Texans fall to Browns
By Elwyn Henderson
The 1-9-1 Houston Texans hosted the 4-7 Cleveland Browns Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston. Sadly, the biggest story of the game was not the game itself, but the return of Deshaun Watson to lead an NFL team for the first time in 700 days. The last time he suited up and played in the NFL was in 2020 when he was the quarterback of the Texans.
As has been well-chronicled, Watson became frustrated with Houston and demanded a trade despite having been given a 100% guaranteed contract that totaled $230 million over 5 years. Shortly after realizing he would not be traded by the team, details began coming out about his sexual encounters with massage therapists. The Texans kept him on the roster but never had him active for a single game in 2021.
He was finally traded to the Browns who agreed to taking on the guaranteed contract. Shortly after the trade the NFL began serious investigations into the accusations of the massage therapists and at the conclusion of the investigation the NFL’s arbitrator announced a 4-game suspension. The NFL appealed the decision and the league announced an 11-game suspension.
One has to wonder if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell set 11 games after looking at the schedule and seeing Week 13 would have Houston hosting the Browns. Everyone NFL fan circled the date of December 4th and looked forward to seeing what kind of reception Watson would have when he came out for pregame warmups and then later when he went on the field to lead Cleveland’s offense.
Media members including the Mirror representatives were also wondering what it would be like when Watson returned to NRG. Most everyone felt he would face a lot of boos in both instances, and that was exactly what happened. He was booed on every offensive play Cleveland ran the entire day.
As for the game, Houston lost once again, dropping to 1-10-1 on the season, while Watson led the Browns to a win and a 5-7 record on the year. The final score was 27-14. .
The Browns won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half.
Cade York kicked off for Cleveland to begin the game. The kick went out of the end zone for a touchback and Kyle Allen led the Houston offense on the field for his second start of the season replacing the ineffective Davis Mills.
On the first play from scrimmage Allen’s pass was intercepted by the Browns and they took over at their 43. The pass was originally called incomplete but after a challenge the call was overturned.
That brought Watson out with his offense. As expected, Watson was met with a chorus of boos before every play. The Houston defense rose to the occasion and forced a three-and-out. Corey Bojorque kicked the ball away and after a 40-yard kick Houston fair caught the ball at their 10 and Allen and the offense returned to the field.
Houston managed one first down before punting the ball away on the second series. Cameron Johnston Tavierre Thomas stripped the ball away from the Browns receiver and returned the ball 15 yards to the Cleveland 38.
Thanks to 20 yards in penalties Ka’imi Fairbairn booted a 44-yard field goal with 8:02 left in the first quarter to get Houston the early 3-0 lead. The drive was 8 plays, 13 yards and took 3:51.
Cleveland began their next possession at their 25 following a touchback. The Browns were moving methodically down the field until Watson threw an interception in the end zone to Jalen Pitre. He returned the pick 29 yards up to his 26 and the Texans were in business again.
Allen drove the team down to the Browns 1 where they faced a 4th and 1. A pass from Allen intended for Troy Hairston fell incomplete and the Browns took over on downs on their 1.
On the second play of the possession with 11:53 left in the first half running back Nick Chubb was tackled in the end zone for a safety, giving Houston a 5-0 lead and another possession with a free kick on tap following the safety.
Desmond King II returned the free kick from his 1 down to the Browns 49 and Houston was in great shape to add to their lead.
The Browns defense stepped up to the challenge and forced a three-and-out. Johnston hit a 43-yard punt that was downed at the Browns 1 and Watson was back on the field once again.
This time the visitors began a sustained drive but a holding call stalled the drive and Boforquez punted the ball away from his 37 to the Houston 8 where it was downed by the Browns. The Texans could do nothing on the possession and punted away following a three—and-out.
Donovan Peoples-Jones took the kick at his 24 and didn’t stop until he took the ball to the house on a 76-yard romp, putting the Browns on the board with 3:41 left in the first half. York added the PAT and Cleveland led 7-5.
