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Browns 'adapt and adjust,' only focused on what can be controlled

The Browns are putting an even heavier emphasis on focusing what they can control as schedule changes and roster announcements affect Week 17 game prep

Browns players and coaches have uttered a similar phrase throughout a week full of unexpected news, schedule changes and uncertainty.

"Control what we can control." 

It's the expected response from a Browns team that has rolled with the non-stop flow of punches 2020 has brought them and, well, the entire NFL. But this week, that phrase carries even more significance.

By the end of Wednesday, the Browns had nine players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Practice was delayed until 4:30 p.m. as the team identified any close contacts for two positive cases. 

The Browns couldn't control their schedule while that happened.

Throughout the week, news trickled in from Pittsburgh about which key Steelers players would — or, rather, wouldn't — start in Week 17 as the Steelers rest up for the playoffs. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be swapped with Mason Rudolph. Defensive linemen T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and center Maurkice Pouncey reportedly won't, either. Other players could be ruled out, too, but the Browns won't know for sure until Sunday.

Those substitutions might make the Browns' path to a win seem a bit easier, but they can't control who will be on the field. 

They can only control how well their own players are prepared.

"There are things we can control," coach Kevin Stefanski said, "which is obviously our attitude and how diligent we are in these meetings."

Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Jets yesterday by the Browns photo team

The Browns are only focusing on what they can control. That means doing everything possible to prepare the players who will be available for them Sunday. That means making the most out of each rep in practice, whether it's in the morning, afternoon or evening. That means scouting any and all Steelers players who could be on the field Sunday.

All of those efforts are going toward something else Cleveland can control: its playoff destiny.

Everyone knows what's at stake.

If the Browns win, they're in the playoffs. This season has already been one of their best since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999. But to make the success last, they'll need to win Sunday and punch their ticket to the postseason.

They can only do that by maximizing what they can control. Stefanski has made that a focal point throughout a unique first season as head coach. In Week 17, though, that message feels more important than ever.

"We don't use excuses at all," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "That's the message that gets reflected to the team every day. Whatever it is, it is, and we'll have to adapt and adjust to it and make it work. We have to find a way to get it done, and we'll get it done."

The Browns have been rolling with the punches since the offseason, when they conducted their first team meetings with a new head coach and several other new coaches through video meetings only. They continued to forge ahead when injuries knocked several key players out at training camp, and they didn't stop finding success when various positive COVID-19 tests, both within the organization and in the NFL, altered their daily schedule in the regular season. 

They've proven they can withstand adversity, much of which was out of their control. Now, they have one week left in the regular season to prove it again.

So the mantra is the same as it's been all year: "Control what we can control," and it'll stick around as long as the Browns' season is still ongoing.

"We will be prepared," Stefanski said. "Whatever it ends up being, I trust in our preparations and the guys' ability to adapt."