Dez Bryant Out for MNF, But Ravens Continue Wild Ride With Unforgettable Win

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 8, 2020 (first published Nov. 30; updated Dec. 14)

Tonight’s Ravens-Cowboys game started with high drama.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Dez Bryant was pulled from pregame warmups before tonight’s game against the Dallas Cowboys (his former team). Bryant left practice in order to take a test for COVID-19. (NFL reporter Kevin Seifert says that Bryant had taken a test this morning that came back “inconclusive” after he took the field. That necessitated a follow-up test, which came back positive.)

Less than an hour before game time, Bryant tweeted that he had tested positive for coronavirus. This, of course, would prevent him from playing in tonight’s game. But according to Bryant, he may be out for the rest of the season:

This comes after a dramatic sequence of events for the Ravens. On Monday, November 23, multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 after the Ravens’ loss to the Tennessee Titans. (The players included running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, who tested positive for coronavirus on Nov. 23. Both players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, per the NFL Network. The Ravens shut down their facility, the NFL said.)

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, a scheduled game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed. The match had been scheduled for Thanksgiving night (Nov. 26). But the day before, NPR reported that the game was being postponed, after at least seven Ravens players tested positive for the coronavirus or were in close contact with someone who was infected. The news was confirmed by team releases.

On Thanksgiving night, word broke that four players — including Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson — had also tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, the NFL made a major decision. On Friday, Nov. 27, the Ravens-Steelers game was rescheduled to Tuesday, Dec. 1. That decision came after more positive tests by players within the organization. (As a result, the Cowboys-Ravens game was moved to tonight, from its original scheduling of Dec. 4.) On Saturday, six more players were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, per ESPN. That gave Baltimore at total of 17 positive tests.

Ravens’ game versus the Steelers had been rescheduled for Tuesday night, Dec. 1. But additional positive tests mandated another change of plans. On Nov. 30th, the game was rescheduled for the third time, due to COVID-19. This was the first match this season to be rescheduled three times, according to ESPN. (By that point, at least one Ravens player had tested positive for nine straight days, prompting the decision.)

The game was set for Wednesday at 3:40 pm. It was the first Wednesday NFL game since 2012, ESPN says. The game kicked off at 3:40 p.m. because NBC, which is broadcasting the game, wanted to honor its commitment to broadcast a Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday night, sources told ESPN reporter Adam Schefter. The Ravens lost to the Steelers on Wednesday afternoon, marking Pittsburgh’s 11th straight victory.

Players who test positive must quarantine for 10 days. Two other players were put on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list that week, which means they either contracted the coronavirus or came into close contact with someone who had it, according to the Ravens’ roster.

The Ravens officially placed three more starters, including two 2019 Pro Bowlers, on that list last Monday. Tight end Mark Andrews, outside linebacker Matthew Judon and wide receiver Willie Snead IV were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Andrews, who is also a Type-1 diabetic, has played every game this season and leads the Ravens in catches (38), receiving yards (454) and touchdown catches (six). Andrews and Judon are both 2019 Pro Bowlers, making it seven Pro Bowlers on the list for Baltimore. As of today (Nov. 30), 21 players have been placed on that list, per the Ravens organization.

Despite all this drama, the Ravens won! The team beat the Cowboys 34-17 in tonight’s game, racking up 294 yards on the ground. Quarterback Lamar Jackson rushed for a 37-yard touchdown, then threw another TD to wide receiver Marquise Brown. RB J.K. Dobbins (who also tested positive for COVID-19) ran in for a touchdown just before the two-minute warning.

Jackson threw for 107 yards and two touchdowns, in spite of his lingering COVID-19 symptoms. “I still can’t really taste or smell, but I’m good now,” he told reporters after the game. “I guess my taste or smell gon’ come back sooner or later…I wouldn’t wish that on nobody, though.”

Buccaneers Edge Giants In Dramatic Win

By Terrance Turner

“Monday Night Football” tonight was one for the ages. It was a lot closer than observers may have anticipated, but the result was exactly as expected. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers overcame a double-digit shortfall to run up the score and defeat the New York Giants, 25-23.

Things got off to a surprising start in the first half. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones hit Dion Lewis for a TD to make it 7-3 in the first quarter. Then he drove the team 77 yards, with Wayne Gallman running into the end zone from the 2-yard line with 1:46 remaining in the half. The Giants surprised viewers by scoring two touchdowns and stopping the Bucs from reaching the end zone. Brady was pressured and sacked, as drive after drive stalled. The Giants were up 14-3 early on, but Bucs kicker Ryan Succop nailed a field goal to make the score 14-6 at halftime.

