The Pittsburgh Steelers are undefeated. The Tennessee Titans are undefeated. The two were scheduled to play each other last weekend, but they didn’t because of an outbreak of COVID-19 within the Titans.
So Tennessee closed its facility, the game was called off and two unbeaten teams had a bye four weeks into the season.
Now the question: Can that unexpected break have an impact on surging clubs like Tennessee and Pittsburgh. And, if so, what kind?
“Oh, it absolutely does,” said Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy on the first installment of “The Eye Test” podcast. “Football players are creatures of habit, and they’re used to a routine.
“(Former Tampa Bay and Raiders’ star) Warren Sapp … I remember him saying one time, ‘I’m the only person in America that can tell you what I’m going to be doing a year from now on Sept. 9. Because I know our schedule, and it’s not going to change.’
“He loved that, though, and all the guys loved it. You’re a creature of habit, and when that gets disrupted it becomes odd. It becomes weird. I think good coaches will function with this; they’ll roll with it.
“I remember my first year in Minnesota with Denny Green. He flew us to a preseason game on the day of the game, made us get off from the airport and go right to the stadium and play. And his reason was: ‘I don’t know when, but this could happen. And if it does happen, we’re going to be ready for it.’ So that’s the mentality that you have to have.
“In talking to the coaches … my friends who are still in the league … that’s what they’re looking at. (They tell me), ‘We don’t know what’s going to happen; we’ve got to coach our guys into being OK with different situations, in different circumstances.’ “
Funny he should mention that. The New England Patriots had last Sunday’s game at Kansas City postponed a day after New England’s Cam Newton and the Chiefs’ Jordan Ta’amu tested positive for COVID-19. No problem. The Patriots flew in two planes to Kansas City on Monday morning and played the game that evening before returning home.
“I thought Bill Belichick was masterful (Monday) night,” said Dungy, who appears each Sunday on NBC’s “Football in America” telecast. “(Basically, he said), ‘Hey, we had to fly the day of the game. We had to fly two different planes. It wasn’t routine at all, but you know what? No excuses. No explanations. We still expect to win.’ “
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The Patriots did not, losing 26-10, but they pushed the Chiefs to the wall for three quarters.
“You’ll see two camps (going forward),” Dungy predicted. “You’ll see people complain about it and say, ‘This is unfair.’ And you’ll see people just go after it.”
“I’m in a coaches’ Bible Study with a few of the guys from the Tennessee staff. They haven’t been to work in five days, and they’re trying to get ready to play a game, and they’re ‘Zooming’ their players and trying to keep them into it. Those are the things you’re going to have to do, and the really good coaching staffs … the really good teams with good leadership … they will do that.”
Dungy said he believes the NFL “absolutely will” finish the season and play Super Bowl LV but not “without bumps in the road” that could force the postponement or cancellation of more games.
“You’re going to have to be flexible,” he said. “I don’t believe everybody’s going to play the same amount of games. But I think we’re going to have a season and have a Super Bowl.”