn’t be returned in time for kickoff.

Point of care (POC) tests have quicker results — PCR tests are usually returned overnight, whereas POC tests can be returned on the same day, and even before kickoff after a morning test — but are not as accurate. At this time, POC tests are only used to help confirm initial positive tests, and the NFL doesn’t yet trust them on their own. And the NFL likely didn’t want to sideline a player or coach based only off a POC test.

When were they next tested?

All Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees from the Titans and Vikings, which includes players and coaches, were tested Monday morning. Of the eight Titans who returned confirmed positive tests, three were players and five were employees. They have not been identified. None were displaying symptoms, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano. No members of the Vikings returned positive tests.

What about the officials who worked the Titans-Vikings game on Sunday?

Most officials travel home on the night of the game or the next morning. Per their protocol, they are tested twice per week — once in their hometowns and once on the day before games. Referee Clete Blakeman’s crew worked this game, and it is not immediately known if any of them were affected.

Does that mean the outbreak is contained?

No. General guidance from public health officials suggest it can take up to 5-7 days for an infection to register in a test. That’s why the Titans facility is closed through at least Saturday. The NFL/NFLPA protocol calls for increased monitoring for eight days for anyone who had close contact with someone who returned a confirmed positive test.

How do they determine close contact?

The protocols follow CDC guidelines: within 6 feet apart for at least 15 minutes of an infected individual. The league identified 48 close contacts to monitor, based on contact tracing of the eight confirmed positive individuals, according to Graziano. It’s unclear if those are all members of the Titans, or if some are members of the Vikings.

That includes contact during a game as well as data recorded by mandatory proximity devices worn by all team employees before and after the game. Per the protocol, “Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2M and Tier 3 Individuals will also be required to wear Kinexon Proximity Recording tracking devices at all times while engaged in team activities (including in the Club facility, during practices, and during team travel).”

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Dianna Russini explains the possible origin of the Titans’ coronavirus outbreak and why she doesn’t anticipate Tennessee playing its Week 4 game against Pittsburgh.

So did the virus find the one hole in the protocol?

If the Titans passed the infection to the Vikings, then yes. Games are the one point in the NFL week where social distancing is impossible, and the period when it’s most likely that an infected person will breathe on others. That’s part of the reason the NFL has insisted on coaches and other non-players wearing masks on the sideline.

The absence of gameday testing also heightens the risk. A POC test Sunday morning might have caught at least some of the positive results the Titans eventually recorded Monday.

Right. But it seemed as though the NFL protocols were working.

They were. As of Tuesday morning, there were only four players on the NFL’s COVID-19 list. Only seven players, and another 29 non-players, had returned positive results during the four testing periods from Aug. 12 through Sept. 19.

But as Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University, said earlier this month: “An outbreak really can happen at any time.” It’s fair to wonder if this will prompt a shift into game-day testing.

When can the Vikings and Titans get back to their practice facilities?

We know the Titans won’t return before Saturday at the earliest. The Vikings’ return depends on whether they receive any confirmed positive results.

How long will the infected players and staff members be kept away from the team?

It’s complicated. Here is a flow chart for symptomatic and asymptomatic positive tests.

What about their Week 4 games?

At the moment, both are still scheduled to play Sunday. That could change in the coming hours and days, however. The Titans’ game Sunday in Nashville against the Pittsburgh Steelers could easily be moved to Week 7, if the NFL moves the Steelers’ Week 7 game against the Baltimore Ravens into Week 8, when both have byes. A potential rescheduling of the Vikings’ game at the Houston Texans is less obvious.

The NFL formed an independent committee made up of unaffiliated former league officials to advise commissioner Roger Goodell on equity and fairness in these situations. One immediate question is whether it’s fair for the Titans to play the Steelers on Sunday if they have been away from their team facility, and thus unable to practice, all week.



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Bengals want balance for Joe Burrow between ‘being smart’ and getting hit – Cincinnati Bengals Blog

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CINCINNATI — In one moment, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd was making a play for his quarterback under pressure. In the next, Boyd was ready to fight.

In the second quarter of a 23-23 tie with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Boyd was getting up after 9-yard completion. He saw rookie quarterback Joe Burrow writhing in pain after a shoulder to the neck area knocked the wind out of him.

The fact Philadelphia’s Malik Jackson was whistled for roughing the passer didn’t matter to Boyd. The damage was done.

