The Browns didn't expect everything to be perfect with QB Deshaun Watson in his debut Sunday in Houston — not when the franchise quarterback went 700 days without playing in NFL action.
They were right in that expectation. Watson completed 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards with one interception and a 53.4 passer rating and struggled at times to move the ball. Just two Browns possessions ended with points, both of which being field goals, and the longest play of the day in the pass game was a 27-yard completion from Watson to WR Donovan Peoples-Jones. Several of Watson's passes were off target, and the interception happened in the end zone.
"That was the first one, and the first one in a long time, so we knew there was going to be a little bit of playing through that," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. 'I think he gets that. He'll get more comfortable with the more game reps he gets. I think all those things you look at offensive with Deshaun, they're all correctable."
The Browns will do what they can to learn from the game and get Watson ready for Round 2, a big divisional matchup against the Bengals in Cincinnati. The Bengals are coming off a 27-24 win over the Chiefs and will be a much tougher challenge than the one-win Texans, who largely lost Sunday to the Browns due to self-inflicted errors the Browns capitalized on.
For the Browns (5-7) to remain in the playoff race, they need Watson to play at a higher level soon.
"It's always getting back to the basics, specifically for Deshaun," Stefanski said. "Yes, there's a long layoff, so there's certain things that will only come with more game reps and practice, and I expect that to happen."
Operationally, Watson did a good job of leading the huddle and ensuring plays were executed properly by his teammates, according to TE Harrison Bryant.
"He was composed and confident out there in the huddle," he said. "He recited the play calls really well and commanded the huddle. Honestly as an offense as a whole, we didn't play how we wanted to play, but that was a part of him coming back, and it's not only him. It takes all 11 to be successful in the game."
After an 11-game suspension for Watson, the Browns have something they can build from as they look to expand their offense with Watson's mobile and Pro Bowl-caliber skillset.
They knew it'd take time to get there, and Sunday's results only further assured that notion.
"Deshaun, that is his first start so he got the first one out of the way, and I know he is looking forward to turning the page, really diving into Cincinnati, understanding this defense, putting together a plan and going out here and working on it this week," Stefanski said. "I think that really becomes our focus."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Texans in Week 13
LBs adjust without Takitaki
The linebacker position took another substantial injury blow Monday when the Browns learned that Sione Takitaki would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
Takitaki is the third Browns linebacker to suffer a season-ending injury, joining Anthony Walker (quad) and Jacob Phillips (pectoral). All of those players had played prominently at middle linebacker before their injury, so the Browns will once again turn to their depth to find the next starter.
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah believes that shouldn't be an issue for the remaining healthy players in the room.
"Personnel wise, we're in the NFL," he said.." Our job is to fill in and do what the coaches require of us to do. Personnel wise, we will make changes, we will adjust and we will see what comes out of it."
Owusu-Koramoah, Deion Jones, Tony Fields II and Jordan Kunaszyk are the remaining linebackers on the active roster. Jermaine Carter, Tae Davis and Sam Kamara are also on the practice squad.
Other injury updates
Other players who suffered injuries Sunday include WRs David Bell (hand) and Anthony Schwartz (head). Stefanski said Bell was day-to-day, while Schwartz is in concussion protocol.