Patriots-Broncos game still on amid practice cancellation after another positive coronavirus test

The Patriots canceled their Friday practice after another player tested positive for COVID-19.

Backup center James Ferentz, who played Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs in a starting role, was placed on the COVID-19/reserve list, according to the NFL transaction wire. He becomes the fifth Patriots player overall to test positive for the virus.

The team was also awaiting confirmation of a second positive test, but placing only Ferentz on the reserve list suggests his was the lone positive this time out.

So the chain of hits keep coming. In the interim, Sunday’s Patriots-Broncos game is still on barring further positive tests.

Quarterback Cam Newton, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and reserve defensive lineman Bill Murray had tested positive, but have since been taken off the COVID-19 reserve list, returning to practice Thursday.

In terms of a timeline, Newton’s positive test was October 2. Murray came next, then Gilmore followed October 6th.

Defensive lineman Byron Cowart tested positive five days ago, forcing the Broncos matchup to be pushed back again to this Sunday. His positive test aligns with Gilmore’s in terms of the expected incubation period of the virus.

Ferentz’ test falls in line with Cowart’s. Ferentz was listed on a hypothetical injury report as not practicing Wednesday, but was present during Thursday’s actual practice after being removed from the injury list. So that’s an interesting dynamic, and has the potential to set up other positive tests down the road.

Since Newton contracted COVID-19, the Patriots have had positive tests pop up in five-day increments, which makes sense. It’s been a domino effect.

The Patriots haven’t been at the facility much at all this week given Cowart’s positive test Sunday. The players lifted weights on Wednesday and conducted a regular practice Thursday. Ferentz’ reported positive is likely an off-shoot from Cowart being infected with the virus. It fits the timeline.

Earlier in the week, NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills indicated there had been no evidence of on-field transmission between Patriot players.

It’s also been reported if positive tests popped up in Foxboro this week, as long as those positives were produced by people deemed as “close contacts” of those already infected, the games would be played as scheduled. That scenario seems to be in play at this point.

How will the league ultimately proceed? Stay tuned.

They initially moved the Patriots’ Week 4 game with the Chiefs to Monday night, with the team flying into the Kansas City the same day. They also moved the Broncos game back a week after an initial bump to Monday night.

The latest COVID-19 fix had the NFL changing eight games, making switches with multiple teams throughout the regular season slate.

At this point, there’s been no change in terms of playing Sunday’s game with the Broncos. The 1 p.m. kick off is still on. The league is holding firm, with the Broncos expected to fly to town on Saturday. With only one more positive test, it looks likely they’ll just proceed as scheduled.

That’s the information Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was given by the league.

“We’re under the assumption and understanding that this game is going to go off on time,” Fangio told reporters in Denver Friday. “Anything that happens otherwise will happen when it happens.”

While some of his players grumbled after last week’s cancellation, Fangio said the players were on board with however it plays out.

“I told them (the Patriots) have another positive test that they have to work through,” he said. “We’re to assume and press forward that we are playing on Sunday until we’re told officially otherwise, and our guys were good with that.”

Newton should return after missing just one game during the process. Gilmore is also on tap to play.

Quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch said Friday Newton is as up to speed as possible, having missed more than two weeks.

“He’s done a great job of preparing. He’s done a great job of trying to understand everything that Denver brings, which is going to be a great challenge,” said Fisch. “I’ve worked for Vic Fangio, worked with Vic Fangio for seven years so we’ve spent a lot of time trying to prepare for Denver and I think that if/when the game occurs on Sunday, we’ll have a great opportunity to go out there and not play our best game.”

If it becomes necessary, would the NFL consider once again bumping the Pats-Broncos to Monday night? Given there’s already two games Monday thanks to adjustments made for positive COVID-19 tests, a triple-header might not be in the cards.

But then again, with the league’s reluctance to shut down for a few weeks, or create a Week 18 to move affected games, anything’s possible.

As Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during a video conference less than a week ago, their status can change on a dime given the nature of the virus and positive tests popping up. They’re basically going “day by day . . . hour by hour.”

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels talked about the adaptability factor on Friday.

“I think honestly this is adaptability at its finest and really focusing on the things that you can control,” said McDaniels. “There are certainly a lot of things right now, a lot of factors and variables that are outside of our control. I know the things that we can focus on and control are our own actions, the way that we use the protocols properly to make sure that we keep ourselves safe, our families safe, and each other safe.”

With Ferentz out, Joe Thuney will likely slide over to center, as he did during Week 3 against the Raiders. David Andrews isn’t due to come off injured reserve, as he was only placed there on Sept. 26, and has to miss at least three games from that date.

Guard Shaq Mason, who is still nursing a calf problem, would play right guard if he’s active, while rookie Michael Onwenu would move back to left guard in Thuney’s place. If Mason can’t play, that presents another set of challenges for offensive line coaches Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo.

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