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NFL Sunday takeaways: Deshaun Watson wins Browns debut amid boos in Houston

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 12/4/2022 Mark Maske
Quarterback Deshaun Watson leaves the field at NRG Stadium following the Browns' victory over the Texans in Houston. © Matt Patterson/AP Quarterback Deshaun Watson leaves the field at NRG Stadium following the Browns' victory over the Texans in Houston.

HOUSTON — The boos were nearly constant. The passes often were off-target. Quarterback Deshaun Watson’s regular season debut for the Cleveland Browns resulted in some inelegant football on the field, and the surrounding atmosphere remained tempestuous.

But Watson and the Browns at least emerged victorious. They beat Watson’s former team, the Houston Texans, 27-14, on Sunday at NRG Stadium in the quarterback’s first regular season game since Jan. 3, 2021.

“I heard something walking off the field that I guess [it’s been] 700-plus days since I played,” Watson said. “So, yeah, it’s not going to be perfect, especially playing in December football. Guys are [in] Week 14, Week 13. This is Week 1 for me. It was fun, though. It was awesome to be able to get out there with my teammates. The defense played a heck of a game.”

No organized protests were visible outside the stadium. Some of Watson’s accusers had announced plans to attend the game, but they kept a low public profile. The crowd booed Watson and the Browns throughout the game.

“They’re supposed to boo,” Watson said. “I’m a Cleveland Brown now.”

Said Browns linebacker Tony Fields II: “I feel like it was what we expected. But as you guys can see, we kept playing as we should. It’s just football. I mean, who’d have thought Deshaun would get applauded coming into Houston?”

The Browns scored two touchdowns on defense — one on a fumble recovery and one via an interception — and another on special teams. Watson and the offense struggled.

“I’d just say I felt every single one of those 700 days,” Watson said. “However long I’ve been out, I felt every single one of those days.”

Watson threw an interception and completed 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards.

“We’re not going to hold him to a crazy standard and expect him to be Superman after he hasn’t played in two years,” Browns defensive end Myles Garrett said.

Said Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski: “Listen, he’s human. So coming back here where he’s played, first game back in a while … I know he’ll be better next time.”

Watson completed an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. More than two dozen women filed civil lawsuits alleging Watson sexually harassed or assaulted them during massage therapy sessions. Watson did not directly answer a question Sunday about whether he was remorseful for the conduct for which he was suspended.

“Of course, it’s a tough situation,” he said. “The suspension was tough. But at the same time, my main focus was to just try to be 1-0 as a football player today. … I was just excited to be back on the field today. I did everything I was asked and required to do. I did all that. I was able to be able to play on the field today.”

Many fans wearing Browns jerseys walked around the stadium before the game. Some of them wore Watson’s No. 4 jersey. There also were fans with Watson’s No. 4 Texans jersey. In one case, a group that included both a man wearing Watson’s Browns jersey and a woman wearing Watson’s Texans jersey took a photo in front of the stadium, holding a “Dawg Pound” banner for Browns fans.

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One fan, Justin Coy of Austin, wore a white Texans jersey with Watson’s No. 4. On the back, he’d kept the “W” from Watson’s last name in place but had written “Weirdo” instead of Watson’s name.

“I like football, so I’m really just worried about what he can do on the field,” he said. “I’m still a Deshaun Watson fan, besides what he did off the field. They settled it. So I don’t know if he’s guilty or not guilty. I’m not a lawyer or anything or a judge. But I’m excited to see him play. He hasn’t thrown a ball in, what, like, 700 days?

“It’s funny. I was like, you know what, I still love Deshaun Watson. But I’m a Houston fan. So Houston’s still my team. … I think it’s funny. That’s why I did it.”

The Texans traded Watson to the Browns in March.

“Honestly, I think the NFL did it on purpose,” Coy said. “That’s a big coincidence, no? Deshaun Watson’s comeback is in Houston? The city of Houston loved him. So, I mean, it is what it is. He wasn’t happy here. I see a lot of Deshaun Watson jerseys in general. … I’m just ready to watch some football, to be honest with you. It doesn’t feel controversial. So, I mean, why not poke fun at it? That’s what I’m doing.”

About 10 of Watson’s accusers planned to attend the game with their attorney, Anthony Buzbee.

“The women who are attending this game requested to do so,” Buzbee said in an email Sunday to The Post. “Because they made the request, we facilitated that for them and will attend with them. The women who are attending this game thought it important for Deshaun Watson, the NFL, and the public know that they are still here. They exist. They matter. And they won’t go away. Although it would be convenient for Watson and the NFL for these women to go away quietly, they won’t do so.”

Watson shook Texans owner Cal McNair’s hand before the game. McNair’s wife, Hannah, appeared to turn her back to Watson during the exchange. But Watson’s day ended with cheers from Browns fans gathered around the tunnel by which the team exited the field.

“It’s been a long road, just kind of from being traded,” Watson said. “… Houston is still part of me. … We went through a lot of ups and downs with this organization. … It was a lot of emotion, a lot of just trying to keep everything in.”

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson leaves the injury tent and heads toward the locker room during the first half of the game against the Denver Broncos Sunday. © Nick Wass/AP Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson leaves the injury tent and heads toward the locker room during the first half of the game against the Denver Broncos Sunday.

Lamar Jackson’s injury is not season-ending. Coach John Harbaugh said following the Ravens’ 10-9 triumph over the Denver Broncos in Baltimore that Jackson will be sidelined for “days to weeks” but will not miss the remainder of the season. The former league MVP is scheduled to undergo further tests Monday.

