CLEVELAND, OHIO – Browns corner back Denzel Ward has tested positive for COVID-19, a league source told cleveland.com, and will play Sunday’s almost-necessary match to win at First Energy Stadium.
Ward was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday and may also miss a playoff match as he has to be in isolation for at least 10 days.
If the Browns beat the Steelers on Sunday to clinch a tiebreaker, Ward will be close to the first match with a minimum 10-day isolation period. If the match is on Saturday, January 9th, Ward will have to sit down. If it’s Sunday, January 10, he might be able to play.
He could face the Brown Steelers in the first round of qualifiers at Heinz Field next weekend if Brown wins on Sunday at First Energy.
Ward, the Brown full-back, was one of three other Brown players who tested positive on Thursday. The other two are fullback Malcolm Smith and narrow end Harrison Bryant.
As a result, after consulting with the NFL office, Brown kept their facilities closed throughout the day and canceled the practice.
Browns has two other players who will play the Steelers match after positive COVID-19 tests: full-back BJ Goodson and safety free Andrew Sendejo. The NFL said that despite the three new positive tests, Sunday’s game was still going on.
Brown also activated five major players from the COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday: Receivers Jarvis Landry, Richard Higgins, Donovan People-Jones, Jadaryl Hodge and full-back Jacob Phillips.
Brown was keen to bring back the best four receivers and Philips into practice on Thursday, but that never materialized. The day started with Smith and Bryant testing positive, and Brown closed their facilities until further notice for the second day in a row.
While awaiting the results of the contact tracing, they held regularly scheduled video conferences with Coach Kevin Stefansky, Attack Co-ordinator Alex Van Pelt, Defense Coordinator Joe Woods and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Brevere.
Everyone was excited to get some players back today and start the work of trying to beat the Steelers on Sunday.
If Brown wins, they’ll snatch their first qualifying berth in 18 years. If they lose, they have to count on losing the Colts to 1–14 Jaguars, or one other multi-team scenario.
The three positive tests on Thursday come the same day that news emerged from Pittsburgh about Pro Bowlers TJ Watt, Cam Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey joining Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines in streetwear, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
As Mason Rudolph kicked off the match, it seemed the Browns were well on their way to overcoming the 17-year drought, the longest in the NFL. But now, with more of the Browns’ major players on the list, nothing is certain.
Browns’ defense has been hit particularly hard in this game – there are still another two days for players to test positive or identify them as high-stakes close contacts. Brown would be without Ward, Judson, Sindigo and Smith.
They also have two midfielders who suffered ankle injuries during the 23-16 loss to the Gates, and were tied in practice on Wednesday: Sioni Takitaki and Tay Davis.
But Brown has two other players back in the squad that will be of great help: tackling leftist Jedric Wells Jr. is back from his illness; Goalkeeper White Teller will likely return from his sprained ankle. Safety Ronnie Harrison will return after missing four matches due to a shoulder injury.
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