Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel says his players want to get back to work.
“Our guys prepared for the season, they want to play,” he said Wednesday. “I know they are anxious to get back out on the practice field and to continue to play games. And to compete against a very good Buffalo team that is 4-0.”
Yet the potential matchup of AFC unbeatens that was rescheduled for Tuesday night between the visiting Bills and 3-0 Titans — negative COVID-19 tests permitting over the coming days — is not the feature attraction. Tennessee’s struggle with the pandemic over the past two weeks remains the main storyline.
Dating back to the day before their 31-30 road win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 27, the Titans have seen 23 players or staff members test positive for COVID-19. Among the players affected are their top two receivers, Corey Davis and Adam Humphries.
Tennessee’s scheduled Week 4 home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed until Oct. 25, and the Titans set themselves up for possible league sanctions. The NFL is investigating whether the team followed protocols before and during the situation, as an informal players workout on Sept. 30 at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville reportedly raised the league’s ire.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said this week that teams in violation of league rules concerning COVID-19 protocols could be subject to punishments ranging from fines to lost draft picks to even forfeits.
Vrabel doesn’t expect any of the players presently on the COVID-19 list to play against Buffalo.
“I think we’re just going to have to let this play out,” he said of players’ possible return dates. “Let the protocols work themselves out as it relates to the time away. We’re just going to try to prepare the team and take the 48 guys that we feel give us the best chance to win.”
As for the Bills, they have looked the part of a team taking the next step from surprising playoff team to legitimate contender. Their 30-23 road win last week over the Las Vegas Raiders gave them a two-game cushion at the quarter pole on longtime AFC East power New England.
Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen has been terrific, completing 70.9 percent of his passes for 1,326 yards with 12 touchdowns and only one interception. The addition of former Minnesota standout Stefon Diggs to a receiving corps that already included underrated John Brown and Cole Beasley has given Allen a go-to man.
After struggling on offense for years, the Bills rank in the top five in points per game (30.8), yards per game (409.8) and passing yards per game (316.3). Their challenges in this game include an unbeaten opponent and a two-day delay because of the Titans’ fight against the pandemic.
“As a team that’s off to a good start, we feel like we’ve got a good thing rolling here,” Allen said. “We’ve been able to adjust and overcome a lot of things throughout the season. This is just another one of those things.”
While reports have emerged of some players around the league being upset with the Titans, Diggs isn’t one of them.
“Everybody’s doing the best they can,” he said. “Things are going to happen. This isn’t a league-wide disaster or anything. The world’s going through it as well. I’m being understanding more than anything because I feel for those guys, too.”
Should the game be played, a limited number of fans would be allowed into Nissan Stadium. Attendance will be capped at 12.5 percent of the venue’s capacity of 69,143, around 8,600.