Deshaun Watson Fails To Show Remorse and Ignite Browns Offense in Debut Against Texans

Quarterback Deshaun Watson failed to ignite Cleveland’s offense in his debut with the Browns in Week 13. We break down his first game against Houston.

HOUSTON — The Cleveland Browns were hoping for quarterback Deshaun Watson’s debut to mark the beginning of their future. After enduring a 4-7 start while Watson was suspended for the first 11 games of his Browns tenure, his Week 13 against his former team, the Houston Texans, was supposed to be a relatively easy way to welcome Watson back. Cleveland won 27-14, but Watson’s presence failed to ignite their offense.

Texans Fans Boo Deshaun Watson Throughout Browns Debut

Houston’s home crowd bellowed loud boos throughout the afternoon’s contest, starting from Cleveland’s introduction in the pre-game until the game got out of control in the fourth quarter.

Watson, suspended for 11 games in a settlement between the NFL and NFL Player’s Association for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, surely expected the “welcome” to his previous home. But while the half-full stadium was vocal, there was no shortage of Texans Watson jerseys and Browns fans to cheer him on.

Maybe it was due to how much Houston has struggled to even be competitive since Watson sat out the 2021 season after a trade request. But there wasn’t a palpable vitriol throughout the stadium as we saw in 2014 when LeBron James returned to Cleveland for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat.

There weren’t demonstrations about how the NFL failed women, only some booing, and a few signs signifying their distaste for Watson.

It may not have been fair to expect that same level of reaction since we’ve grown used to players moving across teams more since then. However, the nature of the 20-plus sexual assault allegations that came against Watson certainly led to a loud social media reaction. At this one event, though, Browns fans filled the stadium to watch Watson struggle in his first game in 700 days.

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Cleveland has made a routine of being in quirky games this season, and that didn’t stop even with Watson under center. The Browns’ offense was disjointed from their opening drive. In the first half alone, Cleveland started two drives from their 1-yard line, had a red-zone interception, fumbled on a first-down catch, and dropped a sure first down.

Watson logged only eight completions on 14 attempts for 96 yards with an interception in the first half. The second half brought more continuity as head coach Kevin Stefanski worked to establish Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the running game. However, Watson was decidedly rusty in his return.

Similar to how he occasionally would at Clemson, Watson showed off a downward throwing motion that led to several throws finding the turf in front of his receivers. His interception came when Texans defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour broke through the offensive line and blocked his passing lane. He expected Texans safety Jalen Pitre to follow Donovan Peoples-Jones on an underneath crosser, but Pitre instead settled in front of an otherwise open Amari Cooper for an easy interception.

In total, Watson finished with 12 completions on 22 attempts for 131 yards. He showed off his playmaking chops on several occasions, escaping the pocket and buying time for his receivers. It was clear Watson didn’t have the chemistry needed to consistently find traction against one of the NFL’s worst defenses despite their talent advantage.

Deshaun Watson Fails To Express Remorse Again

The common theme from everyone who spoke post-game was the importance of getting past this sentinel game. The distraction of the suspension even led to Myles Garrett quickly responding “next question” when asked about Watson’s debut. Watson was supported by Stefanski and Tony Fields II, but his biggest failure came post-game.

Watson was asked whether he felt remorse for his off-field actions that led to Houston trading him and the NFL pushing for a year-long suspension. Instead of taking the layup and answering “yes,” which could have ended further questioning as time passes, he responded, “I was just excited to be back on the field and do everything that I was asked to [in order to return to the field].”

Watson had previously said he’d only answer football-related questions, but this one moment felt like the right time to set aside his ego. Side-stepping the question countered reporting that he had “shown progress” in his rehabilitation process. Instead of acknowledging remorse, which wouldn’t be an admission of any legal guilt, the Browns will continue to face this issue they thought they were beyond.

For now, Watson appears to hope that winning will be enough to change the public’s view of him.

Cleveland certainly didn’t make their historic trade and fully guaranteed $230 million contract extension for Watson with just this game in mind. He’ll have plenty of time to find the rhythm of the offense and be more of a difference-maker than backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett was in his short time as the starter.

His personal timeline in Cleveland doesn’t mean Browns fans, Stefanski, and other players will stomach a slow introduction for too long, especially considering the negative feedback the Browns received for doing what many other franchises were interested in also doing: acquiring Watson from the Texans.

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Cleveland, at 5-7, still has an outside shot of making the AFC Wild Card if they can win every game on their schedule. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s knee injury could open the door even more if he misses games. To get there, Watson will need to be dramatically better, and the Browns have to stop self-inflicting so many penalties and mistakes.

After the game, Stefanski and Watson spoke about how the offense needs time to gel, and that today was a success because the team won. Eventually, I’m sure Watson will regain his stardom on the field, as he’s too talented to not be effective. We saw glimpses of that even on a day where he fell well short of his normal self.

In the blink of an eye, he failed his locker room and coaching staff when given yet another chance to communicate his self-reflection and impact on others during his post-game press conference. This will continue to hang over the franchise until they win at the highest level. And now, it’ll be magnified even more due to his response.

Stefanski will need to prove he’s capable of getting this offense to a more cohesive level throughout the next five weeks. He’ll surely have the shot to win with Watson in 2023 as head coach, but it’s a make-or-break part of Stefanski’s tenure with the Browns only two years after winning NFL Coach of the Year. Expectations are for Watson to make this franchise Super Bowl-worthy sooner or later.

We didn’t see that type of upside in Week 13. Instead, it was more of the same for the Browns, but they were fortunate to be playing one of the worst rosters of the last decade. Next week’s test in Cincinnati will be a much tougher test for the Browns and Watson.

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