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NFL Playoffs

Browns still can’t get on the practice field as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on team ahead of Steelers playoff matchup

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn't been on the field since Sunday's victory over the Steelers.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn't been on the field since Sunday's victory over the Steelers.David Richard/Associated Press

Baker Mayfield hasn’t thrown a football in four days. The Browns haven’t practiced this week.

Cleveland’s return to the NFL playoffs feels cursed.

For the second straight day, the team’s headquarters and training facility stayed closed due to a COVID-19 flare-up that has knocked coach Kevin Stefanski out of Sunday night’s game in Pittsburgh and wreaked havoc on the Browns’ preparations.

There seemed to be a possibility the wild-card game could be moved back after Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, told the NFL Network ’'there was some spread from one individual to another” among the Browns.

However, a league spokesman said Thursday there “is no change to the status of the game” at Heinz Field.

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As his first postseason appearance draws near, Mayfield said he has been doing all he can at home to get ready.

“A lot of band and bodyweight stuff,” the quarterback said. ’'Doing a lot of walkthrough of my footwork and trying to tie those in together. Just getting up, moving around like we potentially could. Everybody’s setup is different, and that is how it was in the offseason, so you have to find a way to get the most out of it and do it safely.”

What does Baker Mayfield have in store for his playoff debut?
What does Baker Mayfield have in store for his playoff debut?David Richard/Associated Press

The Browns and their die-hard fans waited almost 20 years to feel playoff excitement again, and it has been doused by forces beyond their control.

Still, Mayfield said he and his teammates will do all they can to represent themselves well in the wild-card game — their second matchup with the rival Steelers in eight days.

“There are no excuses, but luckily, we just played them last week so it is not like we are practicing against a whole new defense,” Mayfield said. ’'We have to be ready for the wrinkles, but luckily, we have game-planned against these guys and everybody is sitting here in the second-week-in-a-row preparation for the Pittsburgh defense.”

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Wide receiver Jarvis Landry echoed Mayfield, saying the Browns have to deal with the circumstances as best as they can.

“Practice is a big part of everything that we do and understanding that, but at the same time, it is 2021 and it feels like 2020 still and everything is still so unexpected,” Landry said. ’'We have to make the most of these Zoom meetings, out of the walkthroughs and out of the time that we have to be able to go over all the details.”

The Browns’ ever-changing COVID-19 list moved again.

Safety Ronnie Harrision became the latest player to test positive and will have to sit out Sunday. Harrison joins Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio, cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson, linebacker Malcolm Smith, wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge, and tight end Harrison Bryant.

On Wednesday, starting linebacker B.J. Goodson was activated from the list and safety Andrew Sendejo came off Thursday.

The Browns are also down Stefanski and five assistant coaches.

For special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, Sunday’s game is a scenario he knew was possible due to the pandemic. He just never imagined it happening in the playoffs.

Priefer will handle Stefanski’s game-day duties as the Browns play their first postseason game since Jan. 5, 2003. Priefer said Stefanski had drawn up a pandemic contingency plan in the spring, and the Browns are putting it into action this week.

Jets interview Marvin Lewis

Is Marvin Lewis the next coach of the Jets?
Is Marvin Lewis the next coach of the Jets?Gary Landers/Associated Press

The Jets interviewed former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis for their head coaching vacancy. Lewis is currently on former Jets coach Herman Edwards’s staff at Arizona State as the Sun Devils’ co-defensive coordinator. Lewis, 62, is the second known candidate with whom the Jets have completed a video interview. The team also spoke to Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Wednesday. Lewis led the Bengals to the postseason seven times, including five straight years, as coach from 2003-18 and has a 131-129-3 regular-season mark. His biggest shortcoming in Cincinnati was being unable to advance past the first round as the Bengals were 0-7 under Lewis in the playoffs . . . The Panthers have interviewed five more candidates for their vacant general manager position in the last two days, bringing the total number of front office executives interviewed to 11. As of this point, there doesn’t appear to be a leading candidate.

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Katie Sowers leaving 49ers staff

Offensive assistant Katie Sowers, the first female coach to make it to the Super Bowl, will not be returning to the 49ers in 2021. A person familiar with the situation said that Sowers, 34, will be leaving coach Kyle Shanahan’s staff, where she worked closely with receivers coach Wes Welker. The Bay Area News Group first reported Sowers’s departure and said she is looking for an expanded role on another team.