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As positive tests continued in Cleveland, the NFL wisely came to the Browns' rescue during its COVID-19 crisis.
With the Las Vegas Raiders stalling their departure to the airport, the league pushed back Saturday's scheduled game against the Browns to 5 p.m. Monday in FirstEnergy Stadium.
With 23 Browns players on the reserve/COVID-19 list and one being added Saturday — after four more positives Friday and one coming off that doesn't assure they will be in markedly better shape. The NFL made changes to its protocols on Thursday to help vaccinated asymptomatic players return sooner, but it's likely the roster will still have holes. Coach Kevin Stefanski and now two assistants have also tested positive, as have their top two quarterbacks.
A convenient excuse, yes, despite the postponement. But if the Browns lose, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
Point the finger at punter Jamie Gillan for dropping a snap at Kansas City.
Rip the offense for scoring only three points on four interceptions of Lamar Jackson at Baltimore.
Chastise the undisciplined offenders whose 89 penalties were tied for sixth in the league going into Week 15.
It’s possible to come to grips with such ugly realities and still have empathy for Stefanski, acting running backs coach Ryan Cordell, offensive assistant T.C. McCartney, and the players on the reserve/COVID-19 list as Ohio enters a dangerous surge. This is Stefanski’s second bout with the virus; he lost his sense of taste and smell and was confined to his basement for January’s AFC wild-card victory in Pittsburgh.
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But the if Browns fall to the Raiders, ending their AFC playoff hopes, it will be all their fault.
Touted as Super Bowl contenders, they have proved to be classic underachievers.
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Even as the defense found its identity and started to build chemistry in mid-October, the offense failed to follow suit.
Four of the Browns’ losses have come by six points or less. Had they taken care of business in two of those four, the outcome of the Raiders game wouldn't carry nearly as much weight.
On Tuesday, left guard Joel Bitonio lamented the lack of daily testing that NFL Players Association president JC Tretter, the Browns center, has long advocated. On Thursday, defensive end Myles Garrett said the current testing process was “kind of a recipe for disaster.”
“For us, the way we are testing right now, our testing cadence of once a week, like if a guy gets in the building, there is a chance the building might be the un-safest place for you at this time,” Bitonio said.
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Perhaps one day the Browns’ current situation, coupled with that of the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Football Team, will be thought of in the same light as Browns quarterback Colt McCoy’s concussion in 2011, which led to sweeping reforms in how the league handles head injuries.
Such discussion should not distract from the crux of the matter. The Browns left themselves no wiggle room because they’ve averaged 13.6 points in seven of their past eight games, the lone outlier a 41-point outburst at Cincinnati on Nov. 7.
If the Browns are forced to lament their fate late Monday night, they should think back to a 33-29 defeat at Kansas City on Sept. 12. They had three possessions in the final 10:10, and saw Gillan fumble, went three-and-out, and had a Mayfield pass intercepted with 1:09 to go.
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They can torment themselves with the 47-42 defeat at Los Angeles against the Chargers on Oct. 10. Leading 42-41 with 3:15 to play, their three-and-out possession netted 4 yards and a last-gasp drive stalled at the Cleveland 46 when three consecutive Mayfield deep balls fell incomplete.
They can grind their teeth over a 15-10 home loss to the Steelers on Halloween. Likely retirement-bound quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led a 13-play, 83-yard touchdown drive, throwing for a score on fourth-and-2 to put the Steelers ahead for good with 11:04 remaining. The Browns’ next two series ended on a Landry fumble and Mayfield’s fourth-down incompletion to Landry from the Pittsburgh 26.
Those are the moments that die-hard fans should agonize over, not the rash of COVID-19 positives that befell the Browns this week.
Prior to the outbreak, success was there for the taking. But the 2021 Browns may be forced to realize they had already fumbled it away.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns COVID-19 outbreak: Earlier losses loom large