CLEVELAND, Ohio – Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph took a huge New Years Eve break when Browns cornerback Denzel Ward tested positive for COVID-19, a league source in cleveland said. com, and he will be absent from Sunday’s almost must-see game at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Ward was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday and could also miss a playoff game as he has to self-isolate for at least 10 days.
If the Browns beat the Steelers on Sunday to clinch a playoff berth, Ward will cut him close for the first playoff game with the minimum 10-day isolation period. If the game takes place on January 9, Ward will have to be absent. If it’s January 10, he might be able to play.
It’s possible the Browns will face the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs at Heinz Field next weekend if the Browns win Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns’ top cornerback, Ward was one of three other Browns players to test positive Thursday. The other two are linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant. As a result, after consulting with the NFL office, the Browns kept their facility closed throughout the day and called off the practice.
The Browns have two other players who will not make the Steelers game after positive COVID-19 tests: linebacker BJ Goodson and free safety Andrew Sendejo. Despite the three new positive tests, Sunday’s game is still ongoing, the NFL said.
The Browns also activated five key players on the COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday: receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge, and linebacker Jacob Phillips.
The Browns were eager to put their top four receivers and Phillips back into practice Thursday, but it never came to fruition. The day started with Smith and Bryant testing positive, and the Browns closed their facilities until further notice for the second day in a row.
While waiting for the results of the contact tracing, they held regular Zoom video conferences with coach Kevin Stefanski, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, defensive coordinator Joe Woods and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
Everyone was eager to bring some players back today and focus on trying to beat the Steelers on Sunday.
If the Browns win, they’ll take their first playoff spot in 18 years. If they lose, they have to rely on the Colts losing to the Jaguars 1-14 or some other multi-team scenario.
The three positive tests on Thursday come on the same day as Pittsburgh news that Pro Bowlers TJ Watt, Cam Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey will join Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines of street wear, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
With Mason Rudolph starting the game, it looked like the Browns were a lock in breaking their 17-year playoff drought, the longest in the NFL. But now, with more key Browns players on the roster, nothing is certain.
The Browns’ defense has been particularly hard hit for this game – and there are still two days left for players to test positive or identified as high-risk close contacts. The Browns will be without Ward, Goodson, Sendejo and Smith.
They also have two linebackers who suffered ankle injuries in the 23-16 loss to the Jets, and who were limited in practice on Wednesday: Sione Takitaki and Tae Davis.
But the Browns have other players returning to the lineup, which will help tremendously: left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. is back from his illness and Wyatt Teller will likely be back from his sprained ankle. Safety Ronnie Harrison will return after missing four games with his shoulder injury.
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