By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills are preparing as normal for Sunday’s game with Tennessee — as if the NFL’s first COVID-19 outbreak won’t affect a showdown between two of the league’s six remaining undefeated teams.
Get this: What updates the Bills are getting on an “ever-evolving situation” are coming through the media.
“It’s really up in the air,” Buffalo center Mitch Morse said Thursday. “I think it’s an ongoing, evolving situation that all parties involved are trying to do the right thing. I think player safety is No. 1, and then trying to get this game going is the utmost importance for a lot of people, but not at the cost of players’ health.”
The Titans’ outbreak increased to 23 Thursday with tight end MyCole Pruitt and a defensive back from the practice squad put on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday afternoon. The Titans’ facility remains closed with the team still prohibited from any in-person activities.
Tennessee (3-0) has had 21 positive tests returned since Sept. 29, though now 13 players are on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including four starters and a long snapper. That puts the game with Buffalo (4-0) at risk of at least being postponed, and the Bills are scheduled to host Kansas City on Oct. 15.
A scenario the NFL has been considering is moving the Bills-Titans game to Monday or Tuesday night, moving Chiefs-Bills to next weekend and not having a Thursday night game. The NFL initially planned to postpone the Titans’ Week 4 game with the Steelers just a day or two before eventually rescheduling the game to Oct. 25.
Buffalo safety Micah Hyde said he doesn’t want to postpone or cancel anything, making clear the Bills want to play. That’s what the Steelers said last week. But Hyde also thought there would be a solution by Thursday.
“We’re not really sure what’s going on,” Hyde said. “Honestly, we’re clueless (with) the situation coming up. So all we can do is practice and prepare like we’re going to play on Sunday, and I think everybody in this building wants to play.”
Titans coach Mike Vrabel has talked with reporters only once this week, and he said Tuesday that he stood by the franchise following league protocols.
The investigation by the NFL and the players’ association into how Tennessee turned into the league’s first COVID-19 outbreak found “several specific incidents” of the Titans possibly breaking protocols dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the inquiry told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Also, Tennessee was told players could not gather together for any in-person activities either at the club’s facility or elsewhere a day before several Titans worked out at a private school, a person familiar with the situation told the AP on Thursday.
The NFL closed both the Tennessee and Minnesota facilities Sept. 29 after eight positive test results for the Titans; the Titans played at the Vikings in Week 3. A group of Titans, which included quarterback Ryan Tannehill, worked out at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville on Sept. 30 after getting permission from coaches at the school.
There wasn’t language in the CBA or COVID protocols related to working out after being told not to or in case of an outbreak at a team’s facility.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned all 32 teams Monday that following league protocols is mandatory and that violations forcing changes in the schedule could lead to being stripped of draft choices or even forfeiting games. The NFL also updated protocols on Oct. 2.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said Wednesday that the investigation looked into everything from video inside the Titans’ facility, interviewing everyone involved and even studied seating charts on buses and planes.
Sills noted they wanted to learn how to improve and the NFL already has made a number of changes.
The Patriots are missing a second straight day of practice Thursday after reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore joined quarterback Cam Newton on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday. New England also has a defensive tackle from the practice squad on the list in the league’s other mini-outbreak.
New England coach Bill Belichick said Thursday the team closed its facility for the health and safety of the club and is continuing to prepare for Sunday’s game with Denver virtually. Whether the Patriots return to their facility Friday will be a medical decision rather than a football one, Belichick said.
“Things are changing very quickly so or could change very quickly. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t,” Belichick said. “We knew that at the beginning of the season that there were going to be challenges. There have been. And we’re ready to work through them. And that’s what we’re doing.”
The NFL sent new protocols to all 32 teams Oct. 1 detailing additional steps including a second daily test when dealing with an outbreak or having been exposed to an outbreak. That also included teams and players not allowed to hold any gatherings or group activities away from the facility.
Miami coach Brian Flores said all coaches and players can control is how they practice and follow protocols, not whether games are played or postponed.
“Do you start to think about, ‘OK, if we start canceling more games or postponing more games, what’s that going to look like for the rest of the season?’ Yeah, but I try not to look that far down the road,” Flores said. “I think the league will handle those things, and if we end up being affected, then so be it.”
NOTES: The Titans also announced that tight end Tommy Hudson, a practice squad member currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list, has been suspended without pay for six games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner, AP Sports Writers Kyle Hightower and Steve Wine contributed and AP freelance writer Mark Ludwiczak contributed to this report.