Browns G Joel Bitonio Talks with Media

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

On the past two weeks:

“They have been a bit different for sure. Going back to last year, we got a little bit used to the COVID stuff, but with how contagious this kind of strand is and how asymptomatic a lot of guys are, it has been a little bit different. A lot of guys missed games, and they feel like they could play. You are moving around people on the offensive line, and quarterbacks are flying in the day of the game to play in a game. It was a little different. The unfortunate part is we were two points away on both of them, and we made enough mistakes in the game where we can look back and be like, ‘Man, we should have had those.’ That is kid of this league. Every game comes down to the end really. To be a good team, you have to find a way to win those close ones.”

On if he feels fortunate the Browns still have an opportunity to make the playoffs despite the adversity the team faced in recent weeks:

“We need some help, and that is unfortunate. You always want to control your own destiny. We definitely need some help. We are playing Monday night so we will have an idea of what kind of happens this weekend, but the most important thing is for us to get a win against Pittsburgh. They are right there in it. The whole division is kind of right there. I think that is the most important thing – obviously, we need help, and we appreciate the help – is we have to handle our business, and that is really the main thing.”

On Monday night potentially being the last home game of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s career:

“I have not really thought about it too much. You never know in these things. Who knows? He could be back. (Buccaneers QB) Tom Brady is playing until he is 45 or 50 it seems like. Me personally, I have had a lot of matchups against Pittsburgh, and they have been o the winning side a lot. I know throughout his career he has had a really good career against the Cleveland Browns. I am sure the fans will be amped up. I am sure their team will be amped up. For us, it is already a playoff game so we are already focused like that. We are already ready for the atmosphere. We have to handle our business and win, but he has had a great career, and I am sure the fans will be very excited for him.”

On preparing to play the Steelers this week after so many years of playing against them:

“The good thing is you have film of yourself going against them so you can watch some of that and understand where you have had bad plays in the past. As a scheme thing, you try and look back at what has worked and what has not worked, but they are looking at the same thing so you want to make subtle adjustments and really see kind of what is the best way to attack them. That is why I think these division games a lot of times are tossups and a lot of times come down to the wire because teams know each other so well and they know each other’s personnel so well.”

On the AFC North this season and the possibility of winning the division with a 9-8 record:

“It has been up and down. Early in the year, you saw Cincinnati get off to a good start, and then the Ravens really made a push midseason, but then COVID and injuries to really every team in the AFC North have been a detriment. It is tough. It is always a tough division. It is always hard to win it. Looking at it now, it is going to come down to the wire again. We will probably have four teams right around .500 or a little bit better – no real bottom team and no team that is going to win 13 games this year. I do think it is a testament to the toughness of the division and how tough each game is when you play within the division. Also, a lot of our teams have given games away. You are going to look back on the season, and a team that does not make the playoffs and say ‘Man, we had two or three games that we really threw away.’ I think that just shows how important every game is in the NFL. Hey, once you get in the playoffs, they do not care what your record is. Hopefully, we can start to handle our business this week and really go from there.”

On his sense of QB Baker Mayfield’s confidence after last week’s game:

“We had a good practice today and started our prep on Pit. This morning, we watched the Green Bay film and went over it. When you have a tough game, it is never fun to watch the film, but guys learn from it. You learn from those mistakes. Obviously, Baker was in one of the tough situations to be in. He had COVID, he was on it for the full length of time and he did not get a chance to throw a ball and practice with the guys and stuff, but the ultimate competitor came out in him, and he said, ‘I am going to get there. I am going to play in this game.’ As a teammate of his, you can never question how tough he is, his want to or his ability to play when maybe he should not be playing injury-wise or other situations. It is one of the things that I respect him, but his confidence this week, I do not think, has changed. They are telling us there is a chance to win this division so we are going to go out there and give it our best shot.”

On the Browns defense’s performance in recent weeks as many key defensive players are expected to return from injury and/or the reserve/COVID-19 list this week:

“It has been really impressive. Obviously, the guys who have stepped up for them, they really have not lost a beat. We were really shorthanded in the defensive backfield a few weeks ago. The D line has been shorthanded, the linebackers and everybody has. These guys have come out and played. I think they are buying into the scheme, and they are playing off of each other. They understand with (DE) Myles (Garrett) and JD (DE Jadeveon Clowney) up front and those guys rushing the passer, the ball is coming out quick so the DBs are kind of adjusting to that. The linebackers are playing well. They are stopping the run. It has been impressive. They have really kept us in a lot of these games when we have kind of struggled on offense. It is one of those things if they can keep a team scoring a limited amount of points, that makes it easier for the offense to function. Hopefully, we went through our COVID outbreak a little earlier, and now, we can kind of bring everybody back and everybody gets healthy and gets a few days off, their bodies are rejuvenated and get ready for this home stretch.”   

On the impact of Garrett playing through a groin injury:

“It is awesome. He is, in my opinion, the best pass rusher in the league. To have him out there, even if he is not at full strength, the defense is going to gameplan for that — they are going to send two guys his way or they are going chip him, and they are going to leave other guys one on one. For Myles, he understands that he is the heartbeat of the defense and he is one of the leaders of our team, and for him to go out there and play, even if he is not 100 percent – you see that with guys like Myles, guys like Baker and guys like (C) JC (Tretter) when he is out there – these guys are going to fight for their team and for the Cleveland Browns. It is something that you want to see in your leaders.”

