How Many Games Can The Cleveland Browns Win With Deshaun Watson In Catch-Up Mode?

In his first NFL game in almost two years, Deshaun Watson’s team won despite him, not because of him.

That shouldn’t have surprised anyone – and it wasn’t.

“It was his first in a long time, so he had to play through a bit,” Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said of Watson’s performance in Cleveland’s ugly 27-14 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

How ugly was it?

The Browns’ offense failed to score a touchdown in the game, but still won by two touchdowns. Watson, who played his first game after being suspended for 11 games for violating the NFL’s Player Conduct Policy, played virtually no part in the Browns’ win over the NFL’s worst team, the 1-10-1 Texans.

Watson completed 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards with one interception. He was also fired once.

“It’s been seven hundred days and I’ve felt every one of those seven hundred days,” Watson said. “The biggest thing was getting in and out of the huddles and naming games. I didn’t have too many misunderstandings with Kevin. It won’t be perfect after seven hundred days, especially with December football. It’s week thirteen or fourteen, but for me it’s week one.”

Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Texans from 2018-20, looked and played like a quarterback getting his first game action in nearly two years. Mechanically he was a mess, throwing multiple passes well in front of his receivers and appearing timid on some of his reads.

Cleveland officials weren’t expecting Peak Watson in his first second leg and it was fortunate for the Browns that they drew the formidable Texans as opponents, against whom Watson was able to tap some of his rust without costing the Browns a win. In fact, Houston might have been the only team that could have beaten Cleveland on Sunday.

These are tense times for the Browns, who lost seven of their 11 games while waiting for Watson despite a stellar performance from backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. The Browns may need to win all of their remaining five games — Cincinnati, Baltimore, New Orleans, Washington and Pittsburgh — to make the playoffs. So the sooner Watson gets up to speed, the better.

“He’ll feel more comfortable the more replays he gets,” Stefanski said. “All things with Deshaun are correctable.”

Watson’s teammates, like Watson’s bosses, believe Watson will show a big leap in performance from his first game back to his second game, which will be held in Cincinnati on Sunday against AFC North Division foes Bengals.

“He’s been out for a while but I think he’s going to make a big leap because he’s really a talented player,” said Browns tight end Harrison Bryant.

Watson needs to make a big leap as the Browns are practically in must-win mode for the remainder of the season. Beating the Bengals in Cincinnati with a quarterback who has played just one game in the last two years will be a challenge.

However, Cleveland has never lost to Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. The Browns are 4-0 to Burrow and have surpassed Cincinnati 124-77 in those four games. In those games, Burrow completed 68 percent of his passes, eight for touchdowns, with four interceptions. The Browns have sacked him 17 times.

Normally, a Watson vs. Burrow quarterback matchup would be electrifying. But that may not be the case, given that Watson has only played one game this season, regardless of how big a jump the Browns may have given his shaky performance in that one game.

“It’s a team game and we have to play better on offense than we did on Sunday,” Stefanski said of Sunday’s game in Cincinnati. “For Deshaun, it’s about going back to basics. Yes, there was a long hiatus, so certain things will only come with more replays and practice, and I expect that to happen.

Watson is understandably happy to get over that ugly first appearance. “I’m happy to be back on the field,” he said. “I have to be better next week and I will be better.”

Cleveland will likely need to win to make the playoffs. How Watson plays will be a big factor in whether the Browns can continue the table at the table.