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AP file photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel's third season in Nashville has started 3-0, but the chance to add a fourth win is on hold as the team deals with a COVID-19 outbreak that has already postponed one game until later this month.

NASHVILLE — Mike Vrabel's debut as an NFL head coach two years ago was a lighting-delayed affair that wound up being the league's longest, in real time from start to finish, since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Now he's guiding the Tennessee Titans through the league's first COVID-19 outbreak.

No manual exists on how to handle what the former NFL linebacker is dealing with during a pandemic, including the challenge of not letting an unexpected off week become a bigger setback.

Vrabel's approach to adversity is pretty simple: Try not to panic, assess the situation and do what's best for the team. He credits his role models and coaches for teaching him well, starting with his father, who was a high school basketball coach back in Ohio.

"Both parents were both educators, were both principals," Vrabel said. "I think spending eight years in New England playing for Bill (Belichick), certainly try to take that approach when things come up. You just deal with them, and you put the team first and you figure out a way to get things handled."

Vrabel has the Titans off to their best start since 2008 at 3-0, a much better beginning than his debut in 2018, when Tennessee lost the opener 27-20 to the host Miami Dolphins on a storm afternoon that led to the teams needing 7 hours, 8 minutes from opening to final horn. Vrabel also lost his top receiver in that game, with tight end Delanie Walker going out for the season.

And yet that was nothing compared to what happened this past week.

First, Vrabel and the Titans got to 3-0 with a 31-30 road win against the Minnesota Vikings without the defensive assistant who calls in plays during games. Vrabel helped fill in on defense with outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen left behind in Nashville after a positive COVID-19 test result hours before the Titans headed to Minneapolis.

Then the NFL ordered the team to shut down its facility Tuesday after more positive tests for three players and five team personnel. Another positive test Wednesday pushed Tennessee's game with Pittsburgh back a day or two, then two more positive results Thursday forced a postponement until Week 7. Two more players tested positive Friday, and on Saturday the team added defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons to the COVID-19 reserve list.

Two staff members also tested positive for COVID-19, raising the team's total to 18 since Sept. 24, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the NFL nor the Titans had announced the latest results. Vrabel said Wednesday he wouldn't be identifying staff members who had tested positive.

Suddenly, the Titans find themselves with an unexpected open date three weeks ahead of schedule while waiting for continued testing to learn when they can get back inside their building.

And Vrabel finds himself steering his team through a rapidly changing situation.

His job is to keep a team that played in the AFC championship game in January focused on trying to win a division title to help forge a path to Tennessee's first Super Bowl berth since the 1999 season.

Vrabel, who had never been a head coach until January 2018, when the Titans hired him, is drawing on his life experience. He played at Ohio State, then in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots — winning three Super Bowls — and the Kansas City Chiefs. He started coaching as an assistant at Ohio State before joining the Houston Texans in 2014.

"There is just certain things that come up that you don't plan for, sometimes you do plan for them, sometimes you don't," said Vrabel, who is 23-15 with the Titans. "But I think that you just do the best job that you can and continue to try to lead the group of people that you're charged to lead."

Additional positive test results could continue to keep the Titans out of their facility and jeopardize their next game, set for Oct. 11 against the Buffalo Bills. Vrabel told his players to use the unexpected time off to prepare for a stretch of at least 13 straight weeks of games.

"We've won the games that we've played, which has put us in a good position," Vrabel said. "We'll have to play much better and continue to improve, but we have to use time now to our advantage that we've been given because of the situation."

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