CLEVELAND, Ohio — Browns cornerback Denzel Ward tested positive for COVID-19, a league source told cleveland.com, and will sit out Sunday’s almost must-win game at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Ward was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday and could also possibly miss a playoff game because he has to isolate for a minimum of 10 days.
If the Browns beat the Steelers on Sunday to clinch a playoff berth, Ward will be cutting it close for the first playoff game with the 10-day minimum isolation period. If the game is on Saturday, Jan. 9, Ward will have to sit out. If it’s on Sunday, Jan. 10, he might be able to play.
It’s possible the Browns could face the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs in Heinz Field next weekend if the Browns win on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns’ top cornerback, Ward was one of three more Browns players who tested positive on 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 for the entire day and canceled practice.
The Browns have two other players who will sit out the Steelers game after positive COVID-19 tests: linebacker B.J. Goodson and free safety Andrew Sendejo. Despite the three new positive tests, Sunday’s game is still on, the NFL said.
The Browns also activated five key players off the COVID-19 reserve list Thursday: receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge, and linebacker Jacob Phillips.
The Browns were eager to get their four top receivers and Phillips back in practice Thursday, but it never materialized. The day began with Smith and Bryant testing positive, and the Browns shutting down their facility until further notice for the second straight day.
While they awaited the results of contact tracing, they conducted regularly scheduled Zoom video conferences with coach Kevin Stefanski, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, defensive coordinator Joe Woods and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
All were eager to get some players back today and get down to the business of trying to beat the Steelers on Sunday.
If the Browns win, they’ll clinch their first playoff berth in 18 years. If they lose, they have to count on the Colts losing to the 1-14 Jaguars, or one other multi-team scenario.
The three positive tests Thursday come on the same day that news surfaced out of the Pittsburgh that Pro Bowlers T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey will join Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines in street clothes, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
With Mason Rudolph starting the game, it seemed like the Browns were on track to snap their 17-year playoff drought, longest in the NFL. But now, with more key Browns players going on the list, nothing is certain.
The Browns defense has been particularly hard hit for the this game — and there are still two more days for players to test positive or be 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 during 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 that will help tremendously: left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. is back from his illness; and guard Wyatt Teller will likely be back from his high ankle sprain. Safety Ronnie Harrison will return after missing four games with his shoulder injury.
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