Browns’ COVID contact players eligible to return Thursday

CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said some of the players who missed Sunday’s loss because of COVID-19 protocols will be eligible to return to practice Thursday as Cleveland prepares to play Pittsburgh with a playoff spot riding on the outcome.

The Browns (10-5) were beaten 23-16 by the New York Jets, who took advantage of Cleveland being without its top four wide receivers, including leading target Jarvis Landry, starting left tackle Jedrick Wills and two linebackers after they were placed on the COVID list.

They’ll be able to return this week as long as they test negative, Stefanski said.

Sunday’s loss — which came after a whirlwind 24 hours — put the Browns in jeopardy of missing the postseason and in a win-or-miss situation this weekend against the Steelers, who clinched the AFC North title and could rest some players in the season finale.

Cleveland’s trying to end a playoff drought stretching to 2002, the NFL’s current longest dry spell.

Landry was ruled ineligible along with receivers Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge after they had come in close contact with starting linebacker B.J. Goodson, who tested positive for the virus and will also miss the Pittsburgh game.

Wills was kept out Sunday because he was showing COVID symptoms. He had been placed on the COVID list last week after close contact with someone outside the organization and then activated on Saturday.

Also, rookie linebacker Jacob Phillips was ruled out after having close contact with Goodson.

Stefanski said none of the six has tested positive.

The players had spent time together in the recovery pool area inside the team’s facility, which wasn’t a violation. However, it was deemed as high-risk close contact by the league and necessitated them being held out of Cleveland’s biggest game to date this season.

Stefanski wouldn’t say if the players had skirted team safety guidelines, but said he addressed the situation with the offending players.

“We absolutely have to learn from this,” he said.

Stefanski is also hopeful starting right guard Wyatt Teller will practice on Wednesday. He’s missed the past two games with a sprained ankle, and the Browns missed him Sunday when they only rushed for 45 yards. Rookie Nick Harris made his first career start in Teller’s spot.

Harris injured his knee against the Jets and is day to day along with linebackers Sione Takitaki and Tae Davis.

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