Browns to take ‘next man up’ to extremes vs. Raiders

Field Level Media

December 19, 2021 at 7:18 pm.

“Next man up” is a favorite adage of every football coach.

But “next 20 men up?”

That’s the predicament the Cleveland Browns are in for their upcoming game against the Las Vegas Raiders, due to a COVID-19 outbreak that could leave the Browns without their starting quarterback, their backup QB and their head coach, among others.

As of Sunday, the Browns had 23 players and three coaches on the reserve/COVID-19 list, according to And given the gravity of the situation, the NFL moved the game to 5 p.m. ET Monday in an effort to give the Browns a chance to return some of their players to active duty. Still, the list is long.

The Browns learned Wednesday that starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and head coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive and landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. On Thursday, backup QB Case Keenum reportedly went on the COVID list after testing positive, leaving fourth-year quarterback Nick Mullens as the probable starter. On Friday, the Browns added running back Kareem Hunt to the list officially. And Sunday, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was added to the list while offensive guard Wyatt Teller was removed from it.

Yet the Browns (7-6), who start Week 15 outside the AFC playoff picture after Sunday’s 24-22 home victory over AFC North leader Baltimore, are projecting confidence in the face of mounting odds.

“That is where we are,” Stefanski said. “We have been here before. I do not feel much different than I felt yesterday in terms of everybody has to step up depending on who is available.”

Cleveland is in the NFL’s enhanced protocols, which means daily testing for all tiered personnel, and full-time masking. The Browns held separate walk-throughs on Wednesday for offense, defense and special teams.

If Mayfield and Keenum can’t play Monday, Mullens would start his 17th NFL game, with special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer as interim coach and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt calling plays if Stefanski remains out.

All of Mullens’ starts came for the San Francisco 49ers from 2018-20.

Priefer and Van Pelt guided Cleveland to a 48-37 first-round playoff win at Pittsburgh in January when Stefanski was sidelined due to COVID-19.

“I think the guys proved last year they don’t need me,” joked Stefanski.

Meanwhile, the Raiders (6-7) are pretty much in win-or-else mode after an embarrassing 48-9 defeat Sunday at Kansas City dropped them three games out of first in the AFC West with four games remaining.

To sneak into a playoff berth, the Raiders probably need to win out and get help down the stretch. But one thing that interim coach Rich Bisaccia says won’t enter the equation is frustration or disappointment after such a poor performance.

“I think it’s a wasted emotion,” he said. “I’m just trying to look at from my perspective, as coaches, ‘What can we do better? How can we help them, put them in better situations or better positions to help them play a little better?’

“I think all the emotions are just feelings that we have of what we didn’t do very well and how we’d like to fix them.”

Las Vegas has lost five of its last six games after going into its bye week at 5-2. Sunday’s blowout to the Chiefs featured nine penalties, five turnovers and four sacks in a comprehensive meltdown.

The Raiders own a 14-10 advantage in the all-time series with the Browns, including a 16-6 victory last year in Cleveland.

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