NFL: Deshaun Watson will make his debut with the Browns against his former team

HOUSTON — Deshaun Watson will make his Cleveland Browns debut Sunday at the same stadium where he last played 700 days ago.

The fallen quarterback will play against his former team, the Houston Texans (1-9-1), after serving an 11-game suspension imposed by the NFL due to allegations of sexual misconduct.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday for the first time since August, Watson declined to answer any questions about anything other than football. On the other hand, he spoke at length about his enthusiasm for having the opportunity to finally play for the Browns (4-7), but also in front of the Texans supporters.

« I have a lot of great memories, » Watson said of his time with the Texans. I still have a home here in Houston. I have many friends and family members who live here. »

Watson will play his first game since Jan. 3, 2021, when he had 365 yards and three touchdowns in the Texans’ 41-38 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Soon after, he voiced his dissatisfaction with the team’s management and demanded a trade. Then, more than two dozen women accused him of harassment or sexual assault during massage therapy sessions.

He officially remained a member of the Texans roster for the 2021 season, but did not play. He was eventually traded to the Browns in March 2022.

Watson accepted a lengthy suspension and a $5 million fine, in addition to attending therapy and counseling sessions, after an independent arbitrator determined he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Before it all fell apart, Watson had guided the Texans to two playoff appearances in four seasons.

He was asked what kind of reception he expected upon returning to the city where he played his entire NFL career.

« I’m focusing on my shift work and on the game plan, » he insisted. I don’t focus on the atmosphere. »

Watson will face a struggling team that has lost its last six games and is the only NFL team with just one win on the clock this season.

Some wonder if Watson will still be the same dynamic player as before or if the 27-year-old quarterback will be a bit rusty.

« We’ve warned our players and they expect to see the best version of Deshaun, » Texans head coach Lovie Smith said. I think this approach is valid for all matches.

« But yeah, it’s been a long time since he played a game and we kinda hope he gets rusty! » »

For her part, Watson admitted to not knowing what to expect.

« It’s the first time I’ve been sidelined for so long, » he said. I’m getting ready to go out there and do whatever Kevin (Stefanski, the Browns head coach) asks me to do. I really want to take it one game at a time and not force things. »

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