Deshaun Watson’s night started with a pick 6. He and tight end Harrison Bryant weren’t on the same page on the Cleveland Browns’ first play of Monday night’s game, Watson threw wide and it was batted around before Alex Highsmith grabbed it and ran in for a Steelers touchdown.
You can’t even say that play defined Watson’s time with the Browns. Troubling off-field stories, an 11-game suspension and possible regret from a ridiculous fully guaranteed contract are what defines Watson’s time with the Browns. But his mediocre play is part of the story, too.
The Browns expected Watson to be much better than he has been, and the spotlight is even brighter after Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Watson didn’t play well again on Monday night in a 26-22 loss to the Steelers.
“We’ll rally without Nick.”
Browns coach Kevin Stefansky spoke on what’s ahead for the Browns without Nick Chubb for the rest of the season.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) September 19, 2023
Pittsburgh scored a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter when Watson fumbled. With the Browns leading 22-19 late in the game, Watson was hit by Alex Highsmith, T.J. Watt scooped up the fumble and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. The Steelers scored 14 points on two Watson turnovers. Watson couldn’t rally the Browns and the Steelers held on to win. Watson was 22 of 40 for 235 yards, a 70.3 passer rating and three total turnovers.
The Browns paid Watson $230 million, all guaranteed. They paid him like he would be a franchise savior. He hasn’t been that yet. Now the Browns need Watson to carry the offense, and they have no idea if he can.
Deshaun Watson has a rough night
Football-wise, Watson hadn’t had to carry the Browns. The defense looked great in Week 1. Chubb is one of the best running backs in football. Chubb, not Watson, was the focal point of the offense.
That all changed in the second quarter on Monday night when Chubb was hit low by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and grabbed his left knee in pain. The hit was so ugly, ABC refused to show the replay. Chubb was carted off.
After the game, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski confirmed the injury was season-ending.
Suddenly Watson’s struggles as Browns quarterback became a much bigger deal. Late last year, he didn’t play well, though the long layoff from the suspension could be blamed for that. He missed a lot of passes in Week 1, though bad weather was a factor. Watson didn’t play particularly well against the Steelers, and at some point excuses wear thin.
Watson didn’t do much on Monday night. He did have a couple of 15-yard penalties called against him. On the first one, he yanked linebacker Kwon Alexander’s facemask as he ran out of bounds, leading to a flag for unnecessary roughness. He was lucky he didn’t get another penalty for putting his hands on an official. Later, on a third-and-12, he grabbed the facemask of a Steelers defender in pursuit and was hit with another 15-yard penalty.
It was bad enough that Watson wasn’t getting the Browns enough yards. All of a sudden he was the reason Cleveland was moving backward.
Steelers take lead on another Watson turnover
Watson did start to hit a few passes late in the game. Backed up at his own 3-yard line, he hit a huge third-and-13 to Elijah Moore for a first down. He hit a few other passes to Amari Cooper to keep the chains moving.
But a turnover that led to the game-winning Watt touchdown was critical. The Steelers offense had done very little to that point. It seemed the only way the Steelers would win is with a defensive touchdown, and Watson’s fumble served it up. Cleveland isn’t paying $230 million for that to happen.
The Browns had one final shot to win when the defense got a big stop with about three minutes left. Watson started moving the offense. The Steelers were playing deep and Watson took advantage of it. At the two-minute warning, the Browns trailed by four points with the ball at Pittsburgh’s 47-yard line. But on second down after the two-minute warning, Watson threw incomplete under pressure. On third down, Watson took a sack. That led to fourth-and-10, and Watson threw incomplete. Perhaps there was a holding call on Browns receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones that went uncalled, but it’s not like the Browns can blame that. The offense didn’t do enough on Monday night to overcome a non-call.
The Browns gave up a lot of draft picks to get Watson, paid a lot of money for a contract extension and took a lot of grief for acquiring Watson while he dealt with multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. And for all of that, the Browns haven’t even gotten a good quarterback out of the deal.