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Browns cruise past the Cardinals in Watson’s return, shut out Arizona 27-0

The Cardinals were the worst team in football heading into the game, and Cleveland’s defense didn’t let them have an inch.

Arizona Cardinals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns cruised past the Arizona Cardinals, shutting them out by a final score of 27-0. The defense didn’t let Arizona have anything on offense, and whenever they tried to push the ball even a little bit, it led to a turnover. The Browns’ offense was far from crisp, but they still got the job done. Let’s get to the full game recap.

1st Quarter

The Cardinals got the opening kickoff, with rookie Clayton Tune making his first career start. After a couple of first downs, the Browns’ defense clamped down on back-to-back screen pass attempts to force a punt.

Deshaun Watson made his return to the Browns offense, and on his first 3rd-and-3 situation, he flicked a 17-yard pass to RB Jerome Ford to move the chains. The drive was set back on the next play after a hold on LT Jedrick Wills. An underneath pass to TE David Njoku on third down got 15 yards, so Cleveland sent out the punt unit. P Corey Bojorquez booted the ball down to the 19 yard line, where Arizona would begin their second drive.

On the next play, DT Shelby Harris blew up a run play for a loss of five yards, immediately tackling the runner on a draw. Arizona went three-and-out after a screen pass was dropped, getting the ball right back in the hands of Watson and the Browns’ offense at their own 44 yard line.

After the ground game picked up a first down to get past midfield, three consecutive completions by Watson only netted 7 yards. On 4th-and-3, Kevin Stefanski passed up a 53-yard field goal attempt to go for it. Watson quickly tried to hit TE Jordan Akins on a low pass, but the tight end couldn’t haul it in, leading to a turnover on downs.

To start the next drive, DT Jordan Elliott sacked Tune for a loss of 10 yards. Before you could blink, Arizona went three-and-out again, punting the ball right back to the Browns. A 17-yard punt return by WR James Proche set the offense up at their own 28 yard line. The offense got their spark on the third drive, as WR Amari Cooper broke free up the left sideline for 59 yards to the 13 yard line.

A couple plays later, Watson ran a playaction fake, but pressure came and got to him for a 6-yard sack to end the first quarter.

2nd Quarter

On 3rd-and-13 from the Cardinals’ 16 yard line, Cleveland tried an outside screen with Njoku, but S Budda Baker made the open field tackle to hold the Browns to a 30-yard field goal by K Dustin Hopkins to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead.

On Arizona’s next drive, it looked like the Cardinals caught a break when Elliott blew up a run play, but was flagged for a facemask penalty. On the next snap, though, Tune’s pass was too high for his receiver, and CB Denzel Ward made a leaping grab to intercept it at the Cardinals’ 49 yard line!

The Browns faced a 4th-and-1 situation after the pick, and they went for it again. This time, Cleveland converted with RB Kareem Hunt over the middle for two yards. Watson used his legs on the next play to pick up 5 yards, and then on second down, from the Wildcat, Hunt faked the reverse and kept it for 10 yards and a first down. Two more runs by Hunt set up a 3rd-and-1. He got the give again for three yards and a first down, setting up 1st-and-10 from the 12 yard line.

Two plays later, the way the ball bounces from week-to-week was pretty ironic. Last week, P.J. Walker had a pass bounce off a defender’s helmet for an interception. Here, Watson fired a similar pass, and it bounced off the defender’s helmet. This time, the pass didn’t go as high, but still floated to the end zone where Cooper tracked it for the touchdown! That gave the Browns a 10-0 lead mid-way through the second quarter.

It looked like Arizona converted a big wheel route up the right sideline on a third down pass, but Cleveland caught a break when the officials threw a phantom flag for offensive pass interference on WR Marquise Brown. That led to another three-and-out and a punt. Proche’s 12-yard return got the ball to the Browns’ 30 yard line.

This time, the Browns went three-and-out after no gain by RB Jerome Ford on first down. On second down, the ball awkwardly came out of Watson’s hand as hit feet also slipped; and on third down, he couldn’t find anyone.

After the Browns’ punt, S Grant Delpit knifed in to stuff the run for a loss of 3 yards to start Arizona’s next drive, with the half winding down. A hold on second down on DE Myles Garrett pushed the offense back to a 2nd-and-23. A short completion set up a 3rd-and-18 heading to the two-minute warning. Arizona tried to pass, and DT Dalvin Tomlinson immediately sacked Tune for a loss of 4 yards. The Browns burned their second timeout with 1:55 remaining ahead of the punt.

Proche appeared to have a big 20 yard return into field goal range, but a hold on the punt meant the offense would start all the way back at their own 34 yard line instead. On second down, Watson tried to get the home run ball up the left sideline to WR Marquise Goodwin. The ball was perfect and there was some contact, but the ball fell incomplete as Goodwin was a bit shielded by the leaping defender — LT Jedrick Wills was also down and injured after the play. Watson’s third down pass fell incomplete, but Arizona was flagged for roughing the passer (although it looked like another cheap call).

A completion to Akins got the offense into field goal range, with no timeouts remaining and needing to be cautious of the clock. Watson found WR Elijah Moore for 11 yards, and the Browns clocked it to set up a 43-yard field goal for Hopkins. He was good again, giving the Browns a 13-0 lead at the half, having out-gained Arizona 193-31 in yardage.

