Carolina Panthers: COVID-19 concerns highlight bye week perils

(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Zach Kerr
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Zach Kerr /

The Carolina Panthers’ bye week has come with some COVID-19 complications.

If this wasn’t the worst-case scenario for the Carolina Panthers coming off their bye week, then it was pretty close. The organization placed no fewer than eight players on the reserve/COVID-19 list after a well-deserved few days away from football, which has thrown preparations for their next game at home to the Denver Broncos on Sunday into chaos.

The Carolina Panthers took the quick decision to shut down team facilities and go virtual while the scale of this outbreak was fully identified. NFL teams are not at liberty to discuss whether or not players have tested positive for the virus or as in Curtis Samuel‘s case, been in close contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19.

This is the last thing that head coach Matt Rhule needs. The Panthers are looking to finish a rollercoaster campaign on a high note over the next month before another crucial offseason period in 2021 and it just so happens that facing the Broncos at Bank of America Stadium represents their best chance remaining of achieving a fifth win of the season.

Denver is no stranger to COVID-19 complications. They were forced to play their game against the New Orleans Saints without a recognized quarterback that went as expected, which told us more about the NFL’s desire to get every game played no matter what more than anything else.

After all, as long as the money train keeps rolling, what else matters?

Another unwelcome problem for the Carolina Panthers.

It comes as no surprise that this has occurred after the Panthers’ bye. Carolina gave their roster the week off to rest, reflect, and heal after a grueling campaign that has clearly taken its toll on a team that doesn’t possess much in the way of notable depth, which will be stretched even further thanks to these latest developments.

The bye week makes keeping tabs on players almost impossible. Guidelines are there for all to see and the Panthers have followed these to the last detail. But time away means putting some belief that each of them can be responsible away from the team.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like they’ve taken things too seriously.

This is a precarious situation with COVID-19 cases continuing to surge across the country. It doesn’t appear as if the NFL season will be in jeopardy despite a number of games moving from their original date and it would be a big shock if Carolina’s 1 pm EST kickoff against the Broncos went ahead as scheduled at this juncture.

Rhule has gone through his fair share of disruption since deciding to take over at the Panthers on a seven-year, $60 million deal. Social distancing restrictions meant it was the strangest offseason period in recent memory and despite the coach’s lack of experience at the next level, he’s handled himself extremely well.

Something like this was bound to happen at some stage. But it has highlighted the perils of the bye week in the current climate.

COVID-19 is highly contagious.

And all it takes is a lapse in judgment once.

Every NFL team has now had their bye, which will leave commissioner Roger Goodell breathing a sigh of relief. He has put stricter measures in place after serious outbreaks in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, to name a few, in recent weeks and it remains to be seen if more needs to be done once the regular season concludes and the postseason begins.

As for the Panthers, chalk this down as another learning curve for a young roster who will have gained plenty from every experience acquired this season.

First and foremost, we hope that everyone on the reserve/COVID-19 list is healthy and recovers well. But it’s a harsh lesson for most of them not to take their eye off the ball at any stage.