FRISCO, Texas – Another day, another unprecedented situation.
In some respects, Wednesday went the same way it always does for the Dallas Cowboys -- a standard day of meetings, game plan installation and practice ahead of a game against their Week 13 opponent.
The difference came afterward, as they walked off the practice field and settled in to watch that Week 13 opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, playing in a live game.
"I ain't done anything like this," joked Michael Gallup to reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
As if anyone needed another reminder, the NFL is playing out its 2020 season in the middle of a global pandemic. There couldn't be a clearer example than Wednesday afternoon, as the league watched Baltimore and Pittsburgh face off in a game that was re-scheduled three times by a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 within the Ravens' facility.
"Frankly, you never really have an opportunity to watch your next opponent play live after an installation day," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. "So the fact that we have had a chance to meet virtually yesterday on Baltimore, just to go through the introduction, the presentations, the personnel changes, trying to anticipate some of the things that are in front of us, because of obviously what they're going through with their COVID challenge and who may be able to play in our game."
The Cowboys' game plan was to watch the game separated into position groups, following all the necessary COVID-19 protocols on their own end. But, as McCarthy alluded to, the main challenge will be trying to determine which personnel might be available to Baltimore for next week, and how they might use them.
The Ravens placed as many as 20 players on the COVID-19/reserve list over the course of the last week, but it's a good bet several of those players will be available by Tuesday night. As for the Cowboys, McCarthy said they've already got their plan mostly in place.
"The reality of it is, schematically all of us in the NFL, you are who you are conceptually," he said. "You're going to attack your opponent from a similar platform, but utilization of personnel is really the question that we'll obviously look at today when they play Pittsburgh."
Thursday won't be normal, either – but for far more important reasons. A memorial service for head strength and conditioning coordinator Markus Paul will be held in the morning, and McCarthy emphasized the importance of being part of that. Again, COVID restrictions will prevent the Cowboys from attending, but they'll be able to attend virtually.
"I'm sure emotions will still be flowing," said Leighton Vander Esch. "But just looking back and knowing and celebrating him is going to be amazing. Whether the emotions are happy, sad, there's going to be all of those. Just celebrating him and just enjoying our time together, embracing everybody, and just being there for him and being there for his family."
From there, perhaps the routine can take over. Starting Friday, the schedule will normalize a bit as the Cowboys gear up for a game. Yes, it's a game happening on a Tuesday night – the first one in franchise history – but the buildup may feel a bit more familiar after Wednesday and Thursday.
With four weeks remaining in this strange season, McCarthy made the point that this may not be unprecedented for long. As they work their way through it, all the Cowboys can do is remain adaptable.
"With all of the schedule changes we've seen the last couple of days, just anticipate this is the new norm," McCarthy said. "This may be the way this season unfolds moving forward. Flexibility, keep your eye on the target the best you can."