That much everyone knows and can agree on.
As to who will be lining up behind center for the Browns, the answer seems pretty clear, but there is still just a tiny shred of doubt.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson remained inside the team facility during practice again on Thursday, which would lead most reasonable people to assume he will not play on Sunday. (No dysfunction or friction is needed to reach that conclusion.)
If/when the decision comes down that Watson will miss his second consecutive game with a bruised rotator cuff, the Browns have already announced that P.J. Walker, of the seven career starts with the Carolina Panthers Walkers, will get the nod.
Walker has reportedly taken all the first-team practice reps this week, just like Dorian Thompson-Robinson did in the week before facing the Baltimore Ravens. But Walker may get the luxury of knowing he is going to be the starter as early as Friday, whereas Thompson-Robinson did not know for certain he was going to start until a few hours before the game against the Ravens. (Although he likely had a good idea after practicing with the first team all week.)
On Thursday, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was asked about the evolving situation with Cleveland’s quarterbacks and he pointed out a truth about backups that seems to have been lost in the scramble these past two weeks to light the dumpster on fire in Berea.
Mainly if you are a backup it is your job to be ready at a moment’s notice (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“All of our guys should prepare as if they’re starters. That’s kind of how we preach in the quarterback room. Everybody’s starting this week, so everybody should be prepared equally.
“It’s challenging when you’re not sure for sure, but that’s part of our business. It’s nothing new for any coach. You just roll with it and get who’s available. Get those guys ready to go and put a plan together that hopefully makes him successful on Sunday.”
Is this an ideal situation for the Browns? Of course not. As Mike Hargrove, who managed the Cleveland baseball team in the 1990s, used to say, starters are starters for a reason.
Everyone involved would like to have Watson on the field, but it is appearing more and more likely that will not happen. So the backup, be it Walker or Thompson-Robinson, needs to be ready, the same way that backups do all across the league each week. It’s no different from if Watson started a game and then left after the first play with an injury. The referees are not going to halt the game for a few hours while the backup gets acclimated - it’s next man up right now and let’s get moving.
The Browns may very well lose on Sunday, and if they do it will be from a combination of the 49ers playing much better football and Cleveland’s offense feeling the brunt of injuries to key players.
But it won’t be a result of how the team has been forced to manage the quarterback situation the past few weeks, no matter how much some people want that to be the case.