BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Feeling far less pressure or hostility, Deshaun Watson looked relaxed, confident and more like a franchise quarterback in his second game for the Cleveland Browns.
After his dreadful debut, the bar was low.
But last week in Cincinnati, Watson rebounded and showed improvement across the board.
However, not enough for him.
“I have a long way to go,” he said Wednesday while preparing to play his first home game on Saturday against Baltimore.
Following a rough return at Houston in his first game since being reinstated from an 11-game suspension for alleged sexual misconduct against two dozen women, Watson played much better last week in a 23-10 loss to the Bengals.
The 27-year-old showed flashes of being the three-time Pro Bowler, 2020 NFL passing leader and dazzling, dual-threat QB who convinced the Browns to gamble their future — and face public scorn — in signing him.
Watson made a jump, just not the huge leap he envisioned.
“I’m not close to where I’m at and I don’t want to be where I was in 2020,” Watson said. “I wanna be better. I want to continue to improve. I want to be that player whenever I step on the field, no one can stop us.
“But you have to go out there and continue to show that and try to do that and not just talk about it, but actually prove it on the field. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, and this team also is nowhere near where we want to be, so we gotta continue to just keep growing and finish the season strong.”
Watson’s shaky first start included inaccuracy and impatience in the pocket among other issues. Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was pleased with the QB’s bounce back.
“He made some really nice throws. Got through the progressions. Got to second and third targets through the progression,” Van Pelt said. “That’s where I saw the biggest jump. His footwork was improved for sure. He’s just going to continue to improve. I thought it was a good step.”
The Browns (5-8) aren’t going to the playoffs. They haven’t officially been eliminated, but that will come soon enough as their current odds of making the postseason are at less than 1%, per several handicapping sites.
Cleveland’s role will be as a spoiler during a four-game stretch that will serve as Watson’s tuneup for 2023.
That’s reality. However, Watson isn’t quite ready to accept the Browns’ fragile state this December.
“I can’t control how the rankings and status are,” he said. “The only thing I can control is to try to win. So if we can win Saturday, the next two weeks and finish out the season strong, then who knows what can happen?”
The Browns didn’t know exactly what to expect from Watson two weeks ago in his first regular-season game in 700 days. His performance turned out to be so poor that any improvement would be viewed as progress.
His statistics were pedestrian in Cincinnati — 26 of 42 for 276 yards with one touchdown and one interception — but Watson was more focused on other aspects and gave himself passing grades.
“Just everything,” he said when asked to identify areas of growth. “The mechanics, to the operation of the offense, to decision-making to completing balls on time. Just everything was a complete improvement for my game.”
There were mistakes. Watson missed some open receivers, had timing issues on routes and Cleveland’s offense scored one TD after being blanked a week earlier.
In two games, Watson has led the Browns to 16 points over 21 possessions.
It should get better. It has to get better.
And until it does, Watson won’t rush things.
“I don’t put limits on myself,” Watson said. “I don’t put timetables on myself. Each and every day I just try to find a way to improve. So if that’s mentally. If that’s leadership. If that’s the student of the game, play-calling, getting on the same page with coach Kevin (Stefanski) and those guys.
“Ever day is an opportunity for me to improve. So I don’t want to put any limits or timetable on myself because I’m setting myself up for who knows, disappointment or something like that if I don’t meet that timeline.”
NOTES: Cleveland was missing some big names from practice as DEs Myles Garrett (shoulder) and Jadeveon Clowney (ankle), WR Amari Cooper (core muscle), S John Johnson III (knee), LG Joel Bitonio (rest) and RT Jack Conklin (rest) all worked on the side. … Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he appreciated that rookie K Cade York campaigned hard to try a 67-yard field goal to end the first half last week. The Browns opted to try a Hail Mary. “I was happy that he did that, he is competitive and he is very confident,” Priefer said. “I love that about him.”