By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Pro Football Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The Cleveland Browns got their coach back on the sideline. The New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles might be without theirs this weekend.
Browns second-year coach Kevin Stefanski cleared COVID-19 protocols Wednesday and returned to the team after missing Monday’s home loss to Las Vegas, a 16-14 setback that damaged Cleveland’s playoff hopes. Stefanski also sat out the Browns’ playoff win at Pittsburgh last season after testing positive.
“Good to be back,” Stefanski told reporters on a Zoom call from the team’s Berea, Ohio, facility. “Obviously, working remotely is something that we all did a bunch of last year so it is definitely doable to work remotely, game plan remotely, run meetings, etc., but good to be back in person.”
Meanwhile, the Jets’ Robert Saleh and Eagles’ Nick Sirianni tested positive for COVID-19 after feeling symptoms in the morning.
For New York, it’s the latest in what has been a surge of coronavirus cases on the team. Tight ends coach Ron Middleton coached practice in Saleh’s absence after finding out about 45 minutes before that the head coach wouldn’t be able to run the session. Saleh, who plans to continue running team meetings virtually, could return as soon as Thursday if he no longer shows symptoms and tests negative.
If Saleh doesn’t test out of the COVID-19 protocols before Sunday, Middleton will also serve as the head coach in New York’s game against Jacksonville.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel here,” Middleton said during a video call. “I’m trying to steer the ship, keep the ship steered in the right direction.”
Sirianni also tested positive after feeling symptoms. He’s isolating at a hotel and pass game coordinator Kevin Patullo would handle coaching duties if Sirianni doesn’t clear protocols in time for Sunday’s game against the Giants.
The Jets have 14 players from the active and practice squad rosters, including injured reserve, on the COVID-19 list: wide receivers Elijah Moore, Jeff Smith and Vyncint Smith; guard Alijah Vera-Tucker; defensive linemen Folorunso Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers and Tanzel Smart; linebackers Blake Cashman, Noah Dawkins and Hamsah Nasirildeen; cornerbacks Michael Carter II and Lamar Jackson; safety Sharrod Neasman; and special teams ace Justin Hardee.
“It’s crazy,” left tackle George Fant said. “You see other teams get hit with it. I guess it’s our turn.”
Now that they’ve got their coach back, next for the Browns is getting more players as they get ready on a short week for a Christmas visit against the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers (11-3). The Browns are on the fringe of the playoff picture and probably need to win their final three games to make the postseason.
The Browns were rocked by the virus last week, when an outbreak led to 22 players being forced to miss the rescheduled game against the Raiders, which Cleveland lost. Quarterback Baker Mayfield still hasn’t produced a required negative test and his status for this week’s game at Green Bay is unclear.
Browns tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker Jacob Phillips also returned, but starting rookie cornerback Greg Newsome was added to the COVID-19 list. He has missed the past two games with a concussion.
Stefanski said players who tested positive before Dec. 15 will be eligible to play Saturday – the conclusion of their 10-day window – so long as they’re asymptomatic. That would include Mayfield and backup QB Case Keenum.
Third-stringer Nick Mullens started Monday night’s game and played well in his first start since last season with San Francisco.
On Monday, the first day under the NFL’s revised protocols, 47 players were placed on the COVID-19 list, the most in a single day since the pandemic began. Another 21 NFL players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday.
— Pittsburgh placed linebackers Devin Bush and Marcus Allen and offensive tackle Zach Banner on the COVID-19 list on Wednesday.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi and Sports Writers Will Graves, John Wawrow and Tom Withers contributed.
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