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HOUSTON — Every single time Deshaun Watson broke the Cleveland Browns huddle and stepped to the line of scrimmage on Sunday the sparse but obviously motivated crowd at NRG Stadium booed lustilty.
They booed when he succeeded which, by the way, wasn’t very often.
The crowd cheered when he failed, which accounted for much more times than most might expect of a $230 million quarterback — even one playing for the first time in 700 days.
“They supposed to boo,” Watson rationalized after a 27-14 Browns victory. “I’m a Cleveland Brown now and we’re on the road now so they’re supposed to boo.”
Yeah, um, Deshaun they weren’t booing the Browns. They were booing you.
For an entire half they booed Watson’s every move. It was possible to close eyes and know exactly when Watson stepped onto the field by simply listening to the crowd.
And, no, this isn’t the first time Watson has felt such treatment in his career.
“South Carolina in college,” he recalled. “And there were a couple of games here in Houston when we went on the road in Tennessee. Yeah, I mean, it is what it is.
“I can’t control the fans and what their approach is whenever I step on the field. My job is to go out there and execute.”
Deshaun Watson Plays, Reacts Poorly
And again this misses the point. Because this visceral reaction wasn’t about just football. That wasn’t just a good player treated as a rival.
Watson was treated as a villain.
Understandably, for his history in Houston. That history includes allegations Watson’s a serial sexual abuse offender and a player so toxic the Texans traded him away despite his past football accomplishments.
Despite all this, the crowd reaction, hostile as it was, represented some Watson’s better moments on Sunday.
Those came on the field and how he managed the Cleveland offense. And how he handled answers to tough questions after the game.
On the field Watson was statistically not any better than Texans quarterback Kyle Allen, who was not traded for three first-round draft picks or signed to a $230 million fully guaranteed contract.
Watson’s passer rating was 53.4 to Allen’s 53.5.
Watson threw for 131 yards with an interception. He never got his offense in the end zone.
So the man on which the Browns franchise hinges in the coming years had a rough debut with his new team.
“Being my first game back to Houston was tough,” Watson admitted. “Walking into the stadium on the opposite side of the stadium and locker room, it was different … It was a lot of emotion, a lot of just trying to keep everything in, knowing a lot of guy that’s on that defense and offense.
“They did a good job of trying to keep me off rhythm showing different coverages, keeping me in the pocket, a lot of games up front, switching up different coverages, a little bit different than what they showed on film.”
Browns Back Watson Despite Warts
Watson and the Browns won because they got a punt return touchdown, and fumble return touchdown and interception return touchdown.
So it was up to everyone else to pick up Watson while he chips away his obvious rust.
“We knew we’d be going to a hostile environment and have to pick him up,” defensive end Myles Garrett said. “He’s telling us, ‘y’all get a stop, y’all get a takeaway, we’re going to score. Don’t worry about it.’ He has our back just like we have his back. It was never a big deal for him.
“We’re not going to hold him to a crazy standard and expect him to be Superman out there when he hasn’t played in two years. But we know the kind of football player he has been in the past and know who he is. We’ve seen him on the practice field doing things athletically that few players can match.”
It’s fair to expect Watson will eventually figure out the new offense and all the problems he had on Sunday — including throwing a sinkerball into the turf on one third-down play.
“It’s not going to be perfect especially playing December football where this is Week 14, Week 13 and this is Week 1 for me…,” he said.
But, you see, it’s also fair to expect him to recognize the reason he’s in Week 1 is that he put himself there. Sunday was his season debut because he was suspended the first 11 games for violating the NFL Personal Conduct Policy.
He hadn’t played because those sexual assault (as proven by the NFL) allegations against two dozen Houston area massage therapists.
Watson, you must recall, settled lawsuits with those women. And he accepted a settlement for his suspension. So he put himself here.
But there was no acknowledging that on Sunday. Watson continued on a course he has navigated most of the past two years as he’s been trying to play for a team not in Houston.
Asked multiple times during his press conference if he had any remorse about the whole saga that led him to this moment, Watson took refuge behind legal and clinical team as if they were burly offensive linemen protecting him from edge rushers.
“Like I said before, that’s something that legal and clinical when we’ve been asked before and they don’t want me to address anything like that,” Watson said. “Of course, it’s a tough situation. The suspension was tough. But at the same time our main focus was to try to be 1-0 as a football player today.”
That was Watson’s only success this day. His team came out 1-0 even as he played poorly, rationalized why and declined again to show remorse for his actions.
Somehow this 1-0 for the Browns felt more like an L for Watson.