Browns transcripts -- Friday, Jan. 15, 2021


(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Rob McBurnett

Director, Community & Corporate Communications

Head Coach Kevin Stefanski:

Opening statement: 

“You guys have the injury report – listing four guys as questionable.

“Looking forward to the challenge, and it is going to be a challenge. A really good football team, the Super Bowl champs. A really good coaching staff as we have talked about. It is going to be a battle. We had a good week of practice.”

On how critical it is to get off to a fast start this week, particularly given the Chiefs offense’s ability: 

“It is easier said than done. I promise you every coach goes into every game saying, ‘We have to start fast.’ Sometimes you do, and sometimes you do not. Is it critical? It is always critical.”

On if any Browns assistant coaches returned today who were previously not in the building due to COVID-19 protocols: 

“Yes, we had (pass game coordinator/defensive backs coach) Jeff Howard and (tight ends coach) Drew Petzing back today.”

On if assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters is the only Browns coach or player who has not yet returned to the building due to COVID-19 protocols: 

“Yes.”

On the significance of G Joel Bitonio returning and Bitonio’s opportunity to play in a postseason game: 

“I think it is a big deal. Getting a good player back. He is excited to be back as you can imagine. Looks good.”

On how encouraging it is that T Jack Conklin practiced today on a limited basis: 

“Similarly, he has been a good player for us. We will see how the next few hours go with all of those guys. Obviously, you want to go into the game with the full complement of your players. We will see how it shakes out.”

On if it feels good to have nearly all of the Browns players and coaches back with the team after several were missing in recent weeks due to COVID-19 protocols: 

“Yeah, it does. First and foremost, you concern yourself with everybody’s health and well-being. Anytime somebody is back in the building, it means that they are healthy enough to be back in the building. Obviously, want to get everybody back here as quickly as possible but as safe as possible.”

On if he feels that this game could come down to the last possession, given the Chiefs have played in several close games in recent weeks: 

“We go into every game – similarly, I am sure they do – and we are just trying to win it any which way you can. If it is by one point, that is great, and if it is by a bunch of points, that is great, too. We want to see how this game unfolds, but both teams are looking to do anything it takes to get that win.”

On if there will be any unique travel plans to Kansas City like last week’s trip to Pittsburgh or if it will occur as it normally has this season: 

“Normal.”

On how Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry has been this season: 

“He has been great. Andrew and his staff have done an outstanding job. Talk about the guys that continue to make plays for us on Sundays and guys that were not with us back in training camp – late adds, as we call them – him and his staff really have done a great job in identifying those guys. Andrew does a great job leading this organization.”

On why DE Myles Garrett was chosen as one of the playoff captains: 

“He has provided great leadership throughout this season. He is a player who shows up and gives us everything he has. He plays hard through the whistle. He plays hard for the entire 60 minutes or more. That is a great message for our players.”

On sharing QB Case Keenum mentioned a prank and leaving something in his office and if he found what Keenum placed in it: 

“No, I have not figured out what Case left in there.”

On if there is anything benefit that Conklin plays OL and the position requires more choppy steps rather than long strides as it relates to Conklin’s hamstring injury: 

“With any injury, they are all different. Certainly, when you talk about positionally, some players take full strides to your point, but I think you deal with each injury individually. We will see how he responds over the next 48 hours.”

On if he spends a lot of time during the week thinking about how a game may play out as it relates to it being a high or low-scoring contest: 

“I do. I will tell you, sometimes I am right and sometimes I am wrong. You prepare for one game and you have to be ready early in that first quarter to be in another. We talk as a coaching staff how we might see it going, and we are prepared for that, but you better be ready to pivot.”

On how often he is right about how a game will play out from a high or low scoring standpoint: 

“I do not know, truly. These games are a one-game season so once that game is done, I am kind of all in on this one.”

