'I can't control the fans': Deshaun Watson downplays reaction in return to field, Houston

HOUSTON – The boos started on the second play of Sunday's game. That's when Deshaun Watson ran onto the field with the Browns offense for the first time.

Watson, returning to Houston on the same day he returned to the field after an 11-game suspension and a nearly two-year hiatus, heard the boos. Those boos, though, faded as the game went along and the Browns pulled away for a 27-14 victory over the Texans.

"They're supposed to boo," Watson said afterward. "I'm a Cleveland Brown now. They're supposed to boo."

There may have been a segment of the Houston fans whose boos were solely because of Watson wearing a Browns uniform now. However, that is taking a way-too-simplistic look at the 700 days between his last time starting an NFL game — for the Texans on Jan. 3, 2021 — and Sunday's return to NRG Stadium.

Yes, there was a trade dispute in the spring of 2021 that led him to not playing for the duration of that season with Houston and may have created some of the ill will. What led to a lot more of the vitriol, if not almost all of it, had nothing to do with football.

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It's the same thing that led Watson to have to wait until Sunday to finally play for his new team. The allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct during massage appointments by more than two dozen women led to 26 lawsuits, 23 of which have been settled and one that was dropped in March 2021, and ultimately led to his 11-game suspension.

As was the case when he made his first public comments since the suspension on Thursday, he wouldn't directly answer questions about the women, including if, with his suspension over, he felt remorse for what he had done.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson takes a selfie with fans before of an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans in Houston, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022,. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson takes a selfie with fans before of an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans in Houston, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022,. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

"Like I said before, that's something legal and clinical, we've been asked it before and they don't want me to address anything like that," Watson said. "Of course it was a tough situation. The suspension was tough, but at the same time my main focus is trying to be 1-0 as a football player today."

You can say Watson went 1-0 Sunday, the same way any starting quarterback receives credit for the win when his team gets one. However, whether it was due to being rattled or rusty or whatever, it was a very choppy performance for the quarterback the Browns spent three first-round picks, two other mid-round picks and, as critical as anything, $230 million guaranteed over the next five years.

Watson never really found his rhythm from his very first pass, which was a short curl route to Amari Cooper that Houston's Steven Nelson broke up. He finally completed a pass on his third try, a 15-yarder to Anthony Schwartz that still resulted in a fumble to set up a Texans field goal.

By the time Watson threw his final pass, also an incompletion to Cooper, he was 12 of 22 for 131 yards with an interception in the end zone. He finished with a quarterback rating of 53.4, which is the lowest of any game in which he's started in his career.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is tackled by Houston Texans safety Jonathan Owens during the second half of an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans in Houston, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is tackled by Houston Texans safety Jonathan Owens during the second half of an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans in Houston, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

“I would just say I felt every single one of those 700 days, honestly," Watson said. "However long I've been out, I felt every single one of those days. Getting back in shape and everything is definitely what I needed today.”

The in-game reaction Watson received was much more audible than what greeted him during the pregame. He made his first appearance on the field a little less than two hours before kickoff to go though some light throwing.

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During that time, Watson talked to Texans players, coaches and support staff before returning to the locker room after about 30 minutes. He stopped to sign several autographs on his way back to the locker room.

Watson returned to the field for warmups about 50 minutes before kickoff. He jogged out of the tunnel to the front corner of the end zone, paused for a moment, before running out onto the field to a fairly tepid response from roughly 5,000 or so — many wearing Browns apparel — in the stands.

That changed once the game got underway. Then, the Texans fans allowed their displeasure with Watson to be fully known.

"Like I said, it is what it is," Watson said of the response. "I can't control the fans, how they approach whenever I step on the field. My job is to go out there and execute and do my best on behalf of the team.”

Contact Chris at ceasterling@thebeaconjournal.com.

On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Deshaun Watson downplays negative reaction in return to field, Houston