The adversity just keeps coming.
Cornerback Denzel Ward became the latest big-name Browns player who will miss time after suffering a calf strain Sunday in an outstanding performance during a 22-17 win over the Eagles.
The team didn’t estimate how many games he’ll miss, but NFL Network reported it’s expected to be a few.
The defense was already without defensive end Myles Garrett, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, didn’t play vs. the Eagles and was already ruled out for the game Sunday against the Jaguars (1-9). Garrett shares the league lead with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles and is a contender for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Ward leads the NFL with 15 passes defensed and has played at a Pro Bowl level all year. So the Browns (7-3) will be without their two best defenders for at least one game as they try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Browns have been hit by COVID-19 cases recently, with fullback Andy Janovich, offensive lineman Chris Hubbard and defensive end Joe Jackson joining Garrett on the reserve list. Earlier in the year, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament, rookie safety Grant Delpit was lost for the year in training camp with a ruptured Achilles tendon, running back Nick Chubb missed four games with a sprained medial collateral ligament and right guard Wyatt Teller missed three games with a calf strain.
“I think every team goes through the loss of players, whether for the year or for short-term pockets of the season, that you have to overcome,” center JC Tretter said Monday. “You can’t allow injuries to impact what you provide on Sundays, and everybody has to provide more when a guy who is really important to how the team runs goes down. That is just how every team works.
“I think that is something that the good teams are able to continue to play well, even when different people are not able to play, and they have to put somebody else in there and everybody in that position group needs to step up. That is what good teams do. Whether certain players can’t play, that does not change our standard, and we have to play up to it.”
Ward reported the injury Monday morning after playing all 68 defensive snaps Sunday. He had an interception, three other passes defensed and a quarterback hit that led to linebacker Sione Takitaki’s 50-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“God, I may not understand the path you are sending me on or the lesson to be taught, but later I will understand,” Ward posted on Instagram under a picture of him in prayer on gameday. “Continue to guide me and allow your will to be done. Amen.”
For the season, Ward has played all 10 games with two interceptions, a forced fumble and 38 tackles, playing through a groin injury early in the year. He missed three games as a rookie in 2018 with two concussions and four games last year with a hamstring injury.
“Got your back D. Ward!” linebacker Mack Wilson tweeted. “#GetBackSoon”
Teller couldn’t finish the game in which he suffered the calf strain, missed three more and returned after the bye week. He played against the Eagles despite being listed as questionable and Stefanski saying his calf was “definitely sore.”
His timetable could serve as a reference point, but Ward finished the game Sunday. As a cornerback, he needs to be able to run at full speed, compared to an interior lineman.
The Browns have been without No. 2 cornerback Greedy Williams all season as he deals with a nerve injury in his shoulder. Terrance Mitchell has filled in admirably.
Without Ward, nickelback Kevin Johnson would likely slide outside and Tavierre Thomas would play in the slot. Thomas and M.J. Stewart Jr. played in that role when Johnson was hurt early in the year.
The Jaguars also have issues. Defensive end Josh Allen (knee), cornerback D.J. Hayden (hamstring) and safety Daniel Thomas (arm) were placed on injured reserve Tuesday.