HOUSTON – Quarterback Deshaun Watson struggled in his first game playing against his former team.
Returning from an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault, as defined by the league, Watson failed to lead the Cleveland Browns on a touchdown drive Sunday against the Houston Texans.
Cleveland still beat the league’s worst team 27–14 behind two defensive touchdowns and a punt return score from Donovan Peoples-Jones—the first time in 33 years the Browns scored three nonoffensive touchdowns.
Watson completed 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards in his first regular season game in exactly 700 days. He also threw an interception in the end zone that nullified Cleveland’s best offensive scoring opportunity.
Despite NRG Stadium being half empty, Watson was loudly booed before every Browns snap during the game.
“They need to boo,” Watson said. “I’m a Cleveland Brown now, and we’re on our way, so they have to boo.”
The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending the Texans three first-round draft picks. Cleveland then signed Watson to a five-year deal worth $230 million guaranteed, the richest contract in NFL history.
Watson demanded a trade from the Texans after the 2020 season. He was subsequently accused of assault and other sexual misconduct during massage sessions by more than two dozen women before serving out the entire 2021 season.
Some of those women were planning to attend Sunday’s game, according to their lawyer Tony Buzbee, who had said he would be at the game with them.
Over the summer, Watson agreed to settle 23 of the 24 civil lawsuits against him. Two lawsuits are pending against him, including one filed on Oct. 13. Two other women filed criminal charges against Watson but did not charge him.
Watson was not prosecuted. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said people were not interested in hearing his side of the story.
As part of the suspension settlement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, Watson also had to pay a $5 million fine and enter a treatment program.
Watson, speaking on Thursday for the first time since August, declined to answer “non-football questions.”
After Sunday’s game, Watson was asked if he regretted the actions the league described as “predatory” and “blatant”, leading to his suspension. Again, Watson refused to answer those questions.
“That’s something that we’ve answered before, legally and clinically. And they don’t want me to do something like that,” he said. “Of course it was a difficult situation. The suspension was tough. But at the same time, as a footballer, I’m trying to make it 1-0 today.”
“I was just excited to get back on the pitch today. I did everything I was asked to do and had to do. I did all of that. And I was able to play and be on the pitch today.”
Watson took a break during his pregame warmup Sunday to sign autographs for fans, some wearing his No. 4 Browns or Texans jersey. Watson also posed for selfies and photos with fans.
Sarah Flores, a Houston season ticket holder who had her red Texan No. 4 jersey signed by Watson, said she believed Watson was “100%” innocent of the charges against him.
“Someone as successful as he is would never jeopardize his career like that,” she said.
Outside the stadium in the parking lot, a Texan tailgate set up a mock massage table with a mannequin wearing Watson’s Texans jersey with a sign reading “free massages without a license!!! Now serving #4.”
Nearby, a fan wore an orange Browns shirt with “FREE WATSON” on the front and “ALL HE WANTED WAS A HAPPY ENDING” on the back. As the fan walked toward NRG Stadium, he led a “Here we go Brownies” chant alongside a pair of women wearing brown-colored Watson jerseys.
Inside, a Texan fan held up a sign that read, “I’d rather be 1-9-1 than have Deshaun Watson as my quarterback.”
Stewart Mathieson, a Houston fan from Scotland who bought pregame sidelines for this game, repurposed his blue Texans Watson jersey with the message “JUSTICE 4 WOMEN”. The front of the jersey had the words “BROWNS SHAME” stitched under the number 4.
“Some of my Browns friends [in Scotland] I gave up the team because of Watson,” said Mathieson, who flew to the game with his cousin Christopher. ‘Am I going to scold him? Yes, I’m going to boo him.”