(UPDATE: The New England Patriots' team facility is closed Sunday after an additional player tested positive for COVID-19 during Saturday's round of testing, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. The NFL announced it has postponed New England's Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos to ensure the safety of players, coaches and game-day personnel.)
If you had any doubt with regard to how New England Patriots players feel about what has happened to their team and across the league over the last couple of weeks, one of their captains, 12-year veteran Jason McCourty, would like to spell it out for you.
"It's definitely been frustrating," McCourty said Saturday afternoon. "The one thing we're accustomed to as players is we become routine-oriented … obviously, starting with last week, being forced to fly out and play a game and fly back (in the same day) was definitely not an ideal situation at all. It takes a toll on your body when you fly back and, obviously, through the course of this week with everything COVID-related that has happened with our team, here we are, two days out from a game, getting our first practice in."
McCourty and the Patriots have been on a COVID-related odyssey for a week straight, beginning with Cam Newton testing positive for COVID-19 two Fridays ago (Oct. 2), to having their Week 4 game against the Chiefs pushed back from Sunday afternoon to Monday night, to having to fly to Kansas City on game day on two separate planes, with one strictly for players and coaches who were in close contact with Newton.
After losing what many inside that building felt was a winnable game, the team arrived home midway through Tuesday morning. There, they were met with another positive test, first to practice squad player Bill Murray, then to reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. That resulted in a full shutdown of the facility that carried from Wednesday into Saturday morning. After coming off the practice field, McCourty was pointed in his comments at both the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
"I know for myself as an older (veteran) who tries to represent the rest of the guys in the locker room, I have been on calls with the [NFLPA] and trying to figure out who has our best interest in mind, and I would kind of say throughout all of this the realization that it's a not a league-wide thing," he said. "It's kind of a team thing. For us in this locker room, this is what we have. Between the players, the coaches, the administration, the staff, it's up to us to kind of take care of one another to make sure physically we are all set, make sure mentally, because I think outside of here, the people that don't have to walk in our building -- whether it's the league office, whether it's the NFLPA -- they don't care. We're trying to get games played and we're trying to get the season going. So, for them, it's not about what's in our best interest, our health and safety, it's what can we make protocol-wise that sounds good, looks good, and how can we go out there and play games."
With an incubation period that the CDC says can extend to 14 days, McCourty was asked if there was any trepidation on his part in not only playing that game in Kansas City but now trying to gear up for another game with just four days since the last positive test.
"If you get a chance to talk to the NFL or the NFLPA, we would greatly appreciate bringing up that point and letting them know," he said with a bemused look on his face. "It's something we talk about and are dealing with. We're moving forward. It's obviously in the back of our minds. I think that's why we're trying to do everything we can. We're distanced today while we were in. We all have masks on. We all have the Oakley shields on or we have a mask underneath our helmet. We weren't really in the building at all. We're doing all the necessary things to stay as safe as possible, so I guess that's the best answer I can give you. But without a doubt, the same way you guys are sitting there thinking about it, 'Hey, they're getting on a plane on Monday and those days don't really add up from the incubation period,' is the same question we're asking our union before we head out there. But you guys saw, we took off and played in a game and came back. As players, we're trying to control what we can control and, at the same time, especially me, and Dev (Devin McCourty) and Slate (Matthew Slater) as the older guys, we're continuing to try to push the envelope to hold everybody accountable, to make sure they have everyone's best interests in mind."
One thing all Patriots players who were made available to the media Saturday made clear, they appreciated the leadership and concern of head coach Bill Belichick and team ownership for keeping the building closed into Saturday as further precaution to put the players' health and safety first and foremost. As Belichick said earlier in the week, "I mean, without a healthy team, you don't have a team." But Belichick also added it was about the families of players and staff as well, and McCourty is one of several players who have left their homes and are staying at hotels to minimize the risk to their loved ones.
"I don't want to sound like we're victims or anything," McCourty added. "We're going through the same exact thing that you guys are going through and everybody in our nation right now. The coronavirus has stopped us all and we all have had to figure it out. That is what we're doing here."