By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Deshaun Watson feels like he’s finally back to being himself.
Everything that prevented him from playing like an elite quarterback in 2022 — the long layoff, a lengthy suspension — has been shaken free.
“I’m not thinking about no rust,” he said. “That was last year. I missed ball.”
Watson came within a yard of a perfect start to his preseason, and Jacoby Brissett had a TD run in his return to Cleveland as the Washington Commanders beat the Browns 17-15 on Friday night in an exhibition delayed more than an hour at the start by a storm.
Watson took the Browns (1-1) on a 67-yard drive to Washington’s 1-yard line in his one series.
His performance — 3 of 3 for 12 yards, 20 yards rushing — was far better than his preseason debut a year ago, when he completed just one pass at Jacksonville just days before being suspended by the NFL.
“I wouldn’t say satisfied because we didn’t get into the end zone,” he said. “But it was exactly what the coaching staff wanted us to do.”
Washington’s Sam Howell, who is trying to hold onto his starting job, threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jahan Dotson and had a few other nice moments in his two series. He finished 9 of 12 for 77 yards.
Howell was replaced by Brissett, who went 4-7 in 11 starts for Cleveland in 2022 while Watson was out. The 30-year-old scampered 12 yards for a score in the second quarter to put the Commanders (1-0) ahead 14-2.
When he came in, Brissett received a loud ovation from Cleveland fans.
“That was awesome,” he said. “Did not expect that. I really enjoyed my time here. A lot of the people, the players, the coaches, and the staff there I have a lot of respect and love for that organization.”
Browns rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw a TD pass to David Bell in the third, and Kellen Mond’s 20-yard scoring pass to Mike Harley Jr. with 1:39 left brought Cleveland within 17-15.
The Browns’ 2-point attempt failed.
The opening kickoff was pushed back 70 minutes by a thunderstorm that blew in just before the scheduled 7:38 p.m. start.
Fans were advised to “seek shelter immediately” and many scurried from their seats into the concourses and stadium tunnel ways. During the delay, Commanders coach Ron Rivera and several of his players came out of the locker room to check on the weather and to find out if there would be a game.
Rivera and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski decided to play most of their starters despite the wet field conditions.
Watson arrived at Browns Stadium wearing a No. 32 Jim Brown throwback jersey. The team invested $230 million in him despite Watson being accused of sexual assault and harassment by more than two dozen women.
Even when he returned, Watson rarely played up to expectations while going 3-3 in six starts. The Browns are counting on much more this season — so is Watson.
“I played six games last year, and I had a full offseason,” he said. “So I’m not using no excuses for rust or anything like that. I’ve got to be ready for this moment. So all that rust and all the other stuff that’s left in 2022, I’m focused on 2023 and making sure that I’m ready for September 10 (the season opener).”
Watson’s got some new weapons and he quickly connected with one, throwing a 6-yard pass to Elijah Moore on Cleveland’s first play. Watson also showed his elusiveness, pulling free from Chase Young for a 9-yard run.
Moore left the field after Cleveland’s opening series. The team said X-rays on his ribs were negative.
It was Washington’s first game under new owner Josh Harris, who intends to take the franchise in a positive direction after Dan Snyder’s troubled tenure.
Rivera presented Harris with a game ball.
“It was a preseason game, and we told him a win’s a win, and you can always keep this one,” Rivera said. “The guys were pretty fired up and looking forward to the opportunity to give him one for real.”
The Commanders did have a bit of a turbulent week.
Rivera had to clarify his remarks after making headlines by saying some players had expressed concern over first-year offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s fiery style.
That all seems in the past now.
“I thought his play-calling was really good,” Rivera said about Bieniemy. “I love his positivity when he’s talking to the quarterback. He would call a play and tell them, ‘Hey this should work, let’s go get it.’ I just love the way he does that.”
Cleveland’s Cade York had his second miss of the preseason, pushing a 46-yarder right in the third quarter. He missed a 49-yarder last week. Stefanski, though, insists he’s not lost confidence in York, who also struggled as a rookie.
“I think Cade is working his craft like all young players do, so very confident in him,” Stefanski said.
Commanders: LBs Milo Eifler and De’Jon Harris were both shaken up when they collided breaking up a pass in the third quarter.
Browns: CB A.J. Green (shoulder) was hurt in the first half. … LB Jacob Phillips (shoulder) went out in the third.
Commanders: Host Baltimore on Aug. 21.
Browns: Head to Philadelphia for a pair of joint practices against the defending NFC champions before an exhibition on Thursday. The teams had a similar week against each other last year in Cleveland.