HOUSTON (AP) — Deshaun Watson’s shaky performance wasn’t his biggest problem. Blame a two-year layoff for Watson being rusty.
His refusal to express remorse for alleged behavior that led to an 11-game suspension is more difficult to explain.
Watson made it clear earlier in the week he had no interest in discussing accusations by more than two dozen women of sexual harassment and assault during massage sessions. He has settled 23 civil lawsuits brought by the women, while two others, including one filed in October, are pending.
After playing his first game in 700 days against his former team in the stadium where he became a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, Watson still wasn’t interested in talking about it.
“Like I said before, that’s something that legal and clinical have answered before, and they don’t want me to address anything like that,” Watson said, sticking to his script.
He even attributed boos to being on the visiting team instead of his actions toward women that were labeled “egregious” and “predatory” by an independent arbiter who gave him a six-game ban that the NFL appealed and increased.
“They’re supposed to boo. I’m a Cleveland Brown now, and we’re on the road. So, they’re supposed to do that,” Watson said after the Browns beat the Houston Texans 27-14 on Sunday.
Watson had plenty of supporters among the small crowd. He signed autographs for fans wearing his old Texans jersey and his new Browns jersey. He took selfies with a few others. Even former teammate Laremy Tunsil got a signed jersey from Watson.
“That’s my guy,” said Tunsil, Houston’s two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman. “I came in here in 2019 with him. He helped me out a lot. He helped me out with my career. It was good to see a brother. That’s how I look at him, as a brother. It’s good to see him back in football because it’s been two years.”
Watson’s new teammates are also thrilled to have him on the field.
“Ever since Deshaun got in the building, he’s been a tremendous leader,” linebacker Tony Fields said.
Watson finished 12-of-22 passing for 131 yards and one interception, posting the worst passer rating of his NFL career at 53.4.
“We’re not going to hold him to a crazy standard and expect him to be superman out there,” Browns star defensive end Myles Garrett said. “He hasn’t played in two years. We know the kind of football player he’s been in the past and what he’s like. We’ve seen him on the practice field doing things athletically and through the air that few players can match.
"We’re not going to hold him to that kind of standard. We’re going to keep on playing complementary football. We’re going to keep on playing as a team. He’s going to eventually get his rhythm, get his feet underneath him and be able to play like he has in the past.”
The 27-year-old Watson developed into one of the NFL’s best QBs in his first four seasons in Houston. He led the league with 4,823 yards passing in 2020 and entered this season with a 104.5 career rating.
His talent is obvious. That’s why the Browns and several teams pursued Watson after two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him over allegations of sexual harassment and assault. The Browns persuaded him to waive his no-trade clause with a fully guaranteed $230 million contract, and then traded several draft picks to get him.
It may take a while for Watson to regain his old form, but there’s little doubt he’ll be a star player again.
It’s uncertain whether he’ll ever take accountability for his misconduct.
“I did everything that I was asked and was required to do,” Watson said. “I did all that, and I was able to be able to play and be on the field today.”
In his mind, it seems Watson has done enough.
Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL