November 15, 2019 / 9:51 PM / 4 months ago

Browns prepare for playoff push without suspended Garrett

(Reuters) - The NFL’s suspension of Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett on Friday dealt a severe blow to the team’s playoff hopes but they are determined not to let the incident define their season.

FILE PHOTO: Nov 14, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) walks off the field after hitting Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) with his own helmet during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland kept their hopes alive with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday but lost Garrett, one the game’s top defenders, for at least the rest of the 2019 season after he used a helmet to attack another player.

Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens, who is trying to steer the team to their first playoff berth since 2002, said losing a player of Garrett’s caliber makes things tougher but that he feels his players are ready for the challenge.

“There has been adversity hit it seems like all year so these guys have answered the call of adversity, and I expect them to do the same moving forward,” Kitchens said on a conference call.

“There will not be any excuses. We will have 11 out on the field, and those 11 will be expected to do their job.”

With their victory over the visiting Steelers, the Browns improved to 4-6 on the season and remain very much alive in the playoff picture, but will have to keep their focus on the task at hand.

“Sometimes in the biggest storm, that is when people come together the closest,” Browns guard Joel Bitonio said on the conference call.

“We have a decision to make as a team. It is not one day everybody is saying, ‘Yeah, we are in it together,’ but it is your actions through the week of practice, through games that we have to make that collective choice.”

Garrett, a former first overall draft pick who on Friday apologized for his actions, is tied for fourth in the NFL with 10 sacks through 10 games this season and could have been Defensive Player of the Year candidate if not for the ban.

“He is a guy that gets after the quarterback, plays the run well. He is a great player. It is tough,” said Bitonio.

“Anytime you lose a guy to injury, to suspension or to anything of that nature, it is something that you have to try and fill that spot. ... It is tough when you lose your best defender.”

The Browns will resume their playoff push at home against Miami on Nov. 24 before heading to Pittsburgh the following week for what could be a hotly-contested rematch.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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