On how excited he is for his first postseason game as a head coach, given he was not able to be on the sideline last week: 

“I am just excited for our team to have another opportunity to compete. That is what these guys want to do, and that is why it is so important in these playoffs. It is win or go home, and you want to just want to keep winning so you get another opportunity to compete. I am excited to be with the guys on Sunday and compete with them.”

On the team’s mood during practice this week and how the team has responded: 

“I feel like it has been a really good week of practice. It has been crisp. There is energy out there. Guys understanding the gameplan and understanding their jobs. It was a really good week of practice and moving around. I thought we needed it. Again, the guys worked very hard.”

On if the team looked better in the padded practice and during this practice week after an odd schedule in past weeks: 

“No, I think they have gotten into the routine of how we operate around here. They know what to expect. Probably the strange part was that they had three straight days of practice – that is unique (laughter). They are ready whatever it looks like. If you practice one day, two days, three days or zero days, they are ready to go.”

On Chiefs DT Chris Jones and how much the Browns have talked about Jones this week in their preparation for Sunday:        

“We have talked a lot about him. He is a great player. We played against him last year when I was with the Vikings. I saw firsthand how just physically imposing he can be. He plays really hard. He is a tough matchup for anybody. Whether you are double-teaming him or single blocking, you are in for a long day because he is just a really good player. The guys understand that, and I think they are looking forward to the challenge.”

On what he likes about Browns players’ heart, scrappiness and desire: 

“Scrappy is a good word, and I will steal it. These guys have shown this season that they are willing to fight and compete, and that is what January football calls for. We have a great challenge this week again versus a great football team with a bunch of great players and great coaches. We are going have to fight, and they understand that.”

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DE Myles Garrett:

On having most Browns players and coaches return to the building after being out due to COVID-19 protocols, particularly G Joel Bitonio: 

“It is good to have everybody back. I love having a complete team. All of the guys that you relied on during the season, they have always come up big, especially Bitonio, a Pro Bowler and definitely one of the most elite guards. Just having his presence as a leader on the offense and his ability to block whoever in pass and run, that is something you can’t put a value on.”

On if he feels like he is due to have a big play in this week’s game, given he hasn’t recently had a splash play like the several early in the season: 

“Absolutely. This should be the game to do it. One of the best teams in the league, if not the best team in the league, but they have to go in there and they have to prove it, and we have to prove that we can battle with anybody.”

On people still doubting that the Browns are capable of beating the Chiefs despite last week’s win: 

“You have to prove what you are worth day in and day out. No team and no person individually was treated or held in high regard until they proved that every time they showed up. We just have to clock in and show what we are worth every time we are asked to. Every time those lights are on and we are on the field, we have to show that we are a great team. Here is another opportunity to show that.”

On what it will take for others to believe in the Browns’ ability to beat top teams if they did not see last week’s win at Pittsburgh as proof: 

“That is just one game. It takes more than one outing. We have to keep proving it, not only to them but to ourselves. We have to make it routine, like the Patriots dynasty. Guys just assumed they were winning every time they looked at the schedule. We have to get that same kind of mentality here.”

On if he is more sore or tired after last week’s game when he was double or triple-teamed for most of the contest: 

“Yeah, I would say so. I was really tired after the last game, knowing that they threw the ball 60-plus times and I was double-teamed on the majority of those. It definitely takes a toll on you during the game having to fight against multiple people. You just have to know that your time will come. I got close a couple times, but like I said before, I am due.”

On the challenge preparing to face Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes: 

“The guy is great with his feet and he is great throwing off of the run. He can make plays in any part of the field so we have to be prepared for that. Do not jump for those ball fakes. If you take your shot at him, make it clean and try to take the ball away from him. The best place to be on the field with Patrick is with the ball in our hands instead of him because he is great with it.”

On if he relishes the opportunity to face an elite QB like Mahomes, who is one of the most recognized players in the NFL: 

“He is kind of regarded as the face of the league right now. He goes right up there with (Rams DT) Aaron Donald as the two faces that people see as the best on offense and defense. I want him to be able to go home when he has his kid or kids and tell them that he went against Myles Garrett. It is not just me versus him – it is the Browns versus the Chiefs – but individually, I like to leave an impression on everybody I go against.”

