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Robert Griffin III wonders if player ‘safety is actually being taken into account’ after gutsy matinee loss

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Baltimore Ravens players expressed frustration Wednesday over what has become one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in professional sports.

After their 19-14 loss to the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore players questioned a lack of preparation as well as some of the NFL’s decisions during a time when at least one Ravens player tested positive for 10 straight days.

“It’s not about whether or not guys want to play,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said after filling in for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who tested positive last week. “It’s about whether or not our safety is actually being taken into account. I can’t say much more than that.”

The Ravens-Steelers game, which was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night, was played six days later after three postponements. Baltimore was limited to walk-throughs on Monday and Tuesday after being shut out of its facility for five days.

Griffin described the socially distanced walk-throughs “abnormal” and indicated they weren’t run at full speed. He believes the lack of full practices contributed to his injury in the second quarter.

“I pulled a hamstring today,” Griffin said. “I’ve never pulled a hamstring in my life. You see guys going down left and right.”

Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith left with a groin injury in the second quarter. Defensive end Derek Wolfe, safety DeShon Elliott, offensive tackle D.J. Fluker and cornerback Marcus Peters all suffered injuries but returned.

Another issue that Ravens players had was with the decision to reopen the team facility. After two Baltimore players tested positive following an overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 22, the NFL closed the Ravens facility Monday morning before allowing players and coaches to reenter Monday afternoon. The facility remained open until Tuesday at noon. During that time, the Ravens held a walk-through with players wearing masks.

“I don’t know what comes with me saying this, but, of course, on Monday and Tuesday, we’re wondering, ‘Why were we allowed back in the building if we say everything is based off contact tracing and things like that, and that’s what’s told to us?,'” Ravens safety Chuck Clark said. “We’ve got to look at some of those things.”

Since Nov. 23, the Ravens have placed a total of 23 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list for either testing positive or being identified as a high-risk close contact. Baltimore has reduced that list to 17 players now, but it had to promote 10 players from the practice squad Wednesday to fill out a 48-man game-day roster.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said it has been an emotional time for the team and everyone was transparent and honest in answering the players’ questions.

“I just feel like the league did their best. We did our best,” Harbaugh said. “We didn’t bat 1.000; nobody did. The league didn’t, nobody did. You can’t bat 1.000 against this thing. But I think our response, in terms of our effort, was a perfect effort.”

Asked if there was concern that any protocol violations would result in discipline from the league, Harbaugh said, “It’s not a time to take the accusatory stance; that’s not the position I would take. I’d take the position that our guys fought like crazy, and I’m proud of what they did.”

There were some players who experienced symptoms, but no one became seriously ill, according to Harbaugh. There were instances where players passed the coronavirus to family members, Griffin said.

“Those things don’t get reported,” Griffin said. “So, when people think, ‘Oh. Maybe they just don’t want to play. They just don’t want to do this.’ It’s not that — we love football. We want to play football, but we also want to make sure our families are safe.”

Jackson, who tested positive on Thanksgiving, will complete his 10-day quarantine Saturday. If he tests negative, he would be available to play in Tuesday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

“He’s in good spirits,” said Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown, who is Jackson’s close friend. “He told us to go out there and try to win this game. Just wishing for a speedy recovery for him.”

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Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald on rib injury — ‘Feel real good’

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said the rib injury he suffered in a wild-card playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks is feeling good and that he’s on track to play against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a divisional-round game.

“Feel good, feel real good,” Donald said Wednesday. “No pain, feel healthy.”

After a minute of questions about his rib injury, including one probing about the extent of the injury, Donald grew tired of the subject.

“Man, my damn side is just sore, I’m good though,” Donald said with a grin. “I ain’t gonna sit here and talk about my damn side the whole time. I’m good. I just had a whole workout, feel strong, feel healthy, so I’m good.”

A day before Donald spoke with reporters, Rams coach Sean McVay said that the star defensive tackle would rest from practices this week, adding that “unless something unforeseen happens, the Terminator will be ready.”

Donald went through a workout in the weight room on Tuesday and Wednesday, but acknowledged that he would follow the recommendations of the training staff to ensure he would not suffer any setback ahead of Saturday’s game.