“Just to see him take those hits and for him to go down and for him to go injured, it makes me to want to fight whoever done anything to him,” Boyd said after the game.

If that was the case, Boyd could find himself in scraps on a weekly basis.

Through three weeks, Burrow has been sacked 14 times, the most of any quarterback in the NFL. And while not all sacks, pressures and knockdowns are created equally, the Bengals acknowledged there needs to be a balance in order for Burrow to avoid serious risk.

“You don’t want your quarterback to get hit as much as he has,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “Some of those are on protection, just pure pass protection. Some of those are on him and the style of his play. The play is never over for him. He does everything he can to keep it alive.”

Burrow showed the good and the bad of extending plays outside of the pocket. In Week 2, he tried to spin away from an opposing defender and instead was thrown to the ground for a sack. In Week 3, he tried the same maneuver with Bengals coach Zac Taylor yelling in his ear to throw the ball away. This time, however, he was successful and almost had a big completion to wide receiver Tee Higgins.

“That makes Joe the player that he is,” Taylor said. “He’s not afraid to take those hits and put himself in those positions because it means explosive plays. There is a balance of being smart and putting yourself in that position.”

Burrow’s flair for extending plays takes a physical toll. Burrow was sacked eight times against the Eagles on Sunday. Taylor said the offensive line was at fault for four.

Against the Eagles, Burrow looked his sharpest and put the Bengals (0-2-1) in position to pick up their third win in two seasons. But once the game was pushed to overtime, the Bengals failed to generate any scoring opportunities. Cincinnati also struggled to protect their budding star. Burrow was sacked three times in overtime with two coming on the Bengals’ final drive.

For the second consecutive week, Burrow opted not to blame anyone else during his postgame news conference. When he was asked about what he can do to avoid getting hit and sacked, he was short and direct.

“Just get the ball out of my hands,” Burrow said. “Make plays with my feet.”

Despite the elusiveness Burrow has displayed, a college trait that has translated well to the next level, the Eagles’ pass rush didn’t leave Burrow many options.

After a Week 2 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Taylor downplayed any concerns over the pass-blocking and chalked the pressure Burrow faced up to his ability to extend plays. The numbers support this claim. While Burrow had the third-highest contacts among quarterbacks heading into Week 3, the Bengals were 21st in pass block win rate at 54.1%, an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen. But on Sunday, Cincinnati’s rate was 51.4%, which ranked 23rd out of the 30 teams that played through Sunday.

But the Bengals don’t need any numbers to know they must do a better job of protecting Burrow. He’s not just a quarterback. Even though he has played only three games, Burrow is one of the Bengals’ top leaders.

“It hurts me because I know how much Joe wants to win,” Boyd said. “I know how much he dedicates himself to this game and the pressure he has coming onto this team.

“He feels that we should win each game. He feels that if we get the final drive, then he believes that we’re going to win. And that’s what I love about him.”

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Former Tennessee Titan Albert Haynesworth charged with domestic assault

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Former Tennessee Titans All-Pro defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth was arrested Monday after he was accused of threatening and yelling at his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend.

Cleveland, Tennessee, police officers responded at 4:34 p.m. to a report that Haynesworth was yelling at his ex-girlfriend, according to a statement from the police. The woman told officers Haynesworth had driven there from his home in Franklin, Tennessee, after making threats to physically harm her and her boyfriend. No physical assault was reported, according to the police statement.

“After being told multiple times to stop yelling and cursing, Haynesworth was taken into custody, charged with domestic assault and disorderly conduct and transported to the Bradley County Justice Center,” the statement reads.

An officer at the jail said Haynesworth was no longer in custody Tuesday. A spokesman for the sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for information about bail in the case. An email to a lawyer who has previously represented Haynesworth was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

Haynesworth has been receiving dialysis since his kidneys failed. After he revealed the news last summer, Vanderbilt University Medical Center said it had more than 1,000 calls and offers to donate a kidney or ask about the process within a day. However, he has not yet received a transplant.

Haynesworth played 10 seasons in the NFL. He spent his first seven seasons with the Titans, who selected him No. 15 overall in the 2002 draft out of the University of Tennessee. Haynesworth also played for Washington, New England and Tampa Bay.

He was selected as an All-Pro after the 2007 and 2008 seasons and had 30+ sacks in 123 games.

Haynesworth had his greatest season in 2008, when he had 8+ sacks while leading the Titans to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC before they lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional playoffs.

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