On the challenge shifting to LT for the past two games:

“The first game, I really did not have a chance to think about it so I just kind of went out there and did my thing. I tried to do as well as I could. This week, I had a little bit more time to think about it in practice. There was kind of a new wrinkle this week. At guard, you go with the silent count, and you can see the ball so it is not that demanding, but then when you get into Lambeau Field on Christmas Day, you are like, ‘Oh man, I have to really pay attention to the silent count and get off on the ball.’ There were a few things where I was like, ‘Man, I wish I had practiced this a few more times.’ I told them I am going to go out there and fight, I am going to do my best and I am going to try to put myself in good position. The real thing is you are out there, and I am so used to doing things at guard like being in the huddle, on the bench and things that you do not even think of that you just think so much more at tackle. There are plays that get called in the game, where it is like, ‘Alright, I have not really gotten a rep on this. What does a tackle do on this play?’ Where at guard, everything is kind of just like I pretty much know every scenario that you can work through. Those were the things that were it kind of reminded me of my rookie year when you are just like out there and just playing because you do not know the game as well at that position. I felt like that a few times but I was going to fight, really try and battle for my guys out there and see what I can do. I am happy (T) Jed (Wills Jr.) is back. He got back at practice today, and he was moving around pretty good. It is going to be good to be back inside at guard. Hopefully, we can get our line and our offense as healthy as possible.”

On if there would be any additional satisfaction to beat the Steelers in what potentially will be the last home game of Roethlisberger’s NFL career, especially given Roethlisberger’s record against the Browns:

“It is always good to get a win. Like you said, I have not been part of many over there. For us, this is the playoffs. We have to win this game so from a macro standpoint, it already as important as possible for us. If we can win and that happens afterward for it, it is going to be a little cherry on top. Right now, it is a playoff game for us so we have to go out there and really focus on us and executing our best strategy. That will be something afterward we can talk about and think about, but for us, it is really a playoff game. We have to go 1-0 this week.”

On how the team responds to losing close games at Green Bay when the offense surrendered four interceptions and at Baltimore when the defense produced four interceptions and if that creates any tension between the two units:

“Honestly, I have not personally felt any tension between the defense and the offense. Our defense has played well, especially the last few weeks, and we appreciate that. There is no tension. That might be something in year’s past, but the guys are focused on winning and taking care of their business. Honestly, we want to capitalize when we get the ball and really try and play complementary football, but it is not something that is tearing our team down. Really, we have not even had a talk about it. It is something that obviously you want to play better. If you get four interceptions, you want to win the game, and you obviously do not want to turn the ball over on offense. There is no separating the locker room. I think guys are in a good headspace, and we are in a good position as a team.”

On S John Johnson III tweeting ‘run the damn ball’ after the second interception of last week’s game at Green Bay:

“I did not even know about that until you just said that. He is watching the game, and he has kind of turned into a fan. He is an emotional guy. I do not think it matters, honestly. He can feel that way, and there are certain things that people say and people do, and that is the great thing about social media: everybody has a voice and everybody has an opinion, and anybody can say anything. He is a teammate of ours, and we respect him. He is a leader for our defense and stuff like that, but in the moment, he probably wanted us to run the ball, just like every fan does when you throw a pick or something like that. It is part of it. We have all of the faith in Bake and (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski. There have been too many games that have been decided by one touchdown that we have not won, but we still have a chance at this thing, and I still have all of the faith in our offense.”

On if he will be watching the LA Rams-Ravens and Bengals-Chiefs games on Sunday, given the playoff implications for the Browns:

“It depends on our travel. I guess we will be on a bus so we probably can watch it. Yeah, I am rooting for the Chiefs and I am rooting for the Rams this week. There is no doubt about that. I will text (former Browns and LA Rams G Austin) Corbett this week and make sure they know what they are doing (laughter). I am excited for it. It is one of those things where you become a fan. I will not be glued to the TV, but I am definitely going to be checking scores and making sure we are in an OK position.”

On how C JC Tretter is doing after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week and Tretter sharing the news on social media and encouraging NFL players to get tested for COVID-19 if symptomatic:

“He is doing fine physically, I think. He obviously had some minor symptoms, but I think he is now waiting to check back into the team. The NFL is one of those tough-guy leagues where before COVID, unless you could not walk or could not do anything, you try and play in the game, and sickness, you try and play in the game. I think JC was just reiterating it is your right to get tested if you feel it, and it is your right as a human being to not spread COVID throughout the locker room, as well. He has a family at home. He has a child who is not vaccinated yet because she is too young. He is trying to protect them, as well. I know he was disappointed to miss the game. I know he had a heck of a snap streak going, and the guy has played through a lot of injuries – a lot of injuries honestly worse than what he did with COVID – but we still do not know the lasting effects of COVID and things of that nature. Honestly, as a player and as NFLPA President, I have the utmost respect for him because he is worried about himself and his family but also the teams around the league and trying to get this season finished.”

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