By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer
The Minnesota Vikings placed quarterback Kirk Cousins on the COVID-19 reserve list on Friday, two days before their most important game of the season at Green Bay.
Cousins is unvaccinated. Even if he were asymptomatic, he wouldn’t be able to return in time to face the Packers. The NFL recently reduced the required quarantine period to five days for asymptomatic players.
The Vikings (7-8) are one game out of the last wild-card spot in the NFC with two weeks to go. The Packers (12-3) are in control of the top seed and a first-round bye.
The Vikings activated backup quarterback Sean Mannion from the COVID-19 reserve list, putting the seventh-year veteran in line to start at frigid Lambeau Field on Sunday night. Rookie Kellen Mond, who was drafted in the third round, has not developed quickly enough this season to be considered.
“Sean is extremely bright. He studies like crazy. He’s a great competitor. He’s put in this time. He’s earned this opportunity and I think he’ll be ready,” coach Mike Zimmer said after practice on Friday. “I think they’re going to rally behind Sean. They know how important this game is, and they believe in Sean.”
Mannion started one game for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and one game for the Vikings in 2019, when Cousins was held out of the final regular-season game as a precaution prior to the playoffs.
After Minnesota’s last game, a 30-23 loss to the Rams, Cousins acknowledged the predicament of the case numbers climbing within the team like all across the league.
“It’s in our building. It’s going to be in our building. It’s going to spread. We’ve just got to be disciplined to keep our distance and make sure that to the best of our ability we don’t get it,” Cousins said, “but it is going to be difficult.”
Cousins has 30 touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season and is fourth in the NFL in passer rating (101.3). He is 29 yards passing short of hitting the 4,000 mark for a sixth time in seven years as a starter. Cousins is in his fourth season with the Vikings, who have him signed for 2022 with a $45 million salary-cap charge.
Mond and recent addition Kyle Sloter are the other quarterbacks on Minnesota’s roster. When Mond tested positive in training camp, Cousins had to sit out five days as an unvaccinated close contact.
Zimmer didn’t hide his frustration in August with the players who remained unvaccinated, expressing resignation that they would miss games at some point during the year. Plenty of vaccinated players have tested positive and had to sit out, of course, but the rate of infection by the virus among unvaccinated people is much higher.
Unvaccinated players must continue to test daily. Any player, regardless of vaccination status, must test while they have symptoms. Zimmer said he was not sure about symptoms for Cousins.
“We hate to see that happen to Kirk, but he’s done a lot of great things for us,” Zimmer said. “You’re always hopeful that none of your players get it.”
In Denver, the Broncos scrubbed their regular practice for the second straight day and instead held an indoor walkthrough on Friday after several more players were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, including wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and outside linebacker Bradley Chubb.
Coach Vic Fangio said wide receiver Courtland Sutton might also be added to the virus list, which he expects to contain between 15 and 18 players when it’s finalized later Friday.
Fangio said he wasn’t sure he’d be able to dress the usual 45 players Sunday when the Broncos (7-8) play the Chargers (8-7), who are dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak of their own.
The Broncos will be without at least two starting wide receivers (Jeudy, Tim Patrick) and maybe all three if Sutton is confirmed infected, three of their top four edge rushers (Chubb, Jonathon Cooper and Stephen Weatherly), their top slot cornerback (Bryce Callahan), their dime back (Caden Sterns), their starting right tackle (Bobby Massie) and their top swing tackle (Calvin Anderson). Also out because of COVID-19 is defensive line coach Bill Kollar.
Around the league, teams were experiencing more gains than losses as players in the pre-Christmas surge of positive tests have begun to trickle back to action.
The Jacksonville Jaguars activated seven players from their COVID-19 reserve list, including defensive starters Josh Allen, Myles Jack and Damien Wilson. Allen, Jack and Wilson cleared protocols and will fly with the team to New England.
The Jaguars (2-13) still have 20 players on the COVID-19 list, including three starting offensive linemen. Interim coach Darrell Bevell said Friday he hopes center Brandon Linder and guard Andrew Norwell will be cleared in time to play the Patriots. Jacksonville has a second plane lined up to take players who could still clear protocols as late as Sunday morning.
Left tackle Cam Robinson is among four Jacksonville players already ruled out. Safeties Rudy Ford and Andrew Wingard and returner Jaydon Mickens also are out. Bevell said rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence will start, no matter what the offensive line looks like.
Jacksonville also activated tight end Luke Farrell, receiver Laviska Shenault and defensive end Jordan Smith from COVID-19 reserve and moved running back Travis Etienne from the COVID-19 list back to injured reserve.
Also returning from COVID-19 reserve on Friday:
—Safety Jahleel Addae and running back Marlon Mack to the Indianapolis Colts.
—Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks to the Chicago Bears.
—Wide receiver Mike Evans to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who put punter Bradley Pinion on the COVID-19 reserve list.
—Guard Sean Harlow to the Arizona Cardinals.
—Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison to the Atlanta Falcons.
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