In a normal season, one of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s mantras is “no days off.”
But it’s not a normal campaign, and the Patriots, just like the rest of the world, are trying to make adjustments in the middle of a pandemic. So, New England took many days off last week.
Belichick said Thursday that the Patriots chose to close their facility because the health and safety of the team was the No. 1 priority. By forgoing practice Thursday and Friday, Belichick put his money where his mouth was.
The Patriots ultimately didn’t wind up playing after practicing just once — on Saturday — last week. The NFL postponed New England’s Week 5 matchup back to Week 6. But if another Patriots player hadn’t tested positive Saturday, that’s exactly what was going to happen Monday night against the Denver Broncos.
There clearly are reasons why the Patriots are one of just two NFL teams with a sizable outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases. Quarterback Cam Newton tested positive over a week ago, and the virus spread to cornerback Stephon Gilmore, according to ESPN, during a reported dinner last Friday night in the time span after the QB tested but before his result came back. Gilmore’s wife, Gabrielle, has since refuted that such a dinner out occurred. Patriots defensive tackles Byron Cowart and Bill Murray also are on the COVID/reserve list.
The Patriots aren’t in a bubble. Newton was one of 568 people in Massachusetts to test positive on Oct. 2. Stephon Gilmore was one of 717 people in Massachusetts to test positive on Oct. 6. There’s no reason to shame anyone for catching the virus. It happens. It’s happened to millions of people who were and weren’t doing the right thing.
So, all you can do is take every necessary precaution. After Gilmore’s positive case, that’s what the Patriots have done. They didn’t re-enter Gillette Stadium until Saturday when the team practiced in masks or face shields and stayed outdoors as much as possible. Players now won’t be back in the building until Wednesday.
“I think he felt like just through different doctors and medical experts who have been studying and getting to know this virus that it was in our best interest not be around each other, because it was just a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknown,” Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty said Saturday. “As a captain, as a player on this team you appreciate that you are not put in a bind and you don’t have to choose between, ‘Am I putting myself in danger’ or whatever the case my be? It makes you proud that we have done everything we possibly can as we have reentered the building and we reenter whatever you call our norm for this year.”
Should the Patriots have held Gilmore back from the Kansas City trip after his reported meal with Newton? Maybe. Maybe not. We don’t really have enough information on that reported dinner or how many of Newton’s other teammates had similar close contact. Would the Patriots have had to play without all 20 players who were on that separate flight out to KC? Could they have fielded a team by that point? Did the NFL say, “That’s not necessary,” leading the Patriots to believe them resulting in this mess?
But with a week (now two) to prepare for the Broncos, Belichick did put his players’ safety first. That might be surprising to those who only know Belichick for his unrelenting appetite for wins.
When it came down to it, Belichick was willing to skip nearly a week of practice to keep his team and their families safe. There’s no dancing around that fact.
“Unless we’re in a pandemic” is a worthy asterisk to attach to the “no days off” mantra.