CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from a story that ran on Jan. 4, 2021.
When the Cleveland Browns take the field for their first playoff game in 18 years, they'll do so without their longest-tenured player. According to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, left guard Joel Bitonio has tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) and will miss this weekend's Wild Card round matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Per Pelissero, wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge has also tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss Sunday's game.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Browns announced that head coach Kevin Stefanski and two assistant coaches have tested positive for the coronavirus. While they will be permitted to remotely participate in game-planning throughout the week, the three coaches will also miss Sunday's game with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as the Browns' acting head coach in Stefanski's absence.
"Our facility is currently closed while contact tracing is taking place," the Browns said in a statement. "The team will continue to consult with the league and medical experts to determine the appropriate next steps as the health and safety of our players, coaches, staff and the entire community remains our highest priority."
Selected by Cleveland in the 2014 NFL Draft, Bitonio was preparing to play in the first postseason game of his seven-year career. A 2020 Pro Bowl selection, his absence could loom large against a Pittsburgh pass rush considered to be one of the best in the NFL.
In nine games this season, Hodge has totaled 11 receptions for 180 yards, including two catches for 25 yards in the Browns' postseason-clinching win in their regular-season finale vs. the Steelers this past Sunday.