In a nearly replicate situation to the Baltimore Ravens playing star cornerback Marlon Humphrey in Week 8, the Steelers felt the need to play tight end in Week 9.
The most significant difference is the Ravens game was home and Humphrey didn’t have to travel. McDonald did. The result is, so far, four additional players have been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including Ben Roethlisberger.
When ESPN’s Brooke Pryor pressed Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on how the travel determination was made, Tomlin had this to say:
“Those aren’t decisions that are made by us. It’s really cut and dry. It’s all in the COVID procedural policy established in New York by the NFL. As long as [the player] is negative and not showing signs of COVID, he’s able to travel, and [Vance McDonald] was and we did. We don’t overanalyze it that way. We utilize all the mechanisms at our disposal to minimize the potential of interaction. We’re all masked up. We’re all exercising good personal hygiene and social distancing. We’re doing all the things that we are asked. That’s our mindset regarding it.”
Unfortunately, it was a bad judgment call. Instead of heeding caution after what went down in Baltimore last week, the Steelers chose to allow McDonald to travel after being listed on the injury report with an illness the day before.
Was Pittsburgh’s decision to have McDonald board the plane and play worth the distractions?
Let’s take a look.
On the Steelers’ first play of the second half’s opening drive, McDonald caught a pass for two yards. That’s it. That was the only time he was targeted and his only contribution to the receiving game. Pittsburgh would go three-and-out and punt.
McDonald’s single pass pro snap was graded at 70.2 by Pro Football Focus, as he didn’t allow any pressure on Big Ben.
NFL should revise its COVID-19 policy
The Steelers did go by the “book.” But it’s obvious that book needs revising. The league should consider updating their current COVID-19 policies and procedures to avoid this fiasco in the future. Adding a line item about how to appropriately proceed with sick players who test negative could very well prevent an outbreak.
Since McDonald was questionable for the game, it was likely he was still showing signs of the undisclosed illness. If it was the cold or flu, those symptoms mimic the coronavirus. Although he tested negative before the Steelers headed for Dallas, it’s clear the organization should’ve thought better.