Deshaun Watson struggles in return from sexual-misconduct investigation, but Browns defense dominates

Deshaun Watson with the Browns.
Deshaun Watson struggled in the first half against the Texans on Sunday. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) (Carmen Mandato via Getty Images)

The Cleveland Browns paid quite a bit of money to Deshaun Watson in hopes he would turn the franchise into a winner after returning from his sexual-misconduct suspension. Watson didn't live up to that deal against the Houston Texans in Week 13 on Sunday, but the Browns' defense picked him up.

Watson looked very much like a player who hasn't played a competitive down of football in a season-and-a-half early in Sunday's game. His struggles started immediately. Watson went 0-for-2 on the Browns' first drive, leading to a three-and-out. He completed a pass on the team's second drive, but his receiver promptly fumbled, which Houston recovered.

Watson got the offense moving on the third drive. With the Browns 11 yards away from a score, Watson threw an interception in the red zone.

After a goal-line stand by the Browns on the next drive, Watson took over on his own 1-yard line. Two plays later, Nick Chubb was tackled in the end zone for a safety.

Watson completed two passes on the Browns' next drive, which stalled at their own 36. The Texans couldn't capitalize and went three-and-out. Browns receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones broke free on the Texans' punt, going 76 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Browns a 7-5 lead.

The Browns failed to get anything going on their final two drives of the half. Watson nearly gave up the lead with time running out in the half. He nearly fumbled trying to throw the ball. A Texan scooped the ball up and scored, but it was determined Watson's arm was moving forward when the ball left his hand. The touchdown was reversed and the Browns kept their 7-5 lead going into halftime.

Watson finished the half 8-for-14, for 96 yards and an interception.

The Browns extended their lead in the third quarter after Kyle Allen fumbled at the goal line. Denzel Ward scooped up the ball and ran it into the end zone to give Cleveland a 14-5 lead. The Texans managed a field goal later in the quarter to make it 14-8.

Watson led the Browns to a field goal in the fourth quarter to go up 17-8. With the Texans in catch-up mode, the Browns' defense feasted. Tony Fields II picked off Allen and ran it back for a touchdown with 9:30 left to play. That gave Cleveland a 24-8 lead.

Watson led the team to yet another field goal. The Texans scored a touchdown in garbage time to cut the lead to 13 points. It was the first offensive TD of the contest. The team failed to convert on a two-point conversion, keeping the score 27-14.

Watson finished 12-of-22 for 131 yards and no touchdowns. He also ran for 21 yards.

Deshaun Watson returns from sexual-misconduct suspension

Watson has not played in a season and a half due to sexual-misconduct allegations by more than 20 women. Watson was not suspended in 2021, but did not play for the Texans last season after the allegations were revealed. With that situation still unsettled, the Browns traded for Watson and handed him a record-breaking $230 million deal. The NFL investigated the claims against Watson and suspended him for 11 games.

Watson's first game back came against his former team in Houston. He did not receive a positive reception once he took the field Sunday.

Prior to Sunday's game against the Texans, the Browns were 4-7 and faced an uphill battle to get into the playoff hunt. Watson's return was expected to lift the team on the field. The Browns won Sunday, but Watson's performance didn't inspire much confidence moving forward.