HOUSTON (AP) — Deshaun Watson didn’t play well on his return Sunday after being out for nearly two years.
Cleveland’s defense and special teams secured victory for the Browns despite their struggles.
Watson put in a sloppy performance in his first game in 700 days, but a punt return for a Donovan Peoples-Jones touchdown and two defensive touchdowns were enough to give the Browns a 27-14 victory over the lowly Houston Texans .
At the same stadium where he played his previous game, a rusty Watson threw for 131 yards with an interception on his debut for the Browns (5-7) against his former team on his return after serving an 11-game suspension from the NFL for sexual misconduct allegations.
“It’s not going to be perfect, especially playing football in December and it’s week 1 for me,” Watson said. “It was fun, though. It was great to be there with my teammates. The defense played a hell of a game. The return of the special teams was important for us. This is what we needed at the time. It’s a team sport. »
Many fans attended the game wearing Watson’s No. 4 jersey of the Texans (1-10-1) and Browns, but there were also detractors with loud boos raining down on him every time he touched the ball.
The Browns trailed 5-0 early, but a 76-yard punt return from Peoples-Jones put them ahead in the second quarter and Denzel Ward’s 4-yard fumble return for a score pushed lead 14-5 early in the third quarter. .
“He’s human,” Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said of Watson. “Coming back here, first game in a while, his teammates had their backs.”
Cleveland didn’t score on offense until a 43-yard field goal made it 17-8 with about 10 minutes left. The Browns added a second defensive score when Tony Fields intercepted Kyle Allen and returned it 16 yards on the next play. It’s the first time in franchise history that the Browns have scored three non-offensive touchdowns in a game.
“I think our defense played well throughout (but) their defense outplayed our defense today,” Houston coach Lovie Smith said.
Allen had a terrible day in his second start since Davis Mills was benched. He threw for 201 yards with a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and two interceptions, the second of which was returned for a score, as Houston’s skid spanned seven games.
“Offensively, you can’t win a lot of games playing like that,” Smith said. “I’m just disappointed with the way we played offensively.”
It was Watson’s first start since Jan. 3, 2021, when he threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns for Houston in a 41-38 loss to Tennessee.
Soon after, he became unhappy with the team’s management and demanded a trade. Then two dozen women accused him of sexual harassment or assault during massage therapy sessions.
He remained on Houston’s roster last year but missed the entire season before being traded to the Browns in March.
Watson accepted the lengthy suspension, a $5 million fine, and had to seek professional counseling and therapy after an independent arbitrator ruled he violated the league’s personal conduct policy.
Watson was 12 of 22 and finished with a 53.4 QB rating, which was the lowest of a career where he took the Texans to the playoffs in two of the four seasons he played for them.
His first achievement was on his third pitch on a short pass to Anthony Schwartz. But Tavierre Thomas stripped the ball and Desmond King recovered it to give Houston the ball on the Cleveland 38.
The Texans had a first down at 16, but a face mask penalty followed by a false start put them back 20 yards and they settled for a 44-yard field goal four plays later to make it 3 -0.
Nick Chubb had 80 yards rushing for the Browns and Kareem Hunt added 56 yards.
Watson was hit while throwing and was picked up in the end zone by rookie Jalen Pitre with about 3½ minutes left in the first quarter. Pitre returned 29 yards.
“There are good things we can build on, but overall we need to make more games,” Pitre said.
The Texans went down to 1, but Allen threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-1 to give the ball back to the Browns. Three plays later, Roy Lopez tackled Chubb in the end zone to make it 5-0.
Peoples-Jones put the Browns ahead when he returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-5 with about four minutes left in the second.
He dodged four tackles early in the comeback, then just edged everyone to the end for Cleveland’s first punt return for a score since Travis Benjamin had a 78-yard return on Sept. 20, 2015.
The Texans appeared to have returned a Watson fumble for a touchdown with less than a minute left in the first half. But officials ruled it was an incomplete pass.
The Browns extended the lead to 14-5 when Ward picked up a fumble from Allen and returned it 4 yards for a touchdown with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Cleveland became the 11th team since the merger to have three or more combined touchdowns on defense and special teams without a TD on offense and the first since the Eagles did so in a 26-21 loss to San Francisco on September 28, 2014.
Allen was intercepted on the first play of the game when John Johnson grabbed a pass that was deflected by Teagan Quitoriano. The play was initially ruled an incomplete pass, but the Browns disputed it and it was overturned.
Browns rookie WR David Bell suffered a hand injury in the first quarter. … Schwartz left in the third quarter to be evaluated for a head injury. … MLB Sione Takitaki injured his leg in the fourth quarter. … TE David Njoku has missed his third game in five weeks with a knee injury. … Texans RB Troy Hairston injured his ribs in the second quarter. … RB Rex Burkhead missed the game with a concussion. … WR Brandin Cooks sat out with a calf injury.
Houston Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña, the World Series MVP, attended Sunday’s game and was on the sidelines to thrill fans before kickoff. He said it was a new experience for him.
“It’s special,” he said. “It’s my first football game, so I’m excited for it.”
Browns: Visit the Bengals next Sunday.
Texans: Visit Dallas next Sunday.
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Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) calls a play on the line during the first half of an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans in Houston on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson warms up before an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans in Houston on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson signs autographs before an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans in Houston, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)