On if Mahomes’ deep drop-back changes anything for him as a pass rusher: 

“I think he is deceptive with his deep drop-back. He does it because he has the arm to make up for it, but he also drops back that far and then steps up two or three more yards so that you are bending pretty much at a fishhook angle to get back to him. You really have to kind of anticipate what he is going do. You can’t always think he is going to step back deep because he either steps shallow or he steps up so you have to be ready to counter back or to push into one of the other three guys or two guys on the line. He has his own style, and I think we are prepared.”

On DE Porter Gustin’s diving interception last week:

“It was a hell of a play… When he dives for it and makes the play, I am like ‘What the hell?’ I did not think he was going to make it either, but that was kind of just the name of the game last week. Guys making those extra effort, big time plays to put us out up front.”

On the team consistently saying it is not satisfied with just being in the playoffs or beating the Steelers:

“We are here. We might as well be great. Nobody is excited about just getting a ticket to the dance. Like I said, you want to dance with the pretty girl. You want to shoot your shot, and the worst she can say is no. As long as you go out there and you take your best shot, you will be proud of the result, but we are not satisfied until we see how far we can get.”

On the team’s strong belief in itself:

“I do not think you would step on the field unless you believe in yourself. You do not get here doubting yourself, your ability and your teammates, especially not in the playoffs. These guys believe in themselves because they have proven it time and time again that they deserve to be here and they have made the plays that they needed to make. As long as you are here, you can go as far as you want to go as long as you put the work in and prepare.”

On what he is expecting from QB Baker Mayfield on Sunday:

“To do Baker things. Be the gun slinger as he has been. He is going to make those special plays with his feet and he is going to make those big time throws. Right now, he is hot. It just has to be something that he continues obviously.”

On what has this week been like for him personally and how the team has reacted to a more normal practice schedule:

“I think we are happy to get back to a regular routine. It has been up and down and it has been hectic around here, but everybody likes when you have uniformity in what you are doing and consistency to the work you are putting in. Guys just want to be able to take care of their bodies, get in and be preparing like they would for any other game. Guys adjusted very well last week, but now that they are getting back to what they have been doing, guys are a little bit more locked in on the task at hand.”

On the lift of CB Denzel Ward returning to the Browns defense this week:

“He is a game-changer. Guys really do not like to throw his way, and when they do, he is there. Whether it is with a pick or with a PBU, he finds a way to frustrate quarterbacks and wide receivers. That is invaluable on any team.”

On RB Kareem Hunt returning to Kansas City and the emotions Hunt will have facing his former team:

“He wants to go back to the stadium and the team that drafted him. He wants to have a great game, but he wants to win. I think any of us would want to do that. We are going to try to do our best to win the game, not just for him but for us and for the city. This is for everyone involved, not just for one person. It is definitely in our hearts and in our mind, but I know he will be focused on the task at hand. He is not going to go do anything out of the ordinary. He is going to play his game, and we are going to play together and we are going to play sound football so that we can get the job done, and at the end of the day, we can all achieve what we want.”

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G Joel Bitonio:

On his experience last Sunday night: 

“Obviously, I wanted to be out there. That was the hardest part. All day Sunday, I was just like, ‘I should be preparing for this game.’ Watching it, it was pretty exciting. The first play, it was a good start. It was fun. If it was a lot closer, I would probably be a lot more stressed out, but when you get up 35-7, you can breathe a little bit. It was tough not being out there, but I was so proud of how the guys fought, just the execution and just how everybody kind of came together and picked up the slack for guys that were out – OV (DE Olivier Vernon), (CB) Denzel (Ward), myself, (CB) Kevin (Johnson) and (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski. There was a whole group of guys, and just everybody who needed to step up made a play. It was really cool to kind of experience that from the top down.”