Jackson left the game following a first-half sack, going first to the medical tent on the sideline and then to the locker room. The Ravens initially called Jackson questionable to return to the game, then later ruled him out. Backup Tyler Huntley took over.

Huntley has had some decent moments while filling in for Jackson. He is a capable short-term replacement. But the Ravens need Jackson to be a threat to advance deep into the AFC playoffs.

Garoppolo is done for the season. He left the 49ers’ 33-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Santa Clara, Calif., eight plays into the Niners’ opening offensive possession. He made his way to the medical tent on the sideline, then was taken to the locker room on a cart. Rookie Brock Purdy took over at quarterback for the 49ers.

Coach Kyle Shanahan announced after the game that Garoppolo had suffered a broken foot that would require surgery and sideline him for the remainder of the season.

49ers shuffle at QB again after Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending foot injury

Garoppolo wasn’t even supposed to be back with the Niners this year after they decided to go with Trey Lance as their starter in his second NFL season. But no trade was worked out. Garoppolo agreed to a revised contract before the season to remain with the team as Lance’s backup, then reclaimed the starting job when Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

The 49ers recently have begun to resemble a legitimate Super Bowl threat in the NFC, with the league’s top-ranked defense and an offense overflowing with run-after-catch playmakers. They stretched their winning streak to five games Sunday. Purdy played relatively well, with two touchdown passes and an interception in a 25-for-37, 210-yard passing performance. But this probably doesn’t work with an unheralded rookie quarterback taken with the final pick of this year’s NFL draft. The draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant” suddenly could be quite relevant for the 49ers.

Watch out for the Cincinnati Bengals. They sent a message with their 27-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Cincinnati in a rematch of last season’s AFC championship game.

Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was back from his hip injury and had seven catches for 97 yards. Quarterback Joe Burrow was customarily superb, throwing for 286 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals moved into a virtual tie with the Ravens atop the AFC North, though Baltimore has the tiebreaker advantage. The Cincinnati victory also allowed the Buffalo Bills to reclaim the No. 1 seed in the AFC, ahead of the Chiefs.

If anyone was dismissing the Bengals’ chances, it might be time to rethink that.

Aaron Rodgers played on. The quarterback was back in the Green Bay Packers’ lineup Sunday in Chicago, two days after his 39th birthday and one week after leaving a loss at Philadelphia because of a rib injury.

Rodgers has left open the possibility of discussing an early end to his season with the Packers if they are officially eliminated from the NFC playoff chase. But that’s not yet. Rodgers threw a touchdown pass in an 18-for-31, 182-yard outing as the Packers defeated the Bears, 28-19. The Packers moved one triumph past the Bears as the winningest franchise in NFL history, with 787 victories.

Pregame notes: Watson, Rodgers take the field

Quarterback Deshaun Watson stands on the field during the Browns' practice Wednesday in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard) © David Richard/AP Quarterback Deshaun Watson stands on the field during the Browns' practice Wednesday in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Deshaun Watson makes his regular-season debut for the Cleveland Browns.

Aaron Rodgers isn’t quite ready to surrender the starting job for the Green Bay Packers.

Those two prominent quarterbacks will be under intense scrutiny on the Sunday of Week 13 of the NFL season.

Watson plays his first game for the Browns since serving his 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, based on allegations of sexual misconduct made in civil lawsuits filed by more than two dozen women. He will face his former team, the Texans, in Houston. He last played an NFL regular-season game on Jan. 3, 2021 for the Texans. He did play in one preseason game for the Browns in August.

Deshaun Watson set to make Browns debut in Houston; accusers to attend game

Women’s groups remained sharply critical last week of Watson and his punishment. About 10 of Watson’s accusers are expected to attend the game at NRG Stadium with their attorney, Anthony Buzbee. When Watson spoke to reporters Thursday at the Browns’ training facility in Berea, Ohio, he declined to answer questions about the allegations against him or the treatment he underwent under the terms of his suspension.

“I respect your question,” Watson said. “I understand. But that’s more in that phase of clinical and legal stuff. And I’ve been advised to stay away from that and keep that personal.”

Watson was a three-time Pro Bowl selection in four seasons with the Texans. He led the league in passing yards in the 2020 season. The Browns signed him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million when they traded for him in March. They went 4-7 in the 11 games that he missed.

It has been a long and injury-filled season for Aaron Rodgers as the Packers struggle. © Matt Slocum/AP It has been a long and injury-filled season for Aaron Rodgers as the Packers struggle.

Rodgers is back in the Packers’ lineup for Sunday’s game in Chicago, two days after his 39th birthday. He exited last Sunday night’s loss in Philadelphia after suffering a rib injury. He already had been playing with a broken thumb. But Rodgers said Tuesday he’d received favorable news from the tests he underwent Monday on his ribs and intended to play in this game. That keeps third-year backup Jordan Love on the bench, at least for now.

NFL Reset: Team rankings, Aaron Rodgers’s future, catch-rule issues, NFC

That may not remain the case all season, however, with the Packers struggling. They have a record of 4-8 and have lost seven of their past eight games. They surrendered 363 rushing yards to the Eagles. Rodgers said he would like to play as long as the Packers are mathematically in the running for a playoff spot. If they are officially eliminated, Rodgers said, he would be open to discussions about other possibilities, presumably including the prospect of ending his season early. That would give the Packers an extended look at Love, the 2020 first-round draft choice who excelled in his relief appearance in Philadelphia.

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