Browns QB Mayfield, coach Stefanski test positive for COVID


By Tom Withers - AP Sports Writer



CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns’ COVID-19 outbreak has widened and worsened.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield and coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday and will likely miss Saturday’s game against Las Vegas as Cleveland deals with a widespread outbreak during its playoff pursuit.

While this is on a larger scale, the Browns dealt with a similar outbreak late last season. Stefanski tested positive on the eve of Cleveland’s playoff appearance and watched the Browns beat rival Pittsburgh in an AFC wild-card game from his basement at home.

“We’ve been here before.” Stefanski said. “Next man up.”

Stefanski’s positive test was first announced by the team, which then put Mayfield, starting safety John Johnson III, nickel back Troy Hill, starting defensive tackle Malik McDowell and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

It’s hardly an ideal situation heading into a crucial game for the Browns (7-6), who have been inconsistent all season and are preparing for their matchup with the Raiders (6-7) on a short week — and may not be able to have a full practice this week.

Despite the outbreak in Cleveland, an NFL spokesman tells AP there’s been “no discussion of changing the game’s status.”

The league said before the season that no games would be postponed because of COVID-19 outbreaks and that forfeits could be in play for an outbreak among unvaccinated players.

Stefanski said his focus is solely on getting his team ready and that he’s not concerned about a situation reaching an unworkable stage.

“I’m worried about today, having great meetings and our walk-through,” he said. “Really that is what our focus is and that’s what I told the team. We have to focus on our job and then we have to do our job.

“I understand that there’s distractions and I understand there’s a lot going on, but I really don’t care. What I care about is making sure we have our best week of preparation.”

The latest positive tests came one day after the team placed eight players, including top receiver Jarvis Landry and starting offensive linemen Wyatt Teller and Jedrick Wills Jr., on the COVID-19 list.

Last week, the Browns were missing three key players due to coronavirus positives: tight end David Njoku, linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. and punter Jamie Gillan. Their status for this week remains uncertain.

In all, Cleveland has 18 players and two coaches on the COVID-19 list.

To hopefully mitigate any more spread, the Browns are holding three separate walk-through practices outdoors — with players wearing masks — on Wednesday and closing them to the media.

“We’ll be outside, masked up, spread out, and the guys will go from the parking lot right onto the field,” said Stefanski.

The Browns are on the extreme end of what has been a major rise in COVID-19 cases across the league this week. There were 65 reported cases on Monday and Tuesday, the worst two-day outbreak since the pandemic started.

If there is one bright spot, it’s that the Browns have practice at this.

Last season, they were one of the league’s hardest hit teams by the coronavirus. The Browns were without star defensive end Myles Garrett down the stretch after he tested positive and Cleveland managed to make the playoffs.

Stefanski, though, missed the wild-card game — along with Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio — after testing positive days ahead of the game. Stefanski watched the Browns’ victory while isolating from home.

Mayfield, who has been contending with injuries all season, was one of the new positive cases on Wednesday. On Monday, he and and his wife, Emily, appeared at a Christmas event at a local Boys & Girls chapter, where they could have exposed themselves and others to the virus.

After learning of Mayfield’s positive test, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio said in a statement that it informed parents and family members of the 75 children who attended the event. The club is closing its facility in Elyria, Ohio for the rest of this week, “to do a deep cleaning and limit any further exposure.”

Stefanski said he supported Mayfield’s charity work, and that he has spoken to the team about using caution while in public places.

Mayfield has played most of this season with a fracture in his left shoulder, but following Sunday’s win over Baltimore said he’s feeling better than he had in months. If he can’t play Saturday, veteran backup Case Keenum will start.

Keenum filled in for an injured Mayfield earlier this season and led the Browns to a win over Denver.

The AP’s Coach of the Year in 2020, Stefanski and the other positive players will have to be asymptomatic and produce two negative tests to be eligible to participate in Saturday’s game.

If Stefanski is out, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as acting head coach for the game at Cleveland, just as he did in January’s game at Pittsburgh, and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will handle play-calling.

“My confidence as you can imagine is incredibly high with all of our coaches,” Stefanski said. “And we have been through this before, so if I’m unavailable on Saturday, I have the utmost confidence in coach Prief and AVP.”

By Tom Withers

AP Sports Writer