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Defense, special teams boost Browns to win over Texans in Deshaun Watson's debut

The Browns tallied a season-high four takeaways against the Texans


HOUSTON — QB Deshaun Watson made his Browns debut Sunday against the Texans, but it was the defense and special teams who stepped up most to help Cleveland to a 27-14 win at NRG Stadium.

The Browns used a punt return touchdown from WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, fumble recovery touchdown from CB Denzel Ward and pick-six from LB Tony Fields II to generate their points against Houston. Watson, who was suspended the first 11 games, completed 12-of-22 pass attempts for 131 yards with an interception in his Browns debut. He also rushed seven times for 21 yards.

Watson's rust was evident from the first quarter. His first drive resulted in a three-and-out, and the third drive ended with an interception in the end zone after the Browns managed to move down to the Texans' 11-yard line. The second drive ended on a fumble from WR Anthony Schwartz that the Texans recovered and turned into a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

That lead expanded to 5-0 when the Browns took a safety on the fourth drive of the game. The drive started at the 1-yard line after the defense made a goal-line stand on fourth down to prevent a Texans touchdown, but the Browns were unable to advance the ball and took a safety after Nick Chubb was knocked back into the end zone on second down.

Peoples-Jones helped the Browns snap their scoring slump, however, with a 76-yard punt return touchdown in the second quarter. The return was the first punt return touchdown by a Browns player since 2015 and just the second punt return touchdown across the NFL this season.

The defense then chipped in on the scoreboard with a fumble return touchdown from CB Denzel Ward, his second of the season. Ward scooped a fumble from the Texans' own 1-yard line and had an easy jog into the end zone for the score, which put the Browns up 14-5 midway through the third quarter. The fumble recovery touchdown was the second from Ward this season, with his last touchdown happening in Week 3 against the Steelers. He's the first player in Browns history to return two fumbles for a touchdown in the same season.

The offense didn't generate points until the 9:36 mark in the fourth quarter when K Cade York converted on a 43-yard field-goal attempt that extended the lead to 17-8.

Fields put the finishing touches on the win with his first career interception and pick-six on the first play of the next series for the defense's second touchdown of the day. He also recorded his first career fumble recovery on a punt return in the fourth quarter.

Moment that mattered most: With 9:36 left, Fields snared a deflected pass from Texans QB Kyle Allen for the Browns' second interception of the game. He finished it off with an easy 16-yard sprint into the end zone, which put the Browns up by three scores and highlighted a season-best day by the defense.

Player of the game: Fields, who had a breakout game of sorts with two takeaways. His role at linebacker has steadily increased over the last few games and figures to continue growing with two key plays Sunday. He also added four tackles, one pass breakup and a forced fumble on the play Ward scored his touchdown.

Stat of the game: 4. That's how many total takeaways the Browns had against the Texans, with three of them coming from the defense and the other on special teams. The defense had a game-high in the takeaways category and turned two of them into touchdowns: Ward's fumble recovery and Fields' interception. The defense also snapped a three-game spell without a takeaway.

The game was decided when: Fields scooped a fumble with 5:29 left in the fourth quarter and gave the Browns excellent field position at Houston's 33-yard line. That allowed the Browns to add another field goal — a 42-yard boot from York — to extend the lead to 27-8.

What's next?: The Browns are now 5-7 and have their first win streak of the season. They go back on the road for the second straight week next Sunday against the Bengals in Cincinnati. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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