Immediately after WR Donovan Peoples-Jones felt the ball get punched from his grasp, all he wanted was another opportunity to make a catch.
QB Deshaun Watson was determined to make it happen. He had thrown Peoples-Jones a perfect pass on a second-and-9 play in the third quarter Sunday against the Commanders when the Browns were inside the red zone looking for their second consecutive touchdown drive. Peoples-Jones initially jumped and snared the pass with two hands, but Commanders CB Danny Johnson jabbed at the ball and knocked it out before Peoples-Jones could land on both feet.
Peoples-Jones sat upright on the grass in disbelief after the play before jogging back to the huddle. When the huddle broke, Watson was set on throwing to him again.
He knew Peoples-Jones would be open on the next play based on the Commanders' coverage at the line of scrimmage, which they studied before the game. When the ball was snapped, most of the defenders followed other Browns receivers who went to the end zone.
That left a hole for Peoples-Jones, running a slant route to his right and a few yards past the line of scrimmage. Watson fired another ball that Peoples-Jones caught before muscling his way past CB Kendall Fuller near the goal-line.
Touchdown — and, for Peoples-Jones, an immediate growth in chemistry with his quarterback.
"It really instills confidence because I know that even (though) I had the drop, I really wanted that bad, and sometimes you don't know if you will get the ball after that," he said. "To know that he's coming right back to me the next play shows that he's not worried about that. That really makes me feel good and makes me excited, too."
The touchdown put the Browns up 17-7 in their eventual 24-10 win over the Commanders and was the second of three straight touchdown drives, which showcased how smooth the offense can look with Watson when they’re at their best.
Watson completed 9 of 18 pass attempts for 169 yards in the game. Yes, those stats are eye-popping, but the fact that there were three touchdowns with it captures how quickly and efficiently the Browns found a way to score in the second half.
Of all the throws Watson completed, he said his best completion was the Peoples-Jones touchdown.
"The DPJ one was really good," he said. "That was a red zone possession. That was a possession where it was a backside read and everything on the front side was developing. I read the coverage right. That was something I worked on all week. Pre-snap, I kind of knew I was going to 11, and it opened up just how I wanted it to."
But Watson also knew it was important to go back to Peoples-Jones after the drop.
"Like I told 11, and I told everyone else on the offense, just because you dropped the ball doesn't mean that I'm not gonna come back to you," Watson said. "I don't lose confidence in my brothers. I don't lose confidence in what we're doing on offense. They get paid too and we gotta make plays and the defense was doing that in the first half. But like you said, on that one, I came back to him. We read the coverage right, DPJ came across the middle and gave it to him, and finished the play."
Those sequences are the ones that can truly grow the connection between a receiver and quarterback, and it's no question that Peoples-Jones and Watson have formed a good bond since Watson's 11-game suspension ended in Week 13. He's caught two of Watson's five touchdown throws this season and has been targeted 24 times, catching 14 of them for 140 yards.
But the 13-yard touchdown reception Sunday against the Commanders might've been the most important connection for them moving forward.
"It gave me a lot of confidence," he said. "Anything we can do to help this team win, we want to do. We've been working on that play all week, and it ended up playing out just how we thought it would be."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Commanders in Week 17
Browns begin prep for Pickett
Head coach Kevin Stefanski said he watched Steelers QB Kenny Pickett's game-winning touchdown drive in Pittsburgh's 16-13 win over the Ravens on Sunday night. Pickett, the Steelers' first-round draft pick last spring, piloted them on a 11-play, 80-yard drive in the final minutes to score a game-winning touchdown for the second consecutive week.
Pickett fired a 10-yard pass to RB Najee Harris to seal the win, which kept the Steelers' playoff hopes alive for their Week 18 matchup with the Browns on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
"I did watch the tape on both sides this morning," Stefanski said. "A talented player who we have to be ready to go against and get to know the young player. He can make plays off schedule, as you saw in that last drive. Made some impressive throws throughout the day. It's going to be a challenge as it always is when it's Browns versus Steelers. We're excited about that."
The Browns had two players who were injured in Sunday's win against the Commanders.
OT Jack Conklin suffered an ankle injury while CB Denzel Ward suffered a shoulder injury. Conklin played in 37 of the Browns' 57 offensive snaps and was replaced by James Hudson III, while Ward played 46 of 69 total defensive snaps.
Stefanski didn't have an update on their statuses for Week 18.
"We will see how this goes throughout the week on both of those," he said. "I don't know definitively, but we will monitor that throughout the week."