As QB Deshaun Watson stood at the podium on Wednesday, he took a moment to collect his thoughts. His 2023 season was officially over.
"It's very tough," Watson said. "Hurt about it, but I'm going to make sure I keep my head above water and make sure I stay in touch with all the guys and support them as much as I possibly can. Attack this rehab process after surgery and make sure that I'm doing whatever I can to be beneficial for the team while not actually being on the field with them and also prepping for the next year."
The Browns announced on Wednesday that Watson would undergo season-ending surgery to repair his throwing shoulder. An MRI of his right shoulder on Monday revealed a displaced fracture to the glenoid.
Following Sunday's 33-31 win over the Ravens, Watson informed the medical staff of new discomfort in his right shoulder that he felt after he took a hit in the first half. Even though Watson finished the game on Sunday, the Browns said that after consultation with Browns' Head Physician James Voos, MD, and industry-leading shoulder specialist Neal ElAttrache, MD, it was determined that the injury would require immediate surgical repair to avoid further structural damage. Watson was placed on season-ending injured reserve. However, the Browns are optimistic, and Watson is expected to make a full recovery for the start of the 2024 season.
"Obviously we are very disappointed and devastated for Deshaun, especially given all that he has battled and gone through medically this season," Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry said.
Berry said that Watson's injury is in the midst of being scheduled, and Watson believed the surgery could take place next week.
Watson has dealt with a shoulder injury since the third week of the season, as he first sustained an injury to his rotator cuff in Week 3 against the Titans after he took a hit in the red zone on a quarterback keeper. He missed Week 4 and 6 of the season. Watson started Week 7 against the Colts before he took another hit to the shoulder and was out for the remainder of the game. Watson did not play in Week 8 against the Seahawks but returned in Week 9 to lead the Browns to a win over the Cardinals.
In their Week 10 comeback win over the Ravens, Watson went 14 of 14 in the second half, leading the Browns to the win after sustaining a hit that caused the fracture in his shoulder.
Berry said that this fractured bone in his shoulder is a new injury, separate from the injury he dealt with to his rotator cuff, and was the result of a hit he took in the second quarter of the game against the Ravens in Week 10.
"Deshaun told us that he took a hit," Berry said. "It's a little bit unclear the exact play that it happened, but he remembers kind of taking a hit. Again, to his credit, he really didn't start even really feeling it to the second half of the game and that he didn't even really raise it until well after the game."
Berry said that as they learned of the injury and spoke with doctors, is that in the infrequent event of this type of injury to a thrower in their throwing shoulder, it normally would restrict the mobility. There is typically a high level of pain associated with the injury that it should affect the ability to throw. Watson also had an MRI on his left ankle, which revealed a high-ankle sprain that he played with through the second half of Sunday's game.
"For Deshaun to play, call it two and a half quarters, at a really high level against one of the best defenses in the league with this injury – plus the high ankle – it really is an incredible display of physical and mental toughness on his part," Berry said.
Watson said that he is still trying to process all the information he's received in the last 48 hours about his injury. He tried to push the idea of playing the rest of the season. He was still in a bit of disbelief about the diagnosis.
"I pushed very hard for it to the point where all the experts and doctors were the ones that told me that there was no chance," Watson. "So, I pushed as far as I possibly could to get back out there and just try to play and try to push it towards after the season. But I think the best situation for, I guess, longevity in my career is to be able to get immediate surgery, and that's what all the experts said. So, I got to follow their footsteps and go from there."
In terms of his recovery following the surgery, Watson said that the biggest element will be the mobility and the range of motion, as well as gaining the strength back. Watson is confident in the doctors and staff he will be working with in his rehab process to help him return healthy for next season.
Watson said it will also be important for him to be back around his teammates through his rehab process and has had teammates tell him they would spend time with him wherever he is rehabbing and training at.
"We're going to have that bond," Watson said. "The connection is going to always be there. My phone is going to always be on loud for those guys and they know they can call me or pull up on me anytime they get free."
As the Browns look to the remainder of the season, Berry said that they do believe in carrying three quarterbacks on the roster between the active and the practice squad. Berry said that they will look to add a quarterback "at some point in the near future."
Yet, the Browns are still confident in their current quarterback room with rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson and P.J. Walker. They've used both quarterbacks this season as Watson missed time with the first shoulder injury. Walker started in Week 6 and Week 8 and came in Week 7 after Watson was injured in the first quarter.
Berry believes that Thompson-Robinson has progressed from the spring, through the preseason and into the regular season. He has started one game this season in Week 4 against the Ravens and will start his second game against the Steelers in Week 11 after HC Kevin Stefanski announced him as the starter on Wednesday.
"We think he's a talented kid," Berry said. "He's very smart, very diligent as a worker, and we're pleased with his progress so far. But we're going to certainly need all hands-on deck as we move forward."
The Browns have dealt with adversity this season with a multitude of injuries across the board. They've handled losing RT Jack Conklin and RB Nick Chubb to season-ending injuries. They've worked through the uncertainty of Watson's shoulder injury. Through it all, they are keeping their eyes set on their goals as they are in the middle of a division race and playoff push.
While losing their franchise quarterback for the remainder of the season is a tough blow, Berry is confident in their ability as an organization to overcome this latest adversity.
"That's probably one of the things I'm most proud of with the group to date has been our ability to do so over the first nine games," Berry said. "We are going to have another obstacle to overcome as we go through the next eight games of the season. But because of those experiences, we really do have an organization – players, coaches and staff – that have grown Teflon skin and cast-iron stomachs. I'm proud of that and we're going to have to rely on that as we move forward."