The Browns' injury report couldn't have been much longer 24 hours before they kicked off Thursday against the Denver Broncos.
Nineteen players, or nearly a third of the roster, appeared on the list. Seven of them were from the offense, and all seven were players normally in the starting lineup. The Browns were dealing with injuries to their starting quarterback, both starting tackles, both starting receivers and both starting running backs.
Of that group, four players were ready to gut it out and play: LT Jedrick Wills Jr., WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and TE David Njoku were all suited up for kickoff, but that still left spots open at quarterback, running back and right tackle.
All three played a pivotal role in helping the Browns grind through a 17-14 win at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Case Keenum commanded the offense at an efficient pace and used a key fourth-down conversion in the third quarter to put the Browns ahead for good. D’Ernest Johnson plowed through the talented Broncos run defense for a career-best performance. And Blake Hance kept the pocket clean at right tackle — despite LB Von Miller vowing "to kill" whoever lined up at the position earlier in the week.
"It's the oldest cliché there is – next man up," coach Kevin Stefanski said Friday. "It's easy to say, but we put a major focus on staying ready. What that means to me is in the course of your work week and in the course of the meeting rooms, the walkthroughs and the practice reps that you make sure you're getting yourself ready to play, even if you're a backup."
Thursday's win was the best example yet. It was evident from the opening drive, when the Browns used two short Keenum passes that went for big yards and finished it off with three big runs from Johnson to complete the drive with a touchdown.
It was evident on the second touchdown drive, too. That's when Keenum broke through two Broncos tacklers to get a first down on fourth-and-goal, and he finished the drive off a play later with a touchdown throw to another backup — Johnny Stanton IV, who has replaced Andy Janovich for the last two games after Janovich was placed on Injured Reserve with a hamstring injury.
No matter who was on the field and how much experience they had, the Browns had players ready and able to complete the job. That's why Stefanski gave one of his most impassioned speeches he's ever delivered in the locker room after the game.
And it's why he was still fired up Friday to talk about the guys who stepped up and delivered one of the Browns' biggest wins of the season.
"We have seen so many times where a guy goes down in pregame warmups or a guy goes down early in the game, and you are thrust into a role where you got no real live reps during the game," he said. "That is not an excuse not to do your job. I think the guys do a great job of taking those mental reps, learning from reps that maybe they did not get, learning lessons and refining your game to get ready to play."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Broncos in week seven
Other Injury updates
Stefanski didn't provide any significant updates regarding the status of QB Baker Mayfield, but he didn't rule him out from returning to the starting lineup for Week 8 against the Steelers.
"We're going to continue to listen to the medical staff," he said. "When he's ready, he's ready. I've got to get to Monday to see how all these guys are doing and how they're doing in their rehab."
Stefanski also said the same for CB Denzel Ward, who left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, or WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, who injured his groin in pregame warmups.
"We'll see how those guys progress over the next week or so," Stefanski said. "I can't tell you about their availability for next week."
Credit to O-Line interior
Despite injuries to nearly every player around them, Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter and Wyatt Teller have all managed to stay healthy and grind out each snap of every game.
Stefanski made sure to give them credit as well and commend them for standing strong against a talented Broncos D-Line.
"That group has to play as one – all five guys – and when you have the three guys inside who play a very physical brand of football, it makes a big deal," Stefanski said.