CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Leave it to the defense and special teams to salvage Deshaun Watson’s Browns debut.
The Texans got a safety and led 5-0 before three returns for touchdowns flipped the script for the Browns, who rolled to a 27-14 win.
Here are our Top Takeaways from an ugly debut by Watson, but still a win thanks to defense and special teams.
1. Watson’s teammates picked him up, big time.
2. The environment – at least on TV – sure didn’t sound all that hostile and plenty of Browns fans were in attendance.
3. The Browns scored multiple non-offensive touchdowns for the first time since Week 14 of the 2014 season against the Colts that saw Justin Gilbert return an interception for a score and Craig Robertson scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
4. Rust was expected. Clearly Watson did not have any WD-40 laying around to help him knock it off but hopefully this game did that for him.
5. Forget 700 days, Watson looked like he hadn’t played in 7,000 days. He authored one of the worst performances at the position in the expansion era, and that is saying something considering he is now QB 34 to start for this franchise since 1999. Watson’s final numbers: 12-22, 131 yards, an interception and a 53.4 rating. Yuck.
6. It’s a good thing the Texans play on turf because Watson would’ve left a few craters on those one-hoppers he was throwing all afternoon to receivers if it were grass.
7. Houston really has a problem with their football team. Thankfully the Texans are so terrible that as expected, no matter how many mistakes Watson made, it didn’t really matter. Had the Browns played anyone else in the league, the scoreboard, and likely the end result, would’ve looked much different.
8. The Browns won back-to-back games for the first time this season, and also gave Houston the playoffs off to plan for the draft. Now to the nitty gritty where we throw bouquets of flowers at the defense and special teams.
9. The special teams return streak is finally over. Donovan Peoples-Jones ended it with a 76-yard punt return in the second quarter to give the Browns a 7-5 lead and they never looked back. It was the first punt return score since September 20, 2015 against Tennessee that saw Travis Benjamin rip off a 78-yard return for 6.
10. Cornerback Denzel Ward expanded the lead in the third quarter when Texans quarterback Allen, who also had a forgettable afternoon but put up better numbers that Watson did, lost the football trying to QB sneak out from the 1-yard line. While half the players on the field seemed to look around wondering what was going on, Ward scooped up the loose football and ran left and into the end zone untouched for a 14-5 advantage. It was Ward’s fourth career touchdown and second this season.
11. Tony Fields II had himself a day. First an interception return off a deflected ball by defensive end Chase Winovich that landed in his hands. 16 yards later, the Browns led 24-8. Fields also recovered a Texans fumble on a punt return.
12. The Browns created four turnovers Sunday and gave it back twice. Still, a +2 in that category after they entered the week tied for 30th in turnover ratio at -7.
13. Safety John Johnson III got the party started on the first play from scrimmage when he made an incredible interception of Allen. Allen’s pass bounced up into Johnson’s arms as tight end Teagan Quitoriano lost the ball as he hit the ground and it popped up in the air for Johnson to snag.
14. How ugly was that game Sunday? Just look to the third down conversions. The Browns were an anemic 4-13 while the Texans managed a 1-12. For the love of everything holy, burn that game film and let it never be seen again.
15. Receiver Anthony Schwartz remains consistently inconsistent.
Schwartz caught Watson’s first completion for 14 yards before coughing the ball up after former Browns safety Tavierre Thomas punched it out. Unfortunately, Schwartz ended up leaving the game with a head injury.
16. Seeing linebacker Sione Takitaki leave the field with a knee injury was difficult to see. The Browns already lost Anthony Walker and Jacob Phillips for the season. Losing Takitaki for an extended period of time would be devastating.
17. The only stat that matters in the NFL is the win-loss column, and in that regard the Browns got the W.
18. As for Watson, it can, and hopefully will, only get better from here. At $230 million and considering the disrepute he brought with him, he won’t get very long to win fans over. Expectations for Watson are high and the competition gets a bit tougher starting next week with the Bengals. He gets a mulligan for this one.