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Browns’ offense is ugly in Deshaun Watson’s return, but Cleveland still beats Texans 27-14

The Browns had three touchdowns from the defense and special teams.

Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

Deshaun Watson’s first game with the Cleveland Browns was rusty as hell, and the offense didn’t score any touchdowns against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Despite that, the defense and special teams units stepped up with a combined three touchdowns, en route to a 27-14 victory, improving the team’s record to 5-7. Let’s get to the full recap.

Houston received the opening kickoff, and on the first play of the game, QB Kyle Allen ran a playaction fake. Facing a blitz from the secondary, Allen lofted the ball downfield to a tight end, who made a great diving grab — but as he hit the ground, the ball popped loose and up in the air to S John Johnson, who was behind him. The officials initially ruled the play incomplete, but head coach Kevin Stefanski challenged the ruling. The ball never touched the ground, so it went down as an interception for Johnson.

The Browns’ offense took over at their own 43 yard line. After a 7-yard run by RB Nick Chubb to midfield, QB Deshaun Watson’s first pass attempt was a quick hitter to WR Amari Cooper, but the defensive back was right on him and broke it up with a hit. On 3rd-and-3, Watson was pressured off the edge and the play quickly broke down, leading to an incomplete pass and a punt.

The Texans’ second drive had them pinned back at the 10 yard line. After picking up one first down, Houston had to punt after DE Myles Garrett was held on a third down pass (which was incomplete anyway). The Browns would start a little further back on their second drive, from the 30 yard line. After a 5-yard run by Chubb, Watson completed his first pass, finding WR Anthony Schwartz for a first down. Unfortunately, as Schwartz started running, CB Tavierre Thomas punched the ball out from the side and Houston recovered at the Cleveland 38-yard line.

The Texans advanced to have a first down at the 16 yard line, but a facemask penalty and then a false start on the offense set them back to a 1st-and-30 from the 36 yard line. The Texans ran the ball to help get into field goal range for K Ka’imi Fairbairn, who put it through from 44 yards out to give Houston a 3-0 lead.

The Browns’ third possession started with its worst field position, back at the 16 yard line. Chubb got the drive started hot with an 18-yard run, and then Watson threw a couple of low passes — one incomplete to Cooper, and one that RB Kareem Hunt pulled in low for a first down.

Later in the drive, on 3rd-and-1, QB Jacoby Brissett was brought in and handed the ball to TE Harrison Bryant on an end around for 8 yards. Watson returned and found WR Donovan Peoples-Jones for 27 yards down to the 11 yard line. On 1st-and-10 from the 11, Watson dropped back and threw the ball over the middle right into the arms of S Jalen Pitre for an interception. Pitre returned the ball out to the 26 yard line.

The Texans proceeded to drive the ball all the way to a 1st-and-goal from the 3 yard line. Two pass attempts fell incomplete, and then a Shotgun handoff was stopped at the 1 yard line. On 4th-and-1, the Texans went for it, going for a playaction pass right at the goal line. S Grant Delpit hit the receiver in the gut as the ball arrived, forcing the turnover on downs — but also leaving Watson in an undesirable situation backed up in his own end zone.

Chubb gained 1 yard on first down, but then a false start by RG Wyatt Teller put them right back. On 2nd-and-10 from the 1 yard line, Chubb got the handoff again, but couldn’t get out of the end zone and was taken down for a safety to put the Texans up 5-0.

P Corey Bojorquez got a booming 79-yard safety punt off to the 1 yard line, but the coverage team did an awful job tackling, and it was returned all the way to the Cleveland 49 yard line. Houston couldn’t get a first down this time, though, so they punted it — right back down to the 1 yard line again.

This time, they got some breathing room with 8-yard playaction pass to Cooper, followed by a 7-yard run by Hunt. A holding penalty after a Watson run made it 1st-and-18 at the 19 yard line. Cleveland was able to get it to a 3rd-and-2, but went for a run to Chubb for a yard. On 4th-and-1 from the 36 yard line, Stefanski stayed conservative and punted — this time, Bojoquez’ punt was downed back at the 8 yard line, helping reverse the field.

The defense forced a three-and-out, as the Texans punted from the 16 yard line. Peoples-Jones fielded it back at the 24 yard line, and broke a few tackles, stumbled, and then re-gained his balance as he sprinted up the right sideline for a 76-yard touchdown and a 7-5 Browns lead!

The Texans got into a 3rd-and-2 situation from the Browns’ 46-yard line heading into the two-minute warning. Houston had a botched handoff on the read-option, so Allen had to fall on it for a 4 yard loss. Houston punted, with the Browns taking over at the 9 yard line and 1:22 remaining. The Browns picked up one first down, but then on a 3rd-and-4, Watson inexplicably appeared to throw the ball backward while tucking it, and Houston recovered for an easy touchdown. After discussion, the referees ruled it to be an incomplete pass instead, allowing Cleveland to fortunately punt it instead.

