FILE- In this Oct. 15, 2019, file photo, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, speaks during a news conference at the at the football league’s fall meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The league is pressing forward with its goal of playing the Super Bowl as scheduled in Tampa on Feb. 7. What often seemed improbable during the COVID-10 pandemic has become quite achievable. “Contact tracing is the thing people are not talking the most about, but it is foundational to our success,” said Sills. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

FILE- In this Oct. 15, 2019, file photo, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, speaks during a news conference at the at the football league’s fall meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The league is pressing forward with its goal of playing the Super Bowl as scheduled in Tampa on Feb. 7. What often seemed improbable during the COVID-10 pandemic has become quite achievable. “Contact tracing is the thing people are not talking the most about, but it is foundational to our success,” said Sills. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

NFL has pulled off improbable task of playing amid pandemic

It took playing games on all seven days of the week, a wide receiver starting at quarterback, numerous schedule changes and constant revisions to health and safety protocols for the NFL to reach Week 17 on time.

That’s a remarkable accomplishment during a pandemic.

“Since March, the league, clubs, coaches, Players Association committed to a tremendous medically led collaborative effort to create a safe work environment that maintained a level of acceptable equity,” NFL executive vice-president of football operations Troy Vincent told The Associated Press on Monday. “Protocols were diligently developed and modified based on virus identification, isolation, containment that allowed the flexibility to adjust schedules when necessary, while at the same time affording clubs and players autonomy in a non-bubble environment. These efforts, still ongoing, by all the stakeholders demonstrates the power of teamwork and sacrifice to achieve a season in unprecedented times.”

COVID-19 wiped out spring practices, cancelled the preseason and took 2020 into uncharted territory, but it didn’t stop the NFL from conducting business under the most unusual circumstances.

The league presses forward with its goal of playing all 256 scheduled games in 17 weeks and the Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 7. What often seemed improbable has become quite achievable.

“Contact tracing is the thing people are not talking the most about, but it is foundational to our success,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer. “We have said all along it is almost impossible to prevent single, isolated cases. Our entire protocol and strategy has been built around mitigating transmission — and the key is good contact tracing.”

The NFL implemented strict COVID-19 protocols that were updated throughout the season as more information regarding the virus and controlling it was learned. Players and coaches were tested daily, mask usage became mandatory, facilities were shut down at various points, meetings were held virtually and the games continued.

Contact tracers became the MVPs. The process is extensive and starts with determining who was exposed to someone who tested positive, the level of exposure and level of risk and how to mitigate risk.

“I almost think of it as almost like blocking and tackling,” Sills said. “Players can make the long runs and great catches, but we all know without outstanding blocking it’s not possible to execute those plays. That process has to me been really foundational, and a tremendous amount of work is involved with a very large number of people. It’s more than the (tracking) devices; they are important but not the sum total of our contact tracing. What’s involved is interviewing individuals, gathering all that data from the tracking devices, and watching the video from team facilities and practice fields, talking to an individual’s friends and family and others who may be involved.”

Each team has an infectious disease control officer who works along with the head athletic trainer and team physician. The trio works with the league’s three-member team consisting of a contact tracer, an epidemiologist and a physician.

“They will get all the data, synthesize it all and work with the club’s personnel, and then prepare a report, which they will bring back to our committee that oversees our day-to-day COVID operations, and then I will review that report,” Sills said. “So it is multilayered, with staff and many other people. On some days we might have only two to three traces and some days have 14 to 15 going on.”

The Tennessee Titans were the first team to experience a breakout and the Baltimore Ravens were hit hard last month, forcing them to play the league’s second Wednesday game since 1949.

Several coaches were fined for violating the mask-wearing mandate, five teams were fined for multiple protocol violations and the Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints were stripped of draft choices.

The Denver Broncos ended up using practice squad wideout Kendall Hinton at quarterback in a loss to New Orleans after No. 3 QB Jeff Driskel tested positive for the coronavirus and starter Drew Lock, backup Brett Rypien and practice squad veteran Blake Bortles had failed to wear their masks around one another earlier that week.

Hinton, who played quarterback at Wake Forest before switching to wide receiver, became the first non-QB to start at the position since running back Tom Matte did so for the Baltimore Colts in 1965.

The Cleveland Browns lost six players because of protocols a day before losing the New York Jets on Sunday, leaving them in a win-or-else playoff scenario this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It can happen just like that,” Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said. “The day before a game, you lose a good amount of players and it is like, ‘Whoa.’ At the end of day, it is all around the league and it is just one of the things that now that it is happening and you understand how serious this thing can be and how quickly it can change the tide. Once again, we have to continue to be proactive. … It is just something that can’t be taken lightly.”

The NBA and NHL concluded their 2019-20 seasons in bubble environments and MLB isolated teams for the post-season, but the NFL has managed to avoid that.

“We do have some contingency planning,” Sills said. “We’ve had it all year, and they are first driven by medical safety. Can we operate in the market in a way that is consistent with what we are doing and have been doing? Some of our clubs who have been operating in areas of high numbers of cases of the disease, those clubs have managed to avoid positive tests. That speaks to the hard work they are doing and care they are taking every day. So we will continue to follow that same road map. It has been a sound game plan. Have to continue to execute in the same manner that we have executed so far.”

___

AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed to this report.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Rob Maaddi, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Regional Airport CEO Graham Ingham has ambitious plans for the airport. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer Regional Airport revenues climb in 2020

Bringing in more business is the 2021 goal, says director

City council will have to wait longer to hear back from administration on possible alternative sites — if the homeless shelter is moved from Red Deer downtown. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Alternative sites for homeless shelter will be explored by the City of Red Deer

Council gave administration more time to return with a report

Quentin Lee Strawberry was found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with stabbing death of Joseph Gallant in March 2019. (Photo from RCMP)
Updated: O’Chiese man found not guilty of 2019 stabbing death of Red Deer man

Quentin Strawberry found guilty of assaulting murdered man’s common-law partner

(Advocate file photo).
City of Red Deer property tax bills are in the mail

Red Deer 2021 tax notices are on their way. Red Deer property… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks’ Nils Hoglander (36) scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during first-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Monday May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Edmonton Oilers' Dominik Kahun (21) celebrates with teammate Connor McDavid (97) after scoring the third goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34) during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Rory McIlroy tees off on the fourth hole during the fourth round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow on Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

Canada , left to right, lead Briane Meilleur, third Val Sweeting, skip Kerri Einarson, and second Shannon Birchard discuss strategy against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. Both of Canada's teams were shut out of the medals, marking the first time ever that Canada did not reach the podium at either the men's or women's worlds in the same season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Canada's Tyler Ardron, right, tries to block the kick by Italy's Callum Braley during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match in Fukuoka, western Japan, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kyodo News via AP
Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

John Velazquez, right, rides Medina Spirit ahead of Florent Geroux aboard Mandaloun to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Darron Cummings
Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Canada forward Liam Millar (23) moves the ball past Bermuda defender Eusebio Blankendal (2) during the second half of a World Cup 2022 Group B qualifying soccer match Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Raoux
Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Most Read