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Deshaun Watson Returns And The Browns Win Without Him

Deshaun Watson #4 of the Cleveland Browns looks onward from the sideline during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Houston, Texas.
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

In Deshaun Watson's first game of the season, Cleveland's offense didn't score a touchdown. The Browns beat the Texans, 27-14, with two defensive TDs and one 76-yard punt return by Donovan Peoples-Jones. Aside from Watson's return against the organization that traded him, this was a mediocre team beating up on a one-win squad.

Watson hadn't played in an NFL game for 700 days. Though his absence originally began as a holdout, the Houston Texans shelved the quarterback for the 2021 season among accusations of sexual misconduct during massage therapy appointments from two dozen women. After Watson was traded to the Browns in March, the NFL's investigation concluded with an 11-game suspension. He settled almost all of the lawsuits over the summer, though two are still active, including a new complaint filed in October.

The reaction to Watson's return to Houston was mixed. Before the game, he signed autographs and greeted Texans owner Cal McNair.

When Watson actually started to play, the crowd booed. Were they booing because of his misconduct, or because they wished he hadn't left the Texans?

Most of the Watson-related attire and signs were what you'd expect from NFL fans who would attend a game in person:

The game was treated like some kind of regular homecoming for a team's former player, with minimal attention to why he was no longer with the team in the first place. It was strange, to say the least. The Browns had Watson film a postgame video so they could share it on Twitter. He also chatted with his former Texans teammates and exchanged jerseys.

Early Sunday morning, hours before the game, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the quarterback was making "signs of progress" in his mandatory treatment program, part of the NFL's discipline along with the 11-game suspension:

"He's been progressing well and he wants to continue with it, and they feel it's helping him," one source connected to Watson's treatment program said. "It's just sort of ongoing as needed, and it'll be ongoing until it's not needed anymore. And I think it's given him a lot of help and support. But this could take a while."

As our former colleague Kalyn Kahler pointed out, absent from this report is: the nature of the treatment program, what Watson is doing for the program, or the specific progress he's made. An anonymous source in the report said Watson's "clinician said he shouldn't comment on his treatment program and he's not allowed to get into his legal situation." It was a truly embarrassing article by Schefter, who knew he could contribute to the usual NFL Sunday pregame news cycle by publishing a Watson update that would reflect well on the league, as if it had handled his behavior correctly. The creep has been rehabilitated; the exact nature of the rehabilitation remains unknown. Everyone else played their parts in a day that contended for the lowest point of the NFL season.

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