By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Browns will try to earn a playoff spot without starting linebacker B.J. Goodson, who will miss Sunday’s game against the New York Jets after testing positive for COVID-19.
Cleveland can potentially lock up its first postseason berth since 2002 with a win, but Goodson is on the COVID-19 list and and his playing status for the season finale on Jan. 3 against Pittsburgh is also in question.
Per current NFL rules, any player testing positive has to stay out at least 10 days before being eligible to return. Of course, that also depends on the player’s health.
The Browns (10-4) did get some good news as starting rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills was activated Saturday from the COVID-19 list after being placed there Thursday due to close contact with a person outside the team. Wills never tested positive.
After learning of Goodson’s result, the Browns delayed their flight to the New York area to do contact tracing. The team had been scheduled to leave Cleveland at 2:45 p.m., but players were told to stay home until the tracing was finished.
The Browns are close to ending the NFL’s current longest playoff drought. They’ll do so with a win Sunday and a loss by Indianapolis, Miami or Baltimore.
Goodson has done a nice job solidifying Cleveland’s linebacking corps after the team chose not to re-sign veterans Joe Schobert or Christian Kirksey. Goodson has started all 14 games and been credited with 91 tackles (59 solo), made two interceptions and provided leadership for coach Kevin Stefanski.
“He’s definitely the emotional leader of the defense,” Stefanski said after a win this month over Tennessee. “You hear him before you see him. He rallies the guys at practice and during the games. He’s making big plays in these ball games to help us win.”
Rookie Jacob Phillips could start in place of Goodson, and linebacker Mack Wilson will likely get more snaps after being benched last week.
Wills is an important part of an offensive line that’s taken some hits lately.
Starting right guard Wyatt Teller will miss his second game in a row with a sprained ankle and the Browns lost versatile lineman Chris Hubbard for the season with a knee injury suffered in a win over the Giants last week. Rookie Nick Harris will make his first career start in Teller’s spot.
The Browns also elevated center Javon Patterson from the practice squad as a COVID-19 replacement.
Like numerous NFL teams, the Browns have been dealing with positive cases for most of the season. Defensive star Myles Garrett missed two games after contracting the virus. He said last week he was still struggling with lingering effects from the illness and continued to undergo breathing treatments.
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