3rd Quarter

Cleveland got the ball to begin the second half. Arizona stuffed Ford for a loss of 4 yards on the first play. Ford gained 5 yards on second down to set up 3rd-and-9, but now RT Dawand Jones stayed down after the play with an injury Wills had returned). After the injury break, Watson uncorked another one for Goodwin. The throw was on the money again, but Goodwin couldn’t hang on as defenders were hitting him as he jumped up to try catching it.

Bojorquez uncorked a brilliant 73-yard punt that rolled to the 1 yard line, as the punt returner let the ball go over his head. On first down, the run by Arizona just got out of the end zone for no gain. On 2nd-and-10, Tune tried a playaction and just missed a safety as he got rid of it out of bounds. On 3rd-and-10, LB Anthony Walker nearly intercepted the pass, but at least batted it down. Unfortunately, Cleveland couldn’t capitalize on the punt, as there another hold that wiped out the return, starting the drive at their own 34 yard line.

Jones returned to right tackle for the Browns’ next drive. Much like he did in the first half, Watson flicked a pass over to Ford for a 9-yard gain on second down to move the chains, out to the Browns’ 45 yard line. On the next play, Wills went down again, but this time it appeared more serious as he was carted off the field and his right leg in a cast. The drive stalled out after that, as the punt unit came on. This time, Bojorquez’ punt bounced to the end zone for a touchback.

The touchback did no harm for Cleveland. Tune dropped back and looked to throw the ball downfield, but Harris stripped him from behind and Garrett recovered the loose football at the 11 yard line!

The Browns ran two run plays to set up a 3rd-and-4 from the 7 yard line. On third down, Watson fired it to an uncovered Njoku right over the front middle of the end zone for the touchdown, as both linebackers covered the running back in the flat. The touchdown gave the Browns a 20-0 lead mid-way through the third quarter.

The Cardinals got some of their best field position of the day after a taunting penalty on the kickoff return, and then an offsides by the Browns’ defense. The drive still didn’t go anywhere, though. Arizona was about to go for it on 4th-and-5 in their own territory, but a false start made them re-think things. They punted, and the ball was downed at the 4 yard line.

Runs by Hunt of 4 and 3 yards set up a 3rd-and-3. Cleveland tried running it on third down with Ford, but the Cardinals were ready for it, stuffing it for a loss of 3 yards. The punt unit came out, and Arizona returned the ball 23 yards to midfield. Tune had an 11-yard run to get as close as their offense had all day, but on the next play, Tune tried to pass again and it was picked off by LB Sione Takitaki.

Watson started the next drive with a playaction pass and a 17-yard completion to Cooper. Back-to-back runs by Hunt went no where, though, setting up 3rd-and-11. Watson dropped back to pass, but found open space and scrambled for 13 yards and a first down to end the third quarter.

4th Quarter

The Browns’ run game got Hopkins in range for a 48-yard field goal, which he just missed to the left, no good, to give the ball back to the Cardinals with 12:08 remaining. Arizona got into Cleveland territory again, but then was sacked on back-to-back pass plays for a loss of 1 yard by Garrett, and a loss of 5 yards by Tomlinson. Arizona went for it on 4th-and-12, but the underneath pass was immediately defended shy of the line to gain for a turnover on downs at the Browns’ 44 yard line.

On third down, Watson threw a perfect 49-yard pass in stride to Cooper, with two defenders right on his heels.

Hunt took the next handoff from the 3 yard line and powered it in to give Cleveland a 27-0 lead with 7:48 remaining.

Now, the goal for Cleveland was to try to preserve the shutout, which would be their first since 2007 (the blizzard game against Buffalo). Tomlinson helped pave the way for that, notching his third sack of the game as Arizona had a quick three-and-out before punting away again.

Watson’s day was done, as P.J. Walker entered the game. Cleveland went three-and-out with the running game before punting right back with about six minutes to go. After one first down, Cleveland got another sack — this time from DE Za’Darius Smith — to force a 4th-and-15. With four minutes to go now, Arizona punted it again.

Cleveland ran the ball three times, down to the two-minute warning, ready to punt after. Arizona decided to run the ball too, for losses of 5 yards and 4 yards. A 3 yard run ended it, preserving the shutout and sending the Browns to 5-3.

Up next, the Browns travel to Baltimore for a pivotal re-match against the Ravens.

Quick Hitters

  • QB Deshaun Watson: 19-of-30 for 219 yards, 2 TD. 3 rushes, 22 yards.
  • RB Jerome Ford: 20 carries, 44 yards (2.2 YPC).
  • RB Kareem Hunt: 14 carries, 38 yards (2.7 YPC), 1 TD.
  • WR Amari Cooper: 5 catches, 139 yards, 1 TD.
  • TE David Njoku: 4 catches, 26 yards, 1 TD.
  • DE Myles Garrett: 1 sack, 1 fumble recovered.
  • DT Dalvin Tomlinson: 3 sacks.
  • The defense forced 3 turnovers (2 interceptions, 1 fumble) and had 7 sacks.
  • The Browns out-gained the Cardinals in yards 326-58.
  • That is the fewest yards by Arizona since 1955.