Deshaun Watson, Browns go from bad to brilliant as team rallies behind its resilient QB

BALTIMORE — The contract had become a punchline, the $230 million joke for an organization that can’t ever get anything right. Each incompletion or interception or game missed due to injury only turned up the volume on the nationwide Deshaun Watson comedy tour. 

In the second half of the most important divisional game of the Cleveland Browns’ season, Watson finally grabbed the mic. From last year’s scandal and suspension to his general ineffectiveness to now the shoulder injury, it has been a miserable start to the Watson era in Cleveland. Sunday provided the most hope yet that it won’t end in complete calamity. 

Watson was brilliant in the second half, completing all 14 of his attempts for 134 yards and a touchdown. He was a maestro who found his baton and suddenly had the Browns’ tone-deaf offense performing a beautiful concerto. He dragged an injured left foot and wounded right shoulder up and down M&T Bank Stadium, propelling the Browns to a stunning 33-31 victory over the first-place Ravens.

Franchise quarterbacks have the ability to rally teams back from two-touchdown deficits in the fourth quarter. They have the confidence to overcome special teams errors, holding calls and even their own pick six. 

The Browns are finally mounting evidence to build the case they might just have a franchise quarterback after all. 

It’s November and the Browns are running stride for stride in this hectic race for the division title. It’s November and the Browns are sprinting toward a playoff berth in the crowded AFC. Rarely are those things true in Cleveland. Here’s something even stranger: The Browns’ quarterback played like a franchise pillar in the second half of a pivotal game that history might eventually reveal as the pivot this franchise desperately needed. 


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Quarterbacks earn their money in the last four minutes with the game on the line. For one day, those $230 million jokes weren’t so funny.

In a stadium that has often haunted this franchise in the city that stole the original team away, the Browns won their biggest road game of the season and declared yet again that the San Francisco win wasn’t a mirage. The Browns are good. Even more important, they’re as resilient as their quarterback. Believe it. 

“Kept on trying to tell y’all, once he hits his stride, he’s going to be back to his previous ways,” Myles Garrett said. “We’re just seeing another glimpse into what he can be and who he is.”

Watson’s rotator cuff injury will prevent his shoulder from ever being truly healthy this season. It still affects a number of his reads. He’s still not happy with his deep throws. He’s tinkering with the location on inside releases with his receivers. Stefanski is putting Watson under center more than he ever was in Houston to create certain looks from defenses. 

In some aspects, the Browns are flying the plane as they build it. That’s what happens when you lose a franchise back like Nick Chubb in Week 2 and both starting tackles. It necessitates creativity from those left behind and it requires the very best from the quarterback. After another miserable first half, Watson delivered.

Jadeveon Clowney rolled up on his foot in the first half and Watson needed to head to the locker room early to get re-taped. He left the stadium in a walking boot although he insists he’ll be ready for Pittsburgh next week. 



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Nothing has been easy for him or this team this season and that seems likely to continue. Yet he stood tall despite playing in front of backups at both tackle spots and delivered a 17-yard strike to Amari Cooper on second-and-19 on what was the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. It was the biggest throw of the game and one of his best this season. 

The throw followed right guard Wyatt Teller reverting back to his younger days as a defensive linemen, when coaches taught him to scoop fumbles by locking his pinkies together. So when Watson was pressured in the pocket and the Ravens defense got the ball out, Teller was the first to spot it, locked his pinkies together and scooped the recovery. It was the type of strip-sack that previously would derail a Cleveland game and season, but not this time. This time it just set up Watson and Cooper for a marvelous pitch and catch to keep the drive going.

All the little things that have haunted this franchise for decades now seem to be swinging the other way, from key calls going in their favor at Indianapolis to the field goal San Francisco missed to seal yet another Browns win. 

The Browns have now rallied from double-digit deficits to beat both San Francisco and Baltimore this year, two of the league’s best teams. Until Sunday, they hadn’t rallied from 14 down in the fourth quarter to win since 2014. 

Watson doesn’t get credit for all of it, but he gets a lot of it. 

His story will forever be polarizing as long as he remains active in the NFL. He is in his second season now as one of the league’s biggest villains, a role that doesn’t seem to be dissipating anytime soon. Watson has acknowledged multiple times he hears the noise. Pockets of Browns fans have been eager to boo him at various turns this season, while others do their best to embrace him and all the baggage he brings. 

Sunday, he finally gave them something to truly cheer. 

After he threw yet another pick six on yet another opening drive on the road, the second time this year that has happened against a divisional opponent, Stefanski clapped encouragement as the stadium rocked and Watson jogged over to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and shook his head in disgust. 

“What the f—?” Watson grumbled. “Again? Again? Really, again?”

Watson started the same way at Pittsburgh this year in a game the Browns should have won but instead managed to lose. That was way back in Week 2. It’s how things have usually gone around here for the last 25 years. 

Then Watson grabbed the mic and the jokes subsided. Nobody is laughing at the Cleveland Browns now. 

(Photo: Todd Olszewski / Getty Images)

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