HOUSTON — Quarterback Deshaun Watson struggled in his first game against his former team.
Returning from an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault, as defined by the league, Watson failed to lead the Cleveland Browns on a touchdown. Sunday against the Houston Texans.
Cleveland still beat the league’s worst team 27-14 behind two defensive touchdowns and a Donovan Peoples-Jones punt return — the first time in 33 years the Browns have scored three non-offensive touchdowns in a game.
Watson completed 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards in his first regular season game in exactly 700 days. He also threw an interception in the end zone that nullified Cleveland’s best offensive scoring opportunity.
Although the NRG stadium was half empty, Watson was loudly booed before every Brown clapped throughout the game.
“They’re supposed to boo,” Watson said. “I’m a Cleveland Brown now, and we’re on the road, so they’re supposed to boo.”
Coach Kevin Stefanski said of Watson’s performance: “Obviously you’re missing a lot of time. So you have to get back to it. You have to get rid of that first one. But I know what the kid is capable of. of.”
The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending the Texans three first-round picks. Cleveland then signed Watson to a five-year contract worth $230 million guaranteed, the richest deal in NFL history.
Watson demanded a trade from the Texans after the 2020 season. He was later accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and other sexual misconduct during massage sessions before sitting out the entire 2021 season.
A few of those women had planned to attend Sunday’s game, according to their lawyer Tony Buzbee, who said he would be at the game with them.
Over the summer, Watson agreed to settle 23 of the 24 civil lawsuits against him. Two lawsuits against him remain pending, including one filed on October 13. Two other women filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not prosecute him.
Watson has not been criminally charged. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said people weren’t interested in hearing his side of the story.
As part of the suspension settlement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, Watson also had to pay a $5 million fine and participate in a treatment program.
On Thursday, speaking for the first time since August, Watson declined to answer “non-football questions”.
After Sunday’s game, Watson was asked if he had any remorse for the actions the league called “predatory” and “blatant,” which led to his suspension. Once again, Watson refused to answer these questions.
“It’s something that, legal and clinical, we’ve already answered. And they don’t want me to go into something like that,” he said. “Of course it was a difficult situation. The suspension was difficult. But at the same time my main goal is to try to be 1-0 as a football player today.
“I was just excited to be back on the court today. I did everything that was asked of me and what had to be done. I did all of that. And I been able to play and be on the pitch today.”
Watson took a break from his pre-game warm-up on Sunday to sign autographs for fans, some wearing his Browns or Texans No. 4 jersey. Watson also posed for selfies and photos with fans.
Sarah Flores, a Houston season ticket holder who had her Texans red No. 4 jersey signed by Watson, said she believes Watson is “100%” innocent of the allegations against him.
“Someone who is as successful as him would never jeopardize his career like that,” she said.
Outside the stadium in the parking lot, a Texan tailgate set up a mock massage table with a mannequin wearing Watson’s Texan jersey with a sign that read “Free Unlicensed Massages!!! Now Serves Number 4”.
Nearby, a fan wore an orange Browns shirt with “FREE WATSON” on the front and “ALL HE WANTED WAS A HAPPY ENDING” on the back. As the fan made their way to NRG Stadium, he led a chant of “Here we go Brownies” alongside a pair of women wearing brown-colored Watson jerseys.
Inside, a Texans fan held up a sign that read, “I’d rather be 1-9-1 than have Deshaun Watson as a quarterback.”
Stewart Mathieson, a Scottish fan from Houston who bought pre-game passes for this game, reused his Texans Watson blue jersey with the message “JUSTICE 4 WOMEN”. The front of the jersey had the words “BROWNS SHAME” sewn under the No. 4.
“Some of my Browns friends [in Scotland] gave up supporting the team because of Watson,” said Mathieson, who flew in for the game with his nephew, Christopher. “Am I going to boo him? Yeah, I’ll boo him.”