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It's not easy being an NFL quarterback: Mayfield sent packing and Watson's debut a dud

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks to throw during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Houston, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Houston.
Eric Gay
/
AP
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks to throw during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Houston, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Houston.

Deshaun Watson struggled in his Browns debut Sunday against his former team, the Houston Texans. It had been nearly two years since he last played in an NFL game, and he was returning from an 11-game suspension following sexual misconduct allegations.

Meanwhile, the Browns former number one overall pick Baker Mayfield was picked up by his third team in less than a year after struggling in Carolina.

Ideastream commentator Terry Pluto says it’s a big contrast looking back at 2020 in Cleveland.

“There was Baker Mayfield, leading the Browns to the playoffs and a victory over Pittsburgh. And if you look at the stats in 2020, which is the last full season that was played by Deshaun Watson, he led the NFL in passing yardage. He made a Pro Bowl. So, of course, both quarterbacks are riding high. And I sincerely doubt at the end of 2020, A: That the Browns would be figuring they're going to have to dump out of Baker Mayfield in a year or two and B: Deshaun Watson ever thought he was going to end up in Cleveland.”

Now, Mayfield will be hoping to keep his NFL career alive as a member of the Los Angeles Rams, which claimed him on waivers after the Panthers released him.

“It’s going to be difficult for him,” said Pluto.

As for Watson’s Cleveland debut, he was very rusty. The Brown won 27-14 by scoring touchdowns on a punt return, a fumble return and an interception return. Many of Watson’s passes were low and a few were short. He finished the game 12 of 22 for 131 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

Pluto said that much time away from an NFL game looms large, especially for a high-pressured position like quarterback.

“Fans say, well, they practice and they're in shape. [But] If you're a quarterback, the whole game rests on your shoulders — on offense from the coach upstairs or on the sidelines. The quarterback is given usually two plays to pick from, to run or to pass," Pluto said.

"So, he has about eight to 10 seconds to get that play and give the code to the guys in the huddle. Now, they run up to the line of scrimmage, [and he] looks at the defense and he's got to get the thing snapped in 30 seconds. And then here they come. [The defense] wants to kill you.”

Pluto said there’s no questioning Watson’s talent.

“Heading into that game, Deshaun Watson had the highest completion percentage, nearly 70% of his passes complete of any quarterback in NFL history who had thrown 1,500 passes," he said. "And [Sunday] looked a lot like Baker Mayfield was last year when he was playing with the bad shoulder and you didn't know where the ball was going. So, it was a very weird thing in Houston.”

Watson’s debut was also against his former team, the Texans. Nearly two dozen women had accused Watson of sexual assault and misconduct during massage therapy appointments during his time in Houston in 2021. He didn’t play that season and was eventually traded to Cleveland in a five-year, $230 million deal. He’s settled most of the lawsuits.

“There was not this big outburst of negative anything in Houston. One of the other writers from Houston was saying [fans] began by booing Watson. At the end, they were booing their own team, too. They booed everybody because they're 1-10-1. So it wasn't that bad of an environment,” Pluto said.

Football-wise, at least, it’s going to be a much different environment against division rival Cincinnati this Sunday. The Bengals haven’t lost since they last played the Browns on Halloween.

“[Houston] is in a dome where [Watson’s] played before and the weather was not a problem. Footing was not a problem. Quarterbacks and kickers love domes. But now, Sunday in Cincinnati, outside, this is ‘welcome to real AFC North football' for Watson,” Pluto said.

And however Watson plays going forward, the Browns are all-in.

“Just like they had to take it all the negative stuff — much of it deserved — for signing him, trading for him and all that, including from people like me. Now they got to take it if the guy plays poorly," Pluto said. "This is why they did it. This is why you trade three first rounders and give them the highest guaranteed contract in NFL history. You think he's going to be the guy that's going to make you a perennial contender.”

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.