By now, the Cleveland Browns have felt the thud of the other shoe dropping.
On the week the team enters the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, their fearless leader and head coach Kevin Stefanski tests positive for COVID-19.
The Cleveland Browns have had to endure so much over the last 18 years to even get to this point… you think they are going to just roll over now?
We haven’t seen the “woe is me” Browns team this entire year, why should it start Sunday?
— bri (@breezyCLE) January 6, 2021
This means the Browns have to play on Sunday night with no real time input or coaching from Stefanski.
Like the rest of us, Stefanski will be sitting on his sofa watching from home.
There is no virtual communication once kickoff happens which means no halftime adjustments initiated by Stefanski either.
As if the Browns weren’t the underdog before, this certainly seals the deal.
Can the team win without Stefanski on the sidelines on Sunday?
The answer is yes.
1. The Team Found Out On Tuesday.
Unlike the Jets debacle that wiped out the wide receiving corps 24 hours before kickoff, the only silver lining in this bad news is that it happened on Tuesday.
Stefanski can work virtually with his coaches and the team between Tuesday and Sunday’s kickoff.
#Browns coach Kevin Stefanski says, “I’m good, I’ll be fine” despite being out vs. #Steelers due to COVID-19. He does announce there were no high-risk close contacts with the recent positives and no new positives today.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 6, 2021
There will be time to craft a game plan and many contingencies so that not all of Stefanski’s brilliant play calling will be lost.
The other piece of good news is that Stefanski said months ago that there were contingency plans in place for the coaching staff should a COVID-19 outbreak affect individual members.
He probably didn’t anticipate he would be affected, but the fact that he had a contingency plan back in training camp means that he has huddled with Priefer and Van Pelt a lot on game planning this season so far.
One of Stefanski’s admirable traits is preparation so if anyone can prepare for an unexpected spread of a pandemic, he can and will.
2. Alex Van Pelt Is Not A Novice.
Van Pelt has been around.
Unfortunately, he never got a chance to call plays under Stefanski since that was the plan for the preseason games that never happened.
He did call the plays in 2009 when he was the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills.
So he has experience with the timing and pace of play calling in NFL games.
Stefanski on Alex Van Pelt calling plays: “AVP has been a huge part of our offensive success, a huge part of play-calling. … He knows the things we believe in. How we play. … I have a ton of confidence in AVP’s ability to get the job done.” pic.twitter.com/eoEleA4BIq
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) January 6, 2021
He also is a former quarterback which is beneficial to Baker Mayfield.
These are positives.
3. The Browns Will Play Inspired.
As if playing to advance in the playoffs for the first time in 18 years isn’t enough motivation, the Browns will certainly be playing for Coach Stefanski and the other COVID-19 afflicted players and staff members especially long-time Brown Joel Bitonio.
Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Joe Bitonio waited 95 games to reach the NFL playoffs for the first time. But Bitonio will miss his first, and possibly only opportunity Sunday due to Covid-19, which could be a deciding factor this postseason https://t.co/JUzQ8bbR8X pic.twitter.com/v9h1h74OmT
— Forbes SportsMoney (@ForbesSports) January 5, 2021
This team has grown and managed a lot of adversity this year so it is not unfathomable that they will pull off what looks like the nearly impossible task of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
The other somewhat familiar piece of this is the acting head coach is Mike Priefer who worked alongside Kevin Stefanski in Minnesota from 2011-2018 before joining the Browns last season.
With all this being said, let’s hope Stefanski gets a chance to coach a playoff game this season from the sidelines, and let’s hope that the Browns have no more cases of COVID-19 this week.