“Just be cautious, be smart,” said Donald, who has not missed a game due to injury in his seven-year career. “Not trying to tweak nothing, make sure that come game day, I’m ready to go.”

Donald suffered the injury in the third quarter of a 30-20 win over the Seahawks on Saturday when he hit quarterback Russell Wilson, who landed on Donald as the two went to the ground. Donald said it felt like he got the wind knocked out of him.

“I was hurting,” he said.

Nevertheless, after returning to the field from the locker room, Donald said he considered returning to the game until the Rams scored with 4:46 remaining to take a 30-13 lead.

“That kind of put it away, so it was like a ‘Let’s rest up for next week’ type thing,” said Donald, who had two sacks in the game.

A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Donald had 13.5 sacks in the regular season for the Rams’ top-ranked defense, which finished atop the league in efficiency, yards allowed per game and points allowed per game.

As he prepares for Saturday’s game at a chilly Lambeau Field, Donald did not express concern about how his injury would respond in temperatures forecast to top out in the mid-30s. And he was uncertain whether he will need any additional protective equipment around his ribs.

“I feel good, I feel strong and I’ll be ready to go come Saturday,” Donald said.

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No Green Bay Packers deemed close contacts after OT Jared Veldheer tests positive for COVID-19, source says

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Two days after arriving in Green Bay, veteran offensive tackle Jared Veldheer was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Veldheer tested positive for COVID-19, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates. But the good news for the top-seeded Packers as they prepare for Saturday’s NFC divisional-round playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams is that the standard contact tracing investigation did not deem any other players as close contacts, a source told ESPN.

The next step is to wait out each day of daily COVID tests before the Packers’ playoff opener to make sure there are no more positive tests. Veldheer was signed off the Indianapolis Colts‘ practice squad on Monday and practiced with the team on Tuesday. He did not practice on Wednesday. He had been in the testing program with the Colts, which is why he was able to join the Packers on the field immediately.

The Packers turned their large media auditorium into the offensive line media room this season, which likely helped them prevent any other linemen from being considered close contacts.

Had Veldheer played against the Rams, he would have become the first player to appear in a postseason game for two different teams in the same year. He was elevated from the Colts’ practice squad and started at left tackle in their AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Bills on Saturday.

Veldheer is in his second stint with the Packers. He started for them at right tackle in last year’s NFC divisional playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks after Bryan Bulaga became ill before the game. The Packers had lured Veldheer out of retirement and signed him in November of 2019.

The Packers did not say how — or if — they planned to use Veldheer this week. They lost All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari to a torn ACL in practice leading up to the regular-season finale. They started Billy Turner at left tackle in Bakhtiari’s place and put Rick Wagner at right tackle. Veldheer most likely would have served as the top backup tackle unless the Packers wanted to move Turner back to guard to deal with Aaron Donald.

Earlier on Tuesday, coach Matt LaFleur said of Veldheer: “I thought he did a nice job yesterday. But it was primarily walk-through so it was really tough to evaluate that in one walk-through setting. So we’ll play it day by day and see where he’s at.”

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Kansas City Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire returns to practice ahead of playoff game

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs could have running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire for Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game against the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium.

Edwards-Helaire returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since injuring his ankle and hip in a Week 15 game against the New Orleans Saints. He was a limited practice participant.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he was able to watch some of Edwards-Helaire’s rehab progress, noting that the 2020 first-round draft pick “gets after it.”

“A lot of it is the way you approach it and the trust you have in the trainers and so on. I’ll tell you, this kid, he just kind of went right at it,” Reid said. “I mean, he was fearless with it, and as a result, I’d tell you he’s probably a little ahead, and we’ve just got to evaluate it.”

But, Reid cautioned, “we’re not going to do anything to jeopardize him or his career. I mean, that’s not what we’re doing. We’ve taken it day by day with him and we’ll keep doing that and just see how he does here.”

Edwards-Helaire led the team in rushing with 803 yards in the regular season. He also caught 36 passes and scored five touchdowns.

Darrel Williams, Le’Veon Bell and Darwin Thompson filled in for Edwards-Helaire in the two games he missed.

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