The N.F.L. has postponed Sunday’s highly anticipated game between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs to Monday or Tuesday because of positive coronavirus tests on both teams. According to multiple news media reports, Cam Newton, the Patriots quarterback, was among those who tested positive.
“In consultation with infectious disease experts, both clubs are working closely with the N.F.L. and the N.F.L.P.A. to evaluate multiple close contacts, perform additional testing and monitor developments,” the league said in a statement. “All decisions will be made with the health and safety of players, team and gameday personnel as our primary consideration.”
The Patriots confirmed a positive test, but did not identify the player, in accordance with privacy policies. In a statement released Saturday, the team said the player had been isolated and that subsequent tests done on players and staff who had been in contact with him had come back negative.
“We are in close consultation with the N.F.L. as well as our team of independent doctors and specialists,” the statement said, “and will follow their guidance regarding our scheduled trip to Kansas City and game against the Chiefs. The health and safety of our team, as well as of our opponent, are of highest priority.”
The game was to be a closely watched showdown between two of the league’s best quarterbacks. The Patriots are 2-1 with Newton, who replaced Tom Brady after he left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Patrick Mahomes, the Super Bowl most valuable player, and the Chiefs are 3-0.
The new positive tests come after the N.F.L. had spent much of the week scrambling to address an outbreak of positive tests among the Tennessee Titans. At least a dozen members of the organization — including as many as nine players — are known to be infected, which forced the league to reschedule the Titans’ game on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers to Oct. 25.
Tennessee’s team facilities have been closed since Tuesday and all in-person activities halted. The Titans reportedly had new cases on Friday and Saturday, raising questions about whether the outbreak would force the postponement or cancellation of their next game, at home against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 11.
Now, with positive cases on two more teams, the N.F.L. is facing its first serious challenge to completing the regular season according to its design. After the Titans’ outbreak began, the league stepped up enforcement measures to help limit exposure risks and ramp up punitive measures for missteps.
The league sent a memo on Friday to teams stating that players and coaches would be prohibited from leaving their team’s city during bye weeks. Two days earlier, Troy Vincent, N.F.L.’s executive vice president for football operations, had sent another memo that threatened suspensions or the forfeiture of draft picks to teams whose coaches did not wear masks while on the sidelines. “If we are to play a full and uninterrupted season, we all must remain committed to our efforts to mitigate the risk of transmission of the virus,” Vincent said.
Though this week marks the first widespread reporting of positive tests in the N.F.L., whose players and team owners opted not to play the season in an enclosed environment, or “bubble,” the league has been previously affected by isolated cases. After the season-opening game on Sept. 10 between the Houston Texans and Chiefs in Kansas City, 10 fans who had attended the game had to quarantine because they were exposed to another fan who had tested positive in a suite at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City has continued to allow up to 17,000 fans to attend each game — roughly 22 percent of the stadium’s capacity.
The Atlanta Falcons placed starting cornerback A.J. Terrell on the reserve/Covid-19 list before the team’s Week 3 game against the Chicago Bears, which was played as scheduled after neither team reported any additional positives.