For the Seahawks, the week off they now get for their annual bye may be as critical as any week in their season.
That was the gist of the message coach Pete Carroll gave his team Monday, saying players need to be as diligent as they have been to this point about adhering to COVID-19 protocols, even if they won't be on the same weekly practice schedule they have been since reporting for training camp in late July.
"We have to be so, so tuned in," Carroll said when he talked to media Monday via Zoom. "Remember, always protect the team is No. 1. This is what this week is about. That rule is all about conscience, staying connected to team, your players, who you represent, all that. Everything is at stake."
The Seahawks have so far done as well as any team in the NFL in handling protocols, with no player having yet had a positive test.
But now that players will have a bit more freedom for the next seven days, Carroll is understandably emphasizing that it doesn't mean players can let up.
Enhanced league protocols enacted last week will help. Specifically, the league told players they can't leave their city during the bye week.
Not all players reacted positively to that requirement.
"Totally sucks," Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers told reporters after last Monday's win over the Atlanta Falcons. "That's all I can say about that. Obviously it is what it is, the situation. But especially as an older player, I look forward to the bye weeks immensely. I look forward to kind of a reset, recharging the batteries."
Green Bay and Detroit were the first two NFL teams to have their officials byes last week (the Steelers and Titans ended up with one in week four when their game was postponed, as did the Patriots and Broncos last week).
Seattle is now among a group of four teams with a bye this week (the others are the Saints, Chargers and Raiders).
Players will still be required to come to the facility for testing each day. And Carroll hopes players will hang around and work out to help keep to some sort of routine.
But NFL teams cannot practice during the bye week via an agreement with the NFL Players Association that requires that players must have four consecutive days off and that those four days must include a Saturday and Sunday, unless the team is playing on the following Thursday. Most teams simply give players the entire week off, and the Seahawks are expected to return to the practice field next Monday.
But even if players hang around the facility some this week, they'll have more down time, and less of a focus with no game this weekend.
"Their routines, they're starting over," Carroll said. "I'm concerned about guys making errors, the error in their ways. They run into the wrong people, go to the wrong place, they get themselves vulnerable. We change the bubble effect of what we've been creating here, working so hard to keep. It's all about conscience.
"We'll do everything we can to remind them. The players are going to work at it amongst themselves, all that, with real direction. Real crucial. Hopefully we'll be able to pull it off."
And as Carroll noted, there is really no way to prepare for a bye week in such a situation.
"I mean, why it's such a big deal is that we're out of our normal routine," Carroll said. "We can't practice this one. This is the first time. We just got to do it. I love practice, being prepared, having the mentality for it. This has just got to carry over from all the time we've had. Our guys will test every day in the morning. They'll stay at least connected in that manner. I'm kind of hoping that our guys will work out and be around the facility, do their thing in a fashion so that it's somewhat normal because we're entering a new week."
As Carroll said, the Seahawks have been spending the season to date in something of an unofficial bubble of rules put in place by the team.
Carroll said last week those include the team instructing players to not have anyone other than immediate family in their homes and to avoid going to restaurants, instead getting takeout or delivery.
Carroll said he has also "totally discouraged" players having any visitors coming into town, but that if players do have visitors to let the team know and make sure to follow established protocols.
"This is not that season when you get to do that," Carroll said. " ... Keeping fingers crossed. But we're going to work really, really hard and stay on it and do the best job just to keep the message alive and keep it going."