Jan 9, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Wyatt Ray (93) chases Cleveland Browns quarterback Case Keenum (5) during the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Browns top Bengals in battle of backup QBs, 21-16

The Cincinnati Bengals won the AFC North, but the host Cleveland Browns continued their recent dominance in this interstate series with a 21-16 victory in the regular-season finale on Sunday.

Cleveland (8-9) snapped a three-game skid and ended a disappointing season with their fourth straight win over the Bengals (10-7), who clinched the division title and a playoff spot a week ago.

Case Keenum improved to 2-0 this season as the Cleveland starting quarterback and completed 17 of 24 passes for 176 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as a replacement for the injured Baker Mayfield. D’Ernest Johnson powered the offense with 123 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.

The Bengals played backups virtually across the board — including quarterback Brandon Allen in place of a resting Joe Burrow — thanks to a playoff spot in hand and more than a half-dozen additions to the reserve/COVID list during the week.

The one notable exception was wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who played the first five offensive snaps and then was subbed out. It was enough for Chase to catch two passes for 26 yards, which gave him the Cincinnati single-season receiving yardage record of 1,455 yards — topping Chad Johnson (2007, 1,440).

The Bengals finished with a season low of 182 total yards, had seven punts, and just 11 first downs. Allen was 15 of 29 for 136 yards and a touchdown; he was sacked four times. The Browns more than doubled the Bengals’ yardage (376).

The Bengals even used a backup kicker, as Elliott Fry hit a 36-yard field goal with 5:01 left in the third quarter to close to within 14-10.

The Browns put the game away with 7:14 left as Keenum flipped a 10-yard touchdown to rookie Demetric Felton for a 21-10 lead. Allen threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Chris Evans with 2:26 left, but the Bengals failed on a two-point conversion, and Cleveland recovered the ensuing onside kick.

Keenum was sharp early, and piloted two early touchdown drives for a 14-0 lead for the Browns. He found Jarvis Landry for a 26-yard score late in the first quarter, and Johnson made it 14-0 with his 4-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.

But Keenum let Cincinnati hang around as well. Wyatt Ray’s strip-sack on Keenum led to Trayvon Henderson’s 29-yard fumble return touchdown to get the Bengals on the board. Keenum was then picked off by Mike Hilton in the end zone on the final play of the first half.

Cleveland outgained Cincinnati 233-65 in the first half as Allen hit 6 of 13 passes for just 58 yards. The Bengals had three first downs in the half compared to 15 for the Browns.

– Field Level Media

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) against the Cleveland Browns during their football game on Saturday December 25, 2021, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

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Packers get past Browns on Aaron Rodgers’ record day

Aaron Rodgers set the Green Bay Packers’ franchise record for most career touchdown passes Saturday on the way to a 24-22 victory over the Cleveland Browns at Green Bay, Wis.

Rodgers completed 24 of 34 passes for 202 yards and three scores, including an 11-yard strike to Allen Lazard with 5:13 left in the first quarter. That was his 443rd touchdown pass, breaking a tie with Brett Favre atop the franchise’s list.

Green Bay (12-3) stayed atop the NFC with the win, sealing the outcome when Rasul Douglas intercepted Baker Mayfield with 43 seconds left at the Packers’ 40. It was Douglas’ second pick of the day.

Mayfield, who arrived in Green Bay just hours before the game, hit 21 of 36 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns and a career-high four interceptions. His first three picks were converted into touchdowns.

Browns running back Nick Chubb rushed for 126 yards and a score on 17 carries. Cleveland (7-8) amassed 219 yards on 25 rushing attempts, but its playoff hopes were dealt a devastating blow.

The Browns pulled within two points on Mayfield’s 5-yard touchdown toss to Anthony Schwartz with 4:31 left in the game, then got the ball back with 2:05 remaining. They drove to midfield before Mayfield’s last interception sealed the outcome.

Cleveland got off to a fast start, taking the opening kickoff and marching 75 yards in just 2:39. Chubb keyed it with a 40-yard gain off a screen pass and capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run.

Green Bay took the lead for good after the first of Mayfield’s three interceptions on Rodgers’ record-setting scoring strike, then used another Mayfield interception to build a 14-6 second-quarter lead as Rodgers found Davante Adams for a 9-yard touchdown.

The Browns pulled within 14-12 at the 7:03 mark when Mayfield hit Harrison Bryant with a 1-yard scoring strike. But Mayfield’s third interception of the half led to Rodgers’ 1-yard touchdown flip to Adams 12 seconds before halftime for a 21-12 advantage.

Adams caught 10 passes for 114 yards.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrates after the Browns beat the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Browns QB Baker Mayfield ‘ready to roll’ vs. Packers

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is “ready to roll” on Saturday in Green Bay, NFL Network reported.

The Browns activated Mayfield from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday.

Per Saturday’s report, he was asymptomatic throughout his time in the health and safety protocols and remained very involved with the team virtually.

The report also said that Mayfield’s body “feels the healthiest it’s been in a while” as the Browns (7-7) battle the Packers (11-3) on Christmas Day at Lambeau Field.

Mayfield and backup Case Keenum were both unavailable for Monday night’s 16-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. Third-stringer Nick Mullens completed 20 of 30 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.

