Deshaun Watson struggles in loss against Steelers; The Browns need more after Nick Chubb’s season-ending injury

By | September 19, 2023

Deshaun Watson’s night began with a pick 6. He and tight end Harrison Bryant were not on the same page on the Cleveland Browns’ first play of Monday night’s game, Watson threw wide and was beaten before Alex Highsmith grabbed it and ran in for a Steelers touchdown.

You can’t even say that play defined Watson’s time with the Browns. Troubling off-the-field stories, an 11-game suspension and possible regret over a ridiculous fully guaranteed contract define Watson’s time with the Browns. But his mediocre comedy is also part of the story.

The Browns expected Watson to be much better than he has been, and the spotlight is even brighter after Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Watson didn’t play well again Monday night in a 26-22 loss to the Steelers.

Pittsburgh scored a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter when Watson fumbled. With the Browns leading 22-19 late in the game, Watson was hit by Highsmith and TJ Watt picked up the fumble and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. The Steelers scored 14 points off two Watson turnovers. Watson failed to rally the Browns, and the Steelers held on to win. Watson completed 22 of 40 passes for 235 yards, a passer rating of 70.3 and three total turnovers.

The Browns paid Watson $230 million, all guaranteed. They paid him like he was a savior of the franchise. He hasn’t been yet. Now the Browns need Watson to carry the offense, and they have no idea if he can do it.

Deshaun Watson has a rough night

As for football, Watson didn’t have to carry the Browns. The defense looked great in week one. Chubb is one of the best running backs in football. Chubb, not Watson, was the focal point of the offense.

That all changed in the second quarter Monday night, when Chubb was hit low by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and clutched his left knee in pain. The hit was so bad that ABC refused to show the replay. Chubb was taken away.

After the game, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski confirmed that the injury would end his season.

Suddenly Watson’s struggles as the Browns’ quarterback became a much bigger deal. At the end of last year he didn’t play well, although the long break due to the suspension could be to blame. He missed many passes in the first week, although bad weather was a factor. Watson didn’t play particularly well against the Steelers, and at some point the excuses run out.

Watson didn’t do much Monday night. He was called for a pair of 15-yard penalties. In the first, he tore linebacker Kwon Alexander’s facemask as he ran out of bounds, leading to a flag for unnecessary roughness. He was lucky not to receive another penalty for putting his hands on a referee. Later, on third-and-12, he grabbed the facemask of a pursuing Steelers defender and was hit with another 15-yard penalty.

It was bad enough that Watson wasn’t getting enough yards from the Browns. Suddenly he was the reason Cleveland was coming back.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson tries to evade Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith during Monday night's game in Pittsburgh.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson tries to evade Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith during Monday night’s game in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Steelers take the lead with another Watson turnover

Watson made some passes late in the game. Backed to his own 3-yard line, he hit a huge third-and-13 to Elijah Moore for a first down. He made a few more passes to Amari Cooper to keep the chains moving.

But a turnover that led to Watt’s game-winning touchdown was key. The Steelers’ offense did little to that point. It seemed like the only way the Steelers were going to win was with a defensive touchdown, and Watson’s fumble did it. Cleveland won’t pay $230 million for that to happen.

The Browns had one last shot at the win when the defense came up with a big stop with about three minutes left. Watson began to move the offense. The Steelers were playing deep and Watson took advantage. At the two-minute warning, the Browns were down four points with the ball at Pittsburgh’s 47-yard line. But on second down after the two-minute warning, Watson threw incomplete under pressure. On third down, Watson took a sack. That led to fourth-and-10 and Watson threw incomplete. Maybe there was a pending call on Browns receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones that wasn’t called, but it’s not like the Browns can blame him. The offense couldn’t overcome a missed call Monday night.

The Browns gave up a lot of draft picks to get Watson, paid a lot of money for a contract extension and grieved over acquiring Watson while dealing with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. And despite all of that, the Browns couldn’t even get a good quarterback out of the deal.

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