On how happy he is that he will have the opportunity to play in the postseason this week for the first time: 

“It is great. It is huge the team won that game when we moved on to the divisional round. Obviously, I am excited. I am ready to be out there, I am ready to play and do my best, but it was always about the team and how they were going to respond. We have been in those situations all year. It was just really cool to see those guys step up and make plays. Obviously, I am pumped to keep playing and ready to get after it this weekend.”

On what he was doing during the AFC Wild Card game: 

“I was sitting in a chair downstairs in my basement. I have a big TV – I have like a 70-incher down there. I was just watching. I was pretty calm, though. I tried not to get too excited or too up or too down. I was just taking it play at a time, but when you go up 28-0, it is hard not to keep that excitement in.”

On G Michael Dunn’s performance: 

“It was awesome. Mike has been here since a few days into training camp this year, and he has just been an awesome person from the get-go. The way he works, the way he attacks every day – even though he had not been playing and he was on practice for most of the year and the way he learns, he did everything that he possibly could to be ready to be thrown in that situation. Obviously, you had guys like Hub (T Chris Hubbard) and (C) Nick (Harris) who were supposed to be there, but they were banged up. He went in and took advantage of that. He played a great game. The thing is when you play a position in football, that is the position I was watching the whole game was left guard, and I was like, ‘He is killing it right now.’ He did a great job. Obviously, it was tough to see him go down, but he put everything on the line for them. It is a testament really to who he is as a person and the work he has put in all year to go out there and accomplish that. I was very happy for him because he proved he could play in this league and be a guy.”

On his reaction to the first play of last week’s game and if he was able to still stay calm in that moment: 

“I stood up for that one and made sure we got the recovery. It was more of a shock thing, like make sure there are no penalties and make sure everything is right. It is funny because sitting on the sideline usually, and me, (C) JC (Tretter), (T) Jack (Conklin), (G) Wyatt or one of the guys would look at it each other and be like, ‘Alright, let’s get a pick six here or let’s get a fumble here.’ For it to happen on the first play, it was a great start. The crazy part was my neighbors where I live, and after the game, they were outside of my house going crazy and lighting off fireworks. My wife got some of the footage on video. It was pretty cool. It was just cool how I was kind of part of the celebration in the sense where you do not really get to experience that when you are playing in the games.”

On Browns OL members continuing to step in and play well, including Dunn and G Blake Hance last week: 

“It starts from the top with (offensive line) Coach (Bill) Callahan, (assistant offensive line) Coach (Scott) Peters and (coaching assistant) Coach (Ryan) Cordell. They have all done a good job of making sure those guys are ready to play because they do not get the reps all year. O linemen do not really rotate like that. Unless someone is banged up, they do not get the reps in practice and are on the scout team and stuff like that. It was great. It is a testament to JC leading the line out there and really just being able to communicate with those guys because they come from a different system and stuff, but if they understand some of the terminology, the way he explains it and stuff like that and I think JC and Jed (T Jedrick Wills Jr.) communicating with those guys at left guard was a big key, as well.”

On what it meant for WR Jarvis Landry and other Browns teammates to dedicate last week’s game to him: 

“I was very appreciative. I had so many people reach out to me and so many people check on me and my health and my family. It was really overwhelming in that sense. It is hard to put into words. It means a lot in the sense that I have been here for a long time, and you try and put in everything that you can and you want to be in those big games and you watch your teammates and stuff play in those big games. To hear a guy like Jarvis or (QB) Baker (Mayfield) say that they are playing for me was big. I was just proud of everybody, and I am ready to be out there with those guys this week.”

On his experience with COVID-19:

“I was pretty normal. I was a little tired on Monday and Tuesday, but that is pretty normal after 17 Weeks of a season so I was not thinking anything of it. I did not really get too sick. Symptom-wise, I did lose taste and smell for a little bit – mostly smell. I could taste a little bit. I was good. My family stayed healthy. I quarantined in the basement, and they were upstairs and they tested negative this whole time so they are doing good, which was big for me. I made it out OK and I know a lot of people struggle with it so I was happy to make it out alright.”