Mayfield, 26, has completed 62.8 percent of his passes this season for 2,603 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 12 starts.

–Field Level Media

Browns center JC Tretter (64) blocks for Baker Mayfield during the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

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Browns C JC Tretter, NFLPA prez, tests positive for COVID-19

Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter, the president of the NFL Players Association, said Thursday he has tested positive for COVID-19.

“After experiencing mild cold-like symptoms this morning, I chose to test at our facility and unfortunately, I am positive for COVID-19,” he wrote on Twitter. “I encourage all NFL players to take every precaution available to them to protect themselves, their families and their teammates from this virus.”

The Browns placed the 30-year-old Tretter on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

With Cleveland (7-7) set to visit the Green Bay Packers (11-3) on Saturday, Tretter could be out of the starting lineup for the first time since signing with the Browns before the 2017 season. He has started 80 consecutive games for Cleveland, including playoffs.

Second-year center Nick Harris would likely be the next man up for the Browns. He has only played 35 snaps this season, all of them on special teams.

Cleveland reportedly planned to activate safety Grant Delpit and tackle James Hudson III off the COVID list on Thursday.

Players who remain in the health and safety protocols include quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, running back Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and safety Ronnie Harrison Jr.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski watches a play against the New England Patriots during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski clears protocols

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski cleared COVID-19 protocols and rejoined the team for practice Wednesday.

Stefanski tested positive last week and missed Monday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer took over as acting head coach in a 16-14 loss.

Cleveland (7-7) has a short week before visiting the Green Bay Packers (11-3) on Saturday afternoon.

In addition to getting Stefanski back, the Browns activated tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker Jacob Phillips off the reserve/COVID-19 list. Hooper has 33 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games this season, and Phillips has three tackles in one game.

Cleveland placed rookie cornerback Greg Newsome on the COVID list. The first-round pick has 26 tackles and seven passes defensed in 10 games (nine starts).

The Browns also waived punter Jamie Gillan from the reserve/COVID-19 list and restored wideout JoJo Natson back to the practice squad after he was forced to miss time because of COVID.

Gillan averaged 43.9 yards per punt in 12 games this season but the Browns will stick with veteran Dustin Colquitt, who has averaged 42.4 yards per punt in two games with the team.

–Field Level Media

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield congratulates quarterback Case Keenum after the team  s first quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 in Cleveland, at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won the game 17-14. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

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

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

But “next 18 men up?”

That’s the predicament the Cleveland Browns find themselves in for Saturday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders, thanks to a COVID-19 outbreak that may leave them without their starting quarterback and head coach, among others.

The Browns learned Wednesday that quarterback Baker Mayfield and head coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive and landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Since both have been vaccinated, NFL protocols state that they can return to the team after producing two negative tests 24 hours apart if they are free of symptoms.

The team has 18 players presently on that list, 11 of them starters.

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.

Mayfield, Stefanski and the team’s other additions to the COVID-19 list who are vaccinated could still return on Saturday for the home game should they produce the two negative tests.

Otherwise, Case Keenum would get his second start of the year at quarterback, with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer as interim coach and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt calling plays.

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-die 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.

–Field Level Media

Jan 12, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt (2) against the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Browns sign P Dustin Colquitt

The Cleveland Browns signed veteran punter Dustin Colquitt on Friday.

Colquitt, 39, was signed to replace Jamie Gillan, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday.

Now in his 17th NFL season, Colquitt was Kansas City’s third-round pick in 2005 and spent 15 seasons (2005-19) with the Chiefs before splitting the 2020 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

He appeared in six games with the Atlanta Falcons this season and posted a 47.7-yard average.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl LIV champion has appeared in 250 career regular season games and recorded 1,173 punts with a 44.9 average.

His brother, Britton, punted for three seasons with the Browns from 2016-18.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) sheds a tackle from Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Joe Schobert (93) during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Browns placing TE David Njoku on COVID list

Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku will be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, ESPN reported Tuesday.

Njoku, 25, has played in all 12 games (nine starts) and has 27 catches for 407 yards and three touchdowns.

His vaccination status and availability for Sunday’s AFC North clash between the host Browns (6-6) and Baltimore Ravens (8-4) are unclear.

A first-round pick by Cleveland in 2017, Njoku has 139 receptions for 1,686 yards and 14 touchdowns in 61 career games (34 starts).

–Field Level Media

Oct 11, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Jack Conklin (78) is introduced before the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Indianapolis Colts at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Browns RT Jack Conklin (knee) out for season

Tests confirmed Monday that Cleveland Browns right tackle Jack Conklin has a torn patella tendon and will miss the rest of the season, ESPN reported.

The two-time All-Pro injured his right knee while pass blocking midway through the first quarter of Sunday night’s loss in Baltimore.

He initially attempted to walk off the field with the help of trainers, but the knee buckled and he almost fell to the turf. After being helped to the sidelines, he was carted back to the locker room.

Conklin, 27, had missed Cleveland’s previous three games while on injured reserve with a dislocated elbow.

The six-year veteran is in his second season with the Browns. He played his first four seasons with Tennessee and has started all 79 of his games in the NFL since being drafted No. 8 overall by the Titans in 2016.

Blake Hance replaced Conklin at right tackle for the Browns (6-6) during the 16-10 loss to the Ravens.

–Field Level Media