The Browns’ defense then came up with their own three-and-out, but on second down, CB Greg Newsome just missed an interception. The Texans punted again, and Cleveland did two runs with Hunt to head into the half. That half of football was almost exactly like the half of preseason football we saw with Watson: rusty as hell, and ultimately no points from the offense.

The Texans angle-kicked RB Jerome Ford again on the opening kickoff of the second half, leading to a return only to the 13 yard line. The Browns worked their way to midfield with a mix of runs and short passes, including a 13-yard pass to Cooper over the middle. But on their next third down, 3rd-and-6, Watson’s sideline pass to Cooper was way too low and short. Cleveland punted, and Bojorquez’ big day continued as his punt was downed at the 2 yard line — and a block in the back by the Texans then put it back to the 1 yard line.

The field position paid off. RB Damion Pierce was stuffed for no gain on first down. On second down, Allen tried a quarterback sneak, but the ball was poked free in the pile. CB Denzel Ward, who standing behind everything all alone, simply picked it up and walked it around the edge for a touchdown to give the Browns a 14-5 lead.

Then, the defensive line started wanting to make unforced errors — DT Taven Bryan called for roughing the passer, and later, DE Chase Winovich with a personal foul on Allen away from the play for two 15-yard penalties to get Houston into the red zone. The defense recovered to hold the Texans to a 35-yard field goal by Fairbairn, which made it a 14-8 game with 5:08 to go in the third quarter.

Cleveland moved the ball to midfield with runs of 21 and 5 yards by Chubb. On 2nd-and-5 from the 50, Chubb was stopped for no gain, and then on third down, Watson couldn’t find anyone open and was sacked for a loss of a yard. The Browns punted to the 19 yard line with 1:31 remaining in the third quarter, still without an offensive touchdown by either team on the day. The defense forced a quick three-and-out to force a punt before the end of the quarter.

Watson and the offense took their next stab from their own 33 yard line. His first pass on a mini rollout for RB Demetric Felton wasn’t even close. Fortunately, Hunt ran to the right side for 15 yards and a first down heading into the fourth quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-7 a few plays later, Watson completed a safe slant to Cooper to move the chains. Then, the ground game started to take over with Hunt and Chubb to get the ball into long field goal range. An illegal block in the back penalty by Peoples-Jones put them in a 2nd-and-17 situation, though. Watson took off for 11 yards to set up a 3rd-and-6 — but his pass sailed incomplete, so K Cade York was brought on to try a 43-yard field goal, and he calmly drilled it to put the Browns up 17-8, restoring the two-possession lead with 9:36 remaining.

The Browns then gained some more breathing room, courtesy of the defense. Allen wanted to throw a screen pass, but Garrett, DE Chase Winovich, and LB Tony Fields were in the way. Allen clutched, then tried throwing it, but Winovich got his paw out to deflect it in the air. Fields caught it and returned it 16 yards with no one in his way for a touchdown! That put the Browns up 24-8 with 9:30 remaining.

The defense forced another stop before midfield, and Houston was forced to punt it away with 7:46 remaining. Cleveland went three-and-out while running the ball, taking the clock down to under six minutes before punting it away. On the punt return, the Texans coughed it up again, and Fields recovered. The Browns ran the ball to burn more clock before York connected on a 42-yard field goal to make it a 27-8 game.

The Texans then got the first offensive touchdown of the game with 1:57 remaining, as Allen found WR Niko Collins on the quick hitter from 6 yards out to make it a 27-14 game. The Texans went for two, but could not convert. They went for the onside kick after that, but it traveled out of bounds.

Up next, the Browns travel to Cincinnati for their re-match with the Bengals. But they are going to need Watson to be 100x better if they’re going to have a chance.

Quick Hitters

  • QB Deshaun Watson: 12-of-22 for 131 yards, 1 interception. 7 rushes, 20 yards.
  • RB Nick Chubb: 17 carries, 80 yards (4.7 YPC).
  • RB Kareem Hunt: 9 carries, 56 yards (6.2 YPC). 2 catches, 18 yards.
  • WR Amari Cooper: 4 catches, 40 yards.
  • WR Donovan Peoples-Jones: 3 catches, 44 yards. 1 punt return touchdown.
  • DE Myles Garrett: 3 tackles.
  • LB Tony Fields: 4 tackles, 1 interception for touchdown, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery.
  • CB Denzel Ward: 6 tackles, 1 fumble recovery for touchdown.