David Njoku had a hard time grasping the fact he couldn't be on the field as he watched the Browns earn a win over the Ravens.
Njoku, the fifth-year TE veteran who missed the Week 14 game at FirstEnergy Stadium after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, felt fine. He was asymptomatic when his positive test came back earlier in the week, and he stayed asymptomatic all the way through Thursday, when he was back on the active roster.
With no symptoms and no on-field football responsibilities to complete, Njoku was in a rut.
"I felt completely normal," he told local reporters on a Zoom call. "It was frustrating, not being able to go out there with my teammates, my brothers. It's a sense of (being) powerless, but we got the job done last weekend, and we expect to get the job done this weekend."
That job will be a tough one — the Browns have placed 14 players on their reserve/COVID-19 list this week alone and will be relying heavily on their backups to win Saturday against the Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium. Njoku was remorseful for his teammates going through a similar battle he just experienced, but he expects all active players to be ready for a challenging, crucial gameday in Cleveland.
"It's never pleasant losing your teammates for a game," he said, "but at the same time, it is what it is. It's the next-man-up mentality."
That mentality will particularly apply to the tight ends room, which could be without Austin Hooper after he was among those placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Harrison Bryant, who's missed the last two games with an ankle injury and is questionable for Saturday, could also be unavailable.
If both tight ends are out, that leaves Njoku and Miller Forristall, who made his Browns debut last week, as the only two tight ends capable of suiting up.
"For me, as well as every other player who's coming to play Saturday, it's a next-man-up mentality," he said. "We all have one goal: to win the game."
Njoku could be one of the top receiving options for Case Keenum, who might need to start over Baker Mayfield after Mayfield was also placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The offense has full confidence that Keenum, a nine-year veteran who helped them to a win when he started in Week 7, will command them efficiently and give them a spark after a week where good news has been hard to find in Berea.
"We're not slowing down," Njoku said. "It's foot on the gas. We're firing the same way as if Baker was here or if Case was there. They're both great quarterbacks, and I'm very excited to play again."
That's the mantra all Browns players are taking with them to Saturday. Sure, it's been a rocky week, but there's no room for pity when a playoff run is in motion. The Browns have to find a way to win Saturday no matter who's available in order to take another step toward the postseason.
No obstacle can change that, and it's why Njoku is eager to return with his teammates and fight with them.
"We're all professionals here," he said. "Things happen, and you get thrown curveballs, and we have to adapt and overcome. On Saturday, we're going to put our best foot out and play football."