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Browns lose Kareem Hunt, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to 'significant' injuries

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The elephant in the room isn't being ignored by the Browns.

Decimated by injuries, including significant ones to running back Kareem Hunt and rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the Browns (3-3) hardly have any time to lick their wounds because their season of gargantuan expectations is in critical condition with a prime-time matchup against the Denver Broncos (3-3) looming Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.

“This is like a pivotal point in the season,” safety John Johnson III said Monday on Zoom. “... It’s definitely a must-win game on a short week.”

Injuries have taken a major toll on the Browns, and their situation became more dire after Sunday's 37-14 beating at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals (6-0).

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Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) runs during the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) runs during the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Hunt (right calf) and Owusu-Koramoah (high right ankle sprain) will miss weeks with the injuries they suffered in the fourth quarter versus the Cardinals, coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday.

Stefanski said Hunt will be out for more than three games and his timetable for return is "in that ballpark" of four to six weeks. It's likely a similar time frame for Owusu-Koramoah to come back, given the nature of his injury.

Hunt and Owusu-Koramoah — two of the team's better players — are expected to be placed on injured reserve. When the Browns announce those moves, they will be formalities. By rule, players who land on IR must miss at least three games.

“Nobody's flinching right now,” linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. said Monday. “We understand what we have in our locker room, the men that we have in our locker room, the leadership from Coach Stefanski. We understand that nobody's going to flinch in our locker room.”

The bottom line: Players down the depth chart had better be ready.

Browns uncertain about statuses of Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., but Mayfield plans to play Thursday

The Browns will gather information about how quarterback Baker Mayfield (torn labrum in left, non-throwing shoulder) and three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (right shoulder) are doing in the next few days before deciding whether they'll be able to play Thursday, Stefanski said.

Both players re-entered Sunday's game, and Mayfield didn't miss a snap due to injury.

The Browns didn't practice Monday, but they had to submit an estimated injury report because they'll play Thursday. Mayfield and Beckham are among 10 players the Browns projected would not have participated in practice Monday.

Mayfield had his left arm in a sling during his postgame news conference Sunday night, when the quarterback said he "absolutely" expects to face the Broncos.

Mayfield suffered a partially torn labrum Sept. 19 against the Houston Texans and has been wearing a harness ever since. He explained his injured shoulder dislocated twice Sunday after he crashed to the ground on a J.J. Watt sack in the third quarter. He also said the injury is probably worse now than it was after the Texans game in Week 2 and he would undergo an MRI on Monday.

If Mayfield's plan to play Thursday doesn't work out, the Browns would start backup quarterback Case Keenum, a 10-year NFL veteran with a regular-season starting record of 27-35, including 11-3 with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017 while Stefanski served as his position coach.

"We'll make sure to work through all that in the next couple days and obviously take what the medical staff says, what Baker, in this case, says, and we do that for all of our players," Stefanski said. "Making sure we make prudent decisions with all of these guys.

“I’m going to defer to the medical staff on when a guy is ready and/or not ready. We talk to the players. The situation yesterday, [Mayfield] was deemed ready to go back in, and, obviously, as you saw, Baker wanted to go back in. But we will always do what’s right by our guys.”

Watt's sack resulted in a fumble, one of three turnovers Mayfield committed Sunday. In the second quarter, he lost another fumble on a sack and threw an interception on an off-target pass intended for receiver Rashard Higgins. The Cardinals turned the three takeaways into a touchdown and two field goals.

Stefanski described Mayfield as “a little too careless” with the ball.

“He’s done a very nice job taking care of the ball prior to yesterday, and we had a couple too many times where the ball was on the ground or we threw an interception,” Stefanski said. “I’m not naive enough to think it’s not going to happen at all, but we want to make great decisions, we want to throw accurate balls, we want guys to run the right route at the proper depth, all those type of things.”

Mayfield has completed 116-of-173 passes (67.1%) this season for 1,474 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions for a rating of 97.8. He has taken 18 sacks, including five on Sunday, when the total would have been more if he hadn't escaped pressure several other times.

“[Mayfield's desire to keep playing] speaks to how much he loves the game and loves his team that he wants to keep getting back out there,” three-time Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio said Monday. “But we can't get him hit. Obviously, if he lands on [the injured shoulder], it's probably not going to be great. … We've just got to find a way to help him out and really make it so he's living as good as he can in the pocket.”

Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski not ruling out running back Nick Chubb for Thursday yet

Stefanski said the Browns need the next couple of days to determine whether five-time Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry (knee, on IR) and starting offensive tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle) and Jack Conklin (knee) can play this week.

Landry has missed the past four games, but he returned to practice Friday. Wills sat out the past two games. Conklin missed the Cardinals game.

Stefanski left the door ajar for two-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb to return against the Broncos after being inactive Sunday with a calf injury.

“I'm not going to rule him out yet,” Stefanski said. “Obviously, a short week makes it harder, but he's progressing.”

Wills, Conklin and Chubb are among the players the Browns projected to sit out practice Monday. Blake Hance started in place of Wills and rookie fourth-round draft pick James Hudson III in place of All-Pro Conklin on Sunday.

With injuries piling up and the Browns losing back-to-back games in the same season under Stefanski for the first time, Mayfield said Sunday night, “We're going to see what we are made of. Our backs are up against the wall right now, and I like our chances.”

By Monday, Mayfield's teammates had rallied around the challenge.

“He’s the leader of the team, and we’re going to follow him,” Bitonio said. “Baker’s had that mentality his whole life, and we’re ready to play. The one positive about getting your butt kicked when you have a Thursday game is you play pretty quickly. I’m excited to get back out there. I know it’s going to be tough. We don’t have everybody. But I know the guys who are going to be out there are going to be ready to play.”

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns injuries: Kareem Hunt, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah out for weeks