In the second half, Succop drilled another field goal, making it 14-9. Then Brady found one of his favorite targets — Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski. With 6:05 left in the third quarter, Gronk caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brady. The Giants defender punched the ball out after Gronk took a couple steps, but the refs upheld the TD. It’s the third week in a row that Gronk has caught a TD from Brady — and it’s their 93rd touchdown together.

This gave the Bucs their first lead of the game. The Buccaneers attempted a two-point conversion, but it was unsuccessful. That left the score 15-14. But Brady and Gronk have nevertheless accomplished a singular feat: they have now passed Steve Young and Jerry Rice in the record books. The only QB-WR duo with more TDs is Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.

In the fourth quarter, Jones threw yet another pick. (He has 13 interceptions for the season — more than any other quarterback besides Philadelphia’s QB Carson Wentz.) On the next possession, Brady launched a crucial connection with Tyler Johnson.

The Giants added a field goal in the fourth quarter. But the team later got flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, putting the Bucs closer to the goal line with nine minutes left. Then Brady hurled the ball 8 yards to receiver Mike Evans, who made a highlight-reel catch for the go-ahead touchdown. That made it 22-17.

On their next drive, the Buccaneers moved down the field. Brady connected with Gronkowski for 18 yards. A would-be catch for Mike Evans got flagged for pass interference, helping the Bucs move forward. But they were again stymied by a stalwart Giants defense. Fournette was stuffed at the first-down line. Instead of going for it, Arians elected for a field goal, which Succop sent right through the uprights. It was now 25-17.

The Giants struggled after getting the ball back. Jones, under pressure, backed up and threw the ball on a prayer. The result was a miraculous catch by Darius Slayton. Later, Jones managed to convert on 4th and 16, keeping the drive alive. And out of nowhere, Jones launched a 19-yard touchdown to Giants receiver Golden Tate. With 28 seconds left, the New York Giants had sprung to life.

The score was now 25-23. All the Giants needed was a two-point conversion to tie the game. But it wasn’t to be. On the final play Jones’ pass to Dion Lewis hit Bucs player Antoine Winfield in the arm, bouncing off to land as an incomplete pass. The refs threw a flag, indicating possible pass interference. But the referees eventually decided there was no foul committed. “There is no flag for pass interference on the play,” the ref announced.

That sealed the deal. The Buccaneers won, improving their record to 6-2. This is Brady’s 30th win after trailing by 10 or more points — more than any other quarterback in the NFL.

After Lifeless Start, Chiefs’ Offense Explodes to Stun Patriots

By Terrance Turner

It was 6-3 for the entire first half of tonight’s game. The Kansas City Chiefs had two field goals. The New England Patriots had one.

No big plays. No long passes. No touchdowns.

Neither offense showed any signs of life as the third quarter began. The Patriots punted at the start of the third quarter. Then the Chiefs had to punt after an incomplete pass by Mahomes. A seven-minute drive by the Patriots took them all the way to the twelve-yard line. Then RB Rex Burkhead rushed for seven yards to the 5-yard-line. But then, Patriots QB Brian Hoyer was sacked by Chiefs player Taco Charlton. Hoyer fumbled the ball; Kansas City recovered. (Hoyer was later replaced by quarterback Jarrett Stidham.)

This low-score, lackluster offense continued through the third quarter. But then — with just 49 seconds left in the quarter — something happened. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes launched a pass to tight end Travis Kelce, who turned the play into a 45-yard pitch-and-catch. Then, just minutes later, Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill scored by skirting the edge of the field. Hill disappeared inside a sea of blue Patriots jerseys, scampering down the sideline for the touchdown.

It was now 13-3 — the score at the end of Super Bowl 53, which the Patriots won. The Patriots responded tonight with a touchdown of their own. But it was the Chiefs who would prevail. Mahomes threw another touchdown – this time to wide receiver Mecole Hardman. A left-field interception sealed the Chiefs’ win. Stidham tried a pass to veteran wide receiver Julian Edelman. The ball bounced off of Edelman’s hands and into the hands of safety Tyrann Mathieu. He ran it all the way into the end zone for the touchdown.

Follwing the touchdown, the Patriots regained possession and tried to mount a scoring drive. But after two short rushing plays, Stidham was intercepted by Chiefs’ Rashad Fenton, who returned it for 31 yards, according to MSN. That pick effectively ended the game. The Chiefs rolled over the Patriots, 26-10.

The Chiefs are now the first team in NFL history to start 4-0 in four consecutive seasons. Tonight was their 13th straight win (counting the postseason and Super Bowl). Tonight was also Travis Kelce’s birthday. Kelce will celebrate his 31st birthday with a win. He’s also breathing some rarefied air: the Chiefs are one of only six undefeated teams in the NFL.