The Browns, standing in an almost freezing parking garage at 8:15 am, preparing for Week 16 – it sounds like a metaphor for most of Cleveland’s seasons, the ones two weeks away from a seat on the couch. In 2020, however, this is just another unexpected hurdle to overcome.
Due to COVID-19 contact tracing, the Browns (10-4) are without their best four wide receivers for Week 16 against the Jets (1-13) in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Cleveland’s receiving corps will be made up of Marvin Hall and promotions from the Ja’Marcus Bradley and Derrick Willies practice squad. And with news only on Saturday that the Browns were down four gaps, there was almost no time to prepare.
That’s what led Cleveland to a parking lot next to their hotel for a pre-game tour on Sunday morning, hoping to put Hall, Bradley and Willies to the test. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski told the story on his Sunday morning radio show on the Browns Official Radio Network.
“We have a group of problem solvers on our coaching team”, Stefanski said. “This is nothing new. It’s 2020 and you must be good to go. ”
MORE: Jarvis Landry, three other Browns receivers on COVID-19 reserve list
Cleveland’s receiving body has suffered injuries year round and Odell Beckham Jr. (knee) is out for the season. But the rest of the group are finally healthy at the same time, led by veteran Jarvis Landry and youngsters Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge. This quartet were all placed on the COVID-19 / reserve list on Saturday after being considered high-risk close contacts, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Hall is Cleveland’s most established of receiving options, but he’s new to the Browns after being pulled from Detroit waivers on Dec. 7. He was also inactive at week 15 due to the previous depth at the post. Bradley played his college football in Louisiana and is in his first year as an undrafted free agent. He played a total of 15 offensive shots in 2020. Willies, in his third year out of Texas Tech, is the only one of the trio to catch assists for the Browns (three catches in 2018).
Together, this group will try to catch enough passes from Baker Mayfield to allow Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to go wild against the Jets.
Cleveland can clinch first playoff spot since 2002 with a win and a loss in Baltimore or Indianapolis. The Browns are still big favorites to do it despite the absences, and maybe a morning visit to a parking lot will make all the difference. After all, according to Cleveland.com, the parking lot was the same that the Browns used for a walkthrough before beating the Giants in Week 15 on Sunday Night Football.