On how frustrating it was to miss his first game in four years, particularly with it being a postseason game:

“For me, it was tough because the games I had missed prior in my career, I was in a boot or I knew I could not go out there and perform, and I felt like if I had to play on last Sunday night, I was going to be able to play. That was the hardest part is I felt healthy enough to go out there and play, but I could not be out there with the guys which felt like you are letting those guys down a little bit. Like I said, they stepped huge.”

On how COVID-19 tests were done for his young daughter:

“The just did it like everybody else with my daughter. They swabbed the nostril – they do not go up into the brain or anything. They swabbed the nostril and it tickles her a little bit, but she is a trooper. I have not seen her do it, but my wife said she is a beast. She likes it. She laughs when they test her. It is pretty much like everybody else.”

On if the playoffs are even more special to him knowing former Browns teammate T Joe Thomas never appeared in a postseason game:

“Yes, it is tough. I talked to (QB) Case (Keenum) and I have talked to Joe. Case has been in a lot of places in this league, and he told me about it. You go to a room and you hear how many guys have played in the playoffs here, and usually, unless a team has been there, it is usually 10 guys or less on a team. It is hard to make it in the playoffs in this league. Joe Thomas texted me, and he was obviously hurting for me. He was the most confident Browns fan I have been around. He was telling me that we were going to win. He was like, ‘There is no doubt in my mind we are winning this game. I know it for sure.’ He was very confident that we were going to pull this out so he knew I was going to get another shot. It is tough to win in this league. It is tough to be in those positions, and I am just grateful to have a chance to play.”

On if his neighbors were shooting fireworks off for specifically for him or if the neighbors had already stocked up on them:

“I think they stocked up. They were excited that the Browns were going to the playoffs and winning that game. It was cool. There was a good amount of them out there and you heard him. I think they were ready to celebrate if we won anyways. It was very cool. It is kind of like that scene in ‘Remember the Titans’ when they are about to go to the state championship and he is like, ‘We are not working tonight. We are going to go tell them we are going to state.’ It was kind of a cool moment. We have great neighbors, and a lot of them sent over food and stuff like that. We are very appreciative of that.”

On if he had any fever or chills as symptoms:

“No, they sent me thermometer and the little thing that goes on your finger. I was checking three times a day, and I was always good. I felt pretty normal. I napped a lot the first couple of days, but I was in meetings last week and I was focused. I was trying to go through it like I was about to play the game, watching the film and stuff. I was pretty locked in, but I felt overall pretty good.”

On what makes this Browns team so special and confident heading into Sunday’s game:

“It starts from the top down. (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski has done a good job of making it about the team and talking about the standard of play that we want to play with around here. There have been no excuses. When we go up there and we win or lose, it is on us and it is on how we play the game and who is going to be out there. It is who we have for that week and who is going to step up and that is a standard of play that everybody wants to meet, and that is what we kind of worked to on this team. I think just playing together. You win some games and you have lost some games this year. You bounce back a bunch of times and you just been through the fight guys so there is a confidence about it. We obviously know we are playing the Super Bowl champs in the Chiefs, one of the best teams in the league, and they have playmakers on offense obviously but they have some great players on defense, too. We know it is a huge challenge. We know that they are going to come and give it their best shot. It is win or go home now. We are trying to focus on ourselves and trying to put the best version of the Browns out there that we can.”

On if anyone has played any pranks on him when returning to the building like Stefanski said Keenum did and if he texted with Stefanski during the game:

“No one has pranked me that I know of so we will see if that comes out. We texted a couple of times throughout the week, but he said his phone was going to be off so I did not want to be guy that texted him. The amount of text messages I got through people checking in, and I had a few people ask me if I was watching the game. I was like, ‘Uh, yeah, I am watching (laughter).’ I realized he was probably going to be overwhelmed, as well. Once we handled our business, I was ready. I was like, ‘Alright, I have to get in game mode. I have to get ready to play this next game.”

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