HOUSTON — The Cleveland Browns entered Sunday's game against the Houston Texans looking to start the new era with Deshaun Watson under center on the right foot, obviously vying for a win. While they were able to accomplish that goal, it didn't come in the form anyone expected.
Watson made his return to game action after nearly two years away from the field. After serving his 11-game suspension, he geared up to take on his former team in Houston.
The team and its fans expected Watson to show some rust in his debut, with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt suggesting that would be the case on Thursday prior to the game.
“I would assume there will be rust. It's common in anybody who hasn't played in a long time no matter what position," said Van Pelt. "There will be some rust to knock off. It is football, which he has done his whole life so hopefully, he knocks it off quickly. I just have expectations that there will be some rust. It is fair.”
And those assumptions weren't wrong. Watson came out in his first regular-season start for the Browns looking off. Low-thrown balls didn't help the offense get anything going, but to his credit nor did an at-times struggling offensive line and an early mishap from Anthony Schwartz, who caught Watson's third pass attempt of the game but fumbled it right after.
Throughout the game, Watson struggled. Throwing 12/22 with 131 yards and an interception, it was a slow ride for the offense all day. The production from the offense came at the hands of the run game, which at times suffered from a struggling O-Line as well. However, the Browns managed to see Nick Chubb carry the ball 17 times for 80 yards and Kareem Hunt rush nine times picking up 56 yards.
Watson's mobility, which is one of the strengths the Browns will look to shine as he ramps back up to try to reach the level he was with the Texans, got a little bit of exercise Sunday as he carried the ball seven times for 21 yards.
"I felt every single one of those 700 days," Watson confessed after the game.
Watson remained positive, however, noting how it felt to be back on the field.
"It was very exciting to get my feet wet and just be able to run around and take some hits and just see everything kind of happen full speed," Watson said. "It's definitely not going to be perfect...it was fun though. It was awesome to get out there with my teammates."
The outing, while not so much for Watson, may have been a disappointment for Browns fans hoping to catch at least a glimmer of the elite quarterback their team spent $230 million dollars to acquire, but as they faced the 1-9-1 Texans, it at least ended on a more positive note—thanks to the other phases of the game.
The Browns didn't put any offensive points on the board Sunday (we're counting Cade York's points as special teams contributions), but the defense certainly did.
Fields, who had a remarkable game on both defense and special teams, accounted for a forced fumble, an interception tipped by Chase Winovich, and a fumble recovery on punt coverage.
Between Ward and Fields, the Browns defense accounted for 14 of the final 27 points scored by Cleveland.
Special teams look special
While the defense was able to put the majority of the points on the board in the Browns win, the efforts from the special teams unit was just as vital to the victory.
In fact, the first points the Browns scored came courtesy of one Donovan Peoples-Jones on an impressive and long-awaited 76-yard punt return for a touchdown. Peoples-Jones has been a crucial part of the Browns offense all season, having notable performances at receiver all season. But as the Browns spent much of the year working to figure out their situation at punt returner, they seemed to have found the answer in Peoples-Jones.
Of course, York's two field goals, one from 43-yards out and the other from 42-yard, were notable for the Browns on Sunday. His added six points helped boost Cleveland to a comfortable lead over the Texans.
Like the defense, there were moments throughout the game where the special teams unit faltered. Coverage is still and area for growth, but as the game continued it seems strides were being made.
A win's a win
It was a weird one. Fumbles, pick-sixes and no offensive points until the last two minutes of the game (which came from the Texans). It also was a good first step for Watson in his attempt to get back to game speed to take on a team like the Texans, who now own a 1-10-1 record.
Perhaps the Browns' win should have looked more dominant, but at the end of the day, the Browns came away with a win. That's the most important thing and what the Browns will look to build on as a real challenge awaits them in Cincinnati next week. And maybe Watson will be able to come out stronger after playing in a full regular season game.
Until then, fans can enjoy another Browns Victory Monday—and Watson can enjoy his very first.
Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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