HOUSTON — (AP) — Deshaun Watson signed autographs for Texans and Browns fans and posed for selfies before making his game-winning debut for Cleveland in his first game in 700 days at a familiar location.
In Sunday’s game, there are overwhelming boos for Watson.
Watson heard teasing before every snap throughout the afternoon in his first game since returning from an 11-game suspension for sexual misconduct. He struggled against Houston, where he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection in four seasons.
Still, the Browns beat the Texans 27-14 on two defensive touchdowns and a special teams score.
Watson completed 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards and one interception. He posted the worst passer rating of his NFL career at 53.4.
Watson had several supporters in the stands ahead of the game, while a group of women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault during massages also planned to attend. Lawyer Tony Buzbee, who represents the women, did not respond to a text message asking to confirm their attendance. He said earlier in the week that about 10 women wanted to attend “to make some sort of statement, ‘Hey, we’re still here. We count. “”
A fan walked into the NRG stadium wearing a derogatory Browns-colored shirt that includes text that reads ‘I need a massage’. He was joined by a fan wearing Watson’s No. 4 Browns jersey.
Fans in the parking lot set up a fake massage table with a model wearing a red Texans jersey and a towel.
The few fans seated in their seats when Watson and the Browns ran onto the pitch about an hour before kickoff booed.
After an interception gave the Browns their first possession in their 43, Watson threw two incomplete passes. He walked away from a sack on third down and the fans cheered as his throw to David Bell hit the ground.
Watson’s first completed pass on his third attempt resulted in a turnover when Anthony Schwartz fumbled after a 12-yard gain. Watson then led the Browns to Houston’s 11 before throwing a pick into the end zone.
Watson looked rusty after the nearly two-year layoff. But the Browns took a 7-5 halftime lead after a 76-yard punt return for a Donovan Peoples-Jones score and didn’t trail anymore.
Watson missed the 2021 season after requesting a trade from Houston. After two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him over the allegations, the Browns traded multiple draft picks to get Watson, then signed him to a fully guaranteed $235 million contract.
After the warm-up, Watson signed jerseys for the fans behind the end zone. An 18-year-old man from East Texas got Watson’s autograph on his Browns jersey. A Houston couple wearing Texans jerseys also got Watson’s signature on their jerseys.
“We don’t really know what happened and everyone deserves a second chance,” said Sherry Holden, explaining her support.
Several Browns fans said they weren’t comfortable rooting for Watson.
“I’m cheering for the jersey and the team, but it’s hard to accept him as a quarterback,” said Brandon Collins, who flew in from Ohio for the game.
The NFL wanted to suspend Watson for at least a season, but settled for 11 games after an independent arbitrator initially granted him a six-game ban. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pointed to former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson, calling Watson’s behavior “flagrant” and “predatory” in asking for the full suspension.
Watson was also fined $5 million and had to undergo professional therapy and counseling. Watson maintained his innocence but also apologized to the women he impacted.
The Browns went 4-7 with veteran Jacoby Brissett replacing Watson. The Texans are 1-9-1.
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