The ensuing York kickoff was taken at the Houston 11 and returned to the 32 where Allen and company took the field trying to take the lead back before halftime.
After moving just inside Cleveland territory Allen fumbled the ball on a 3rd and 2, forcing another punt. The Johnston kick went out of bounds at the Browns 9, giving Watson and company one more chance to put points on the board before intermission.
Watson couldn’t gain any ground and Houston got the ball back at their 26 with 32 seconds and 2 time outs left. Houston went three-and-out once again and after a Johnston punt the Browns got one more shot with 11 seconds left in the half. The Browns ran 2 plays and the half ended.
Cleveland received the second half Johnston kickoff and punted the ball away, setting Houston up on their 1. On the third play of the possession Allen fumbled the ball and Denzel Ward grabbed the loose pigskin and ran it 3 yards into the end zone for a Browns TD with 10:10 left in the third quarter. York added the PAT and Cleveland advanced their lead to 14-5.
On their next possession Fairbairn notched a 35-yard field goal with 5:08 left in the quarter, capping off a 7-play, 59-yard drive that consumed 5:02 off the third quarter clock, bringing the score to 14-8 in favor of Cleveland.
There was no further scoring until York nailed a 43-yard field goal with 9:36 remaining in the game. The drive was 11 plays, 42 yards and took 5:58 off the clock. That moved the score to 17-8 in favor of the Browns.
Houston got the ball back after a touchback and on the first play from scrimmage Allen had a pass bounce off his intended receiver and into the arms of Tony Fields II who took the theft into the end zone for a pick-6 with 9:30 left in the game. York added the extra point and the Browns lead advanced to 24-8.
Houston’s defense forced a punt and on the return there was a fumble and Cleveland recovered at the Houston 32 with 5:29 left in the game. Houston held defensively and York came out and connected on a 42-yard field goal with 4:03 left in the game. The drive was 4 plays, 8 yards and took 1:26 off the clock. The successful kick put the Browns up 27-8.
The Texans got their first and only TD of the day with remaining in the game when Allen hit Nico Collins from 6 yards out with 1:57 left in the game. Houston went for 2 on the extra point try. A pass from Allen intended for Jordan Aikins fell incomplete, bringing the score to 27-14 in favor of the Browns. The drive was 7 plays, 75 yards and took 2:06.
The Texans tried an onside kick but the ball went out of bounds at the Houston 46 after being touched by a Browns player, giving Cleveland the ball at that spot. Watson knelt 3 times and the clock ran out.
Coach Lovie Smith addressed the media after the game and talked about Watson’s return to NRG Stadium and his thoughts on the team’s 10th loss.
“A game like this, we understand the amount of attention that it got. But once all that kind of leaves a little bit, it normally comes down to what most games come down to. One statistic that tells the story of a game is the turnover ratio. Whenever you talk about non-offensive touchdowns, you give up three, that’s going to be tough to win. So, offensively, got to protect the ball better. We had some opportunities down in the red zone, weren’t able to cash in. Dameon Pierce plays the way he always does, runs hard, gives the offense some life, but we as coaches have got to do a better job. Player-wise, offensively, we can’t win many games playing like that. Special team-wise, we played great special teams throughout the year. Today, we can’t give up a long punt return. We had a lot of missed tackles on that punt return. Of course, we’ve got to protect the ball better when we have it down there – that led to three more points. So, if you play that way offensively and special team-wise, it is going to be tough. But just looking at the entire game defensively, I thought the guys put together really six good quarters of defensive football. Today, to keep them out of the end zone was big. We knew they were one of the best in the league at running the football, but I thought the guys continued to give us a chance until it got out of hand there at the end.”
Things get even harder the next two weeks as Houston travels to Dallas to take on the Cowboys who demolished AFC South’s Indianapolis Colts 54-19 on Sunday Night Football this coming Sunday and then Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs invade NRG Stadium on Sunday, December 18th.
Sadly, for Houston the season can’t end soon enough. If there is any silver lining to the 2022 season, the Texans will have the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft next April.