John Harbaugh’s ‘Premature’ Message an Effort to Get Steelers Game Postponed?

John Harbaugh

Billie Weiss/Getty Images Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens reacts during the second half of a game against the New England Patriots on November 15, 2020.

The COVID-19 outbreak among Baltimore Ravens players appears to be continuing apace. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has tested positive for COVID-19, which makes him the most high-profile NFL player to test positive for the virus to date.

And according to Pro Football Talk, Jackson isn’t the only Ravens player who tested positive on Thanksgiving Day, writing: “Per a league source, the Ravens received word [Thursday] night of multiple additional player positives from COVID-19 samples collected on Thursday morning. This indicates that the outbreak continues to be uncontained.”

This dovetails with what is being reported by Adam Schefter, senior NFL Insider for ESPN, who says there are four Ravens players who tested positive today, as well as one staff member, which means that a total of 12 Ravens players have tested positive this week alone.

John Harbaugh’s Message to His Players

Meanwhile, according to Schefter, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh addressed his team on Thanksgiving night and told them that the players won’t be able to return to the club’s training facility “until Monday, at the earliest.”

That would suggest the Ravens-Steelers game—which has already been postponed once and is now scheduled for Sunday afternoon—will not be played on Sunday or Monday.

But Pro Football Talk (PFT) has a source that says John Harbaugh’s message to his team is “premature at best, incorrect at worst,” and that “decisions have not been made.”

In a separate article, PFT notes that “a cynic would wonder whether Harbaugh is trying to speak a postponement into existence,” though “the more likely explanation is that he’s reacting to concerns being expressed to him by players who are rattled by the uncontained spread of the virus….”

Ravens Could Be Forced to Play the Steelers

But even if the Ravens shut down their training facility, that doesn’t automatically mean that the league will postpone or cancel Sunday’s game.

As noted by Steelers beat reporter Dale Lolley (of DK Pittsburgh Sports), the Ravens could still be required to travel to Pittsburgh to play the game as scheduled.

That’s a decision for the league to make—and one that won’t be made until Friday, at the earliest.

What Happens Next?

As to what might happen if the NFL decides to postpone Sunday’s Ravens-Steelers game, well, that’s anyone’s guess at this point. The game could be moved to a new “Week 18.” Or, in light of likely COVID-19 protocol violations (which led the Ravens to proactively punish a strength & conditioning coach), the league could force the Ravens to forfeit to the Steelers. The league could also try to rearrange the remaining NFL schedule, though that would seem a heavy lift at this point in the season.

Field Yates of ESPN suggests moving the forthcoming Washington-Pittsburgh game and Baltimore-Dallas game, for starters.

Regardless, PFT reports that “there’s a sense of pessimism and dismay within the Ravens organization,” and that “the Ravens are also stunned by the speed with which the virus has spread.”

As for Baltimore’s QB situation, with Lamar Jackson now out indefinitely, backup Robert Griffin III becomes the presumptive starter for the Ravens.

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