The Browns need to win in Week 17 to get into the postseason after failing to clinch with a win Sunday, and they might get their much-needed reinforcements back in time.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters Monday none of the players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list as close contacts have tested positive, and they will have a chance to return Thursday for Week 17's crucial contest against Pittsburgh -- if they continue to test negative.
Cleveland lost its top four receivers, plus two linebackers, to COVID-19 protocol-related issues that became apparent Saturday, with one positive test forcing a half-dozen key Browns out of Sunday's game against New York. The Browns attempted to get their patchwork offense on the same page in a parking garage on the morning of the game, then rolled out an offense that featured practice squad receiver Ja'Marcus Bradley and recent addition Marvin Hall, and relied heavily on Cleveland's tight ends and running backs in the passing game. Only two receivers -- Bradley and Hall -- played more than three total snaps in Sunday's game.
The Browns' offense was unsurprisingly bad for much of the afternoon, especially with Baker Mayfield throwing the ball 53 times while trying to lift Cleveland from a 20-3 hole. The Browns finished with 299 yards of offense, went 6-for-15 on third down and ran for just 45 yards. Cleveland's two turnovers ultimately did them in as well, and a third (a fumble that resulted in a turnover on downs) ended their late comeback hopes.
It's fair to wonder how the Browns might have fared if they'd had even two of the four missing receivers available. Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge were all forced to watch from home while Mayfield ignored their replacements early before eventually establishing a very preliminary familiarity with Bradley (five catches, 60 yards).
What's not fair is to claim victim because of failures to follow the COVID-19 protocol. Stefanski refused to make excuses for his team's incredibly untimely loss to the Jets (2-13).
"This team has been resilient, and that's going to be required moving forward. That's what it takes this season," Stefanski said, adding "we really have to own this one from yesterday" before moving on to Week 17.
The Browns might get a boost up front, which they sorely needed Sunday. Stefanski told reporters he's hopeful guard Wyatt Teller will be back on the practice field Wednesday. Teller has missed the last two games with an ankle injury.
Should Cleveland meet another hurdle in the form of players made unavailable due to injury or COVID-19-related concerns, Stefanski said he'll have contingency plans available. For the Browns' sake, at least they'll be a little better prepared for Plan B (or Z) in a pivotal situation. The hope, though, is they won't have to divert from Plan A.