The Browns don’t know yet if they’ll get back left guard Joel Bitonio and cornerback Denzel Ward for the divisional round playoff game Sunday against the Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo.
They need them now more than ever.
Michael Dunn (calf) and Robert Jackson (hamstring), who had replaced Bitonio and Ward in the starting lineup, were placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Cornerback A.J. Green (hamstring) was placed on the practice squad IR.
Ward tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 31 and Bitonio on Jan. 5.
Ward was eligible to return in time for the 48-37 wild card win over the Steelers on Sunday night but had experienced symptoms and wasn’t cleared. Bitonio, who wrote in an essay for the team’s website he felt fine, would be eligible to come off the COVID reserve list Thursday.
Dunn had played only one NFL snap on offense before getting the start Sunday. He played great before leaving in the fourth quarter with the calf strain. The Steelers, who led the league with 56 sacks, didn’t sack Baker Mayfield.
When the Browns were unable to practice for two days last week, Dunn worked on his pass sets in a parking lot.
“I will single out Michael Dunn, I thought he was outstanding last night,” coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday. “Really, really great in his technique, in his effort, in his assignment. He did a great job, among others.”
For the first start of #TeamDEC client @Browns left guard @MikeDunn4Real career tonight at Pittsburgh this is how he practiced. His girlfriend with the assist and epic “yellow snow” play-call! pic.twitter.com/IzVz2FUvhc
— DEC Management (@davidcanter) January 11, 2021
Blake Hance finished the game in place of Dunn, making his NFL debut with 14 snaps. He was signed off the Jets practice squad Jan. 2.
Jackson started the regular-season finale vs. the Steelers and the playoff game in Ward’s absence. With nickelback Kevin Johnson also on the COVID list the last two games, Green was an option to play on the outside.
Jackson played 77 of 90 snaps Sunday. M.J. Stewart moved outside for the final 13, with Tavierre Thomas taking over in the slot.
Cornerback Donovan Olumbua was signed to the practice squad.
Olumba (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) has played in one NFL game. He was in training camp with the Browns this year but was waived in the final roster cut.
The Chiefs will challenge whoever is in the secondary with former MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the top-ranked offense and passing offense.
Center and NFL Players Association president JC Tretter used the union’s weekly video call to express frustration with the riot at the Capitol last week.
“We need better from our elected leaders at this point,” he said. “We are experiencing an extreme lack of leadership. And the leaders are taxed with telling their constituents the hard truths, not what they want to hear. And right now we have a lot of those elected leaders who are very much caught up in what is best for their political career, what’s best for furthering themselves and not what’s best for this country.
“And we need better, and if they can’t give us better, then we need to find better people to fill those roles.
Tretter called the last year “eye-opening.”
WHAT A YEAR
The Browns picked Stefanski as their coach a year ago Tuesday. He had finished runner-up to Freddie Kitchens in the search the previous offseason.
Stefanski led the Browns to 11 regular-season wins and the first playoff berth since 2002. The 11 wins were the most for a first-year coach since Paul Brown founded the organization and won 12 in 1946.
Stefanski is a leading Coach of the Year candidate. He hopes to return to practice Thursday after missing the wild card win with COVID-19.
The game Sunday was the most-watched prime-time show since the Super Bowl in February, as NBC drew 24.8 million viewers, the network announced.
The Cleveland market led the nation with a 51.4 rating (percentage of all TV households) and 74 share (percentage of households watching TV at the time). Pittsburgh was second at 39.9/59 and Columbus third at 30.6/51.
Viewership on NBC peaked with 27.6 million viewers from 9:15-9:30 in the second quarter.