‘COVID Kicked My A**’: Cardinals OL Justin Pugh Recounts Recovery from Virus

Justin Pugh - Arizona Cardinals

Getty Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Justin Pugh (right) and quarterback Kyler Murray react after a penalty against the Carolina Panthers on October 4, 2020, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Playing professional football through a pandemic has been challenging for Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Justin Pugh.

Pugh, 31, missed several days of training camp in late July after being in close contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. In mid-August, he was placed on the NFL’s Reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive for the virus.

“COVID kicked my a**,” Pugh told reporters Thursday, September 16, as he recounted his recovery.

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“It’s a real deal,” the 6-foot-5, 311-pound lineman said. “I was in a rough spot. I’m glad to be back, glad to be around my teammates.”

Pugh, now in his ninth NFL season, was vaccinated before testing positive. He said he felt OK the first few days after the positive test and expected to be out only three or four days.

“I kind of had a little arrogance about it,” he said, “and then it knocked me on my a**. There were three or four days there where I was hurting.”

Following a two-week quarantine at home, Pugh returned to practice on September 2. The first few days back were a struggle.

“I’m still getting my legs back up under me,” he said.

Pugh played all but three offensive snaps in the Cardinals’ 38-13 season-opening victory over the Tennessee Titans. He missed two of those plays just before halftime while getting an IV in the locker room.

“To play almost every snap on Sunday was great for me,” he said. “It was a goal of mine to go out there and play.”

Pugh Calls for Daily Testing of All Players

Pugh has been critical of the NFL’s COVID-19 testing policies and called for change on Twitter after testing positive for the virus.

At the time, the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols called for fully vaccinated players to be tested every two weeks. The policy changed on August 30, when the league and NFL Players Association agreed to mandate weekly testing. Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated players are required to test every day, including off days.

Pugh contends daily testing is necessary for both vaccinated and unvaccinated players.

“I was vaccinated and still got (COVID-19),” Pugh tweeted on August 19, calling for the NFL to “fix this ASAP.” He continued in a follow-up Tweet:

I don’t care where you stand on the vaccination fence. We had no one vaccinated last year and made the season happen. I think more testing is crucial because it allows us to catch and remove positive cases ASAP.

Cardinals defensive end Jordan Phillips tested positive on the same day as Pugh. While Pugh was able to return to practice on September 2, Phillips was placed on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury.

The NFL is in a “unique situation,” Pugh said, adding that he’d rather teams test too much than not enough.

Pugh is in the fourth year of the five-year contract he signed with the Cardinals as an unrestricted free agent in March 2018. He started all 16 games last season for Arizona, 14 at right guard and two at left tackle.

The former Syracuse star played his first five seasons with the New York Giants, who made him the No. 19 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.

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