Watson struggles in debut
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Deshaun Watson’s best play in his preseason debut with the Cleveland Browns came long before he took the field in Jacksonville.
Watson apologized Friday “to all the women I have impacted” after being accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.
Potentially facing a year-long suspension, Watson publicly expressed remorse and contrition for the first time since he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting the women during therapy sessions in 2020 and 2021.
He spoke before the team’s exhibition opener, a 24-13 victory against the Jaguars (0-2) in which Watson was roundly booed during three series of work. Fans in one end zone could be heard chanting vulgarities at Watson during his first drive.
The three-time Pro Bowler completed 1 of 5 passes for 7 yards in his first game action since Jan. 3, 2021, with Houston.
Watson managed no first downs and 7 yards while playing without receiver Amari Cooper, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and offensive linemen Joel Bitonio and Jack Conklin. Starting center Nick Harris, who is replacing NFLPA president and salary-cap casualty JC Tretter, went down on the second play with a right knee injury.
Cleveland trailed 13-0 when Watson’s night ended. He spent much of the second half sitting on a cooler on the sideline and chewing gum. If he made any strides, they came before kickoff.
“Look, I want to say that I’m truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation,” Watson said in the pregame interview. “The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back, but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward.”
Watson has denied any wrongdoing, and grand juries in two Texas counties declined to indict him on criminal complaints. He settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits.
He’s still facing discipline from the league, which is appealing independent arbiter Sue L. Robinson’s six-game suspension. The retired federal judge concluded Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy with “egregious” and “predatory” behavior. As part of her ruling, Robinson noted Watson’s lack of remorse.
The NFL is seeking a full-season ban along with a significant fine over $5 million and wants Watson to undergo evaluation and treatment before he could be reinstated. The appeal is now with Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
There’s no timetable on Harvey’s decision. It’s also possible the sides could work out a settlement.
Watson jogged into TIAA Bank Field with a security guard at his side and later stopped to sign autographs following warmups. No protests against Watson were found outside the stadium, although several cars could be seen sporting unsavory messages ripping the embattled quarterback.
Jacksonville played most of its starters and looked considerably better than it did in the Hall of Fame game last week in Canton, Ohio.
Trevor Lawrence completed 6 of 12 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown, a 9-yarder to Evan Engram on a fourth-down play.
Running back Travis Etienne played for the first time since suffering a foot injury last preseason and ran for 23 yards. He also had a 10-yard reception that set up a field goal.
The Jaguars scored on each of their first three possessions, significant signs of progress as new coach Doug Pederson leads another rebuild in Jacksonville.
Browns rookie running back Jerome Ford, a fifth-round pick from Cincinnati, had a standout night. Ford ran for 57 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 46 yards and a score.
Brown is giving Cleveland another option in a crowded — and talented — backfield. Chubb and Hunt sat out, leaving D’Ernest Johnson to start. But Johnson fumbled on the second series, and Ford took over from there.
Josh Dobbs may have eased some concerns about whether he can be Jacoby Brissett’s backup with a solid performance, completing 10 of 13 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. He directed three scoring drives as the Browns rallied.
Brissett, who is scheduled to start during Watson’s suspension, sat out the game as a precaution.