Running back Nick Chubb suggested it might violate superstition for first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski to rejoin the Cleveland Browns this week for the divisional playoff trip to face the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs.
“Sorry Nick,” Stefanski said, “You’re stuck with me buddy.”
Stefanski said he did feel the drama and has a newfound respect for fans after taking in the game without direct control of what was happening on the field. After pausing the game broadcast at one point, Stefanski learned of the Browns’ first touchdown when his family upstairs began screaming in celebration. Stefanski said his TV was about 45 seconds behind.
But Stefanski, who watched the Browns eliminate the Pittsburgh Steelers from the postseason Sunday night, said he has no intention of watching Cleveland football from his basement ever again. Stefanski was in isolation following a positive COVID-19 test last week and wasn’t present for the Browns’ first playoff win since 1994.
“I did a lot of pacing,” Stefanski said Monday. “I don’t plan on doing that again.”
Stefanski joked that he did no binge eating during the game because he “can’t taste anything,” but otherwise had mild symptoms.
NFL COVID-19 protocol permits Stefanski to return to work Thursday as the Browns (12-5) make final preparations for Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium where the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs are rested and waiting.
There will be some catching up to do for Stefanski and guard Joel Bitonio, one of the top-rated pass blockers in the NFL this season. Bitonio missed the game due to COVID and by the end of the night, quarterback Baker Mayfield was being protected by Blake Hance.
Hance was signed off the practice squad last week but because the team was unable to formally practice, Mayfield said he first met Hance in the locker room before Sunday’s game. Stefanski said he hasn’t even met Hance, but will this week.
“Looking forward to it,” he said with a smile.
As the Browns walked off the field at Heinz Field with a 48-37 win over the Steelers, Stefanski was surprised to see the phone number of wide receiver Jarvis Landry pop up on his cell phone. Landry was on FaceTime and one of multiple players and coaches who wanted Stefanski to be part of the postgame celebration.
“We’re one of eight teams,” he said. “I’m not a math major, but we’ll take those chances. This is the fun part about the playoffs.”
–Field Level Media