CLEVELAND (AP) — Two years ago, Deshaun Watson experienced a wild winter storm off Lake Erie in his only start in Cleveland.
He created the one he’s playing through now.
Watson, who spent the first 11 games this season serving an NFL suspension for alleged sexual misconduct, makes his home debut Saturday as the Browns (5-8) host the Baltimore Ravens without star Lamar Jackson while dealing with their own unique quarterback issues.
This will be Watson’s third game back, but first in front of Cleveland fans, some of whom have been put in the awkward position of cheering for a player they might otherwise boo if he were wearing other colors.
Watson was verbally targeted two weeks ago in his hyped return to Houston, and he encountered a similar reception last week in Cincinnati. It could be that way for some time for the three-time Pro Bowler, who was accused of harassment and assault by two dozen women.
With the Browns’ playoff hopes far-fetched at best with four games left, the 27-year-old Watson didn’t want to venture a guess as to what type of response he’ll get at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“My main objective for this weekend is going out there and just showing this crowd and showing the Cleveland fans and this city that we going out there to compete and this season is not over for us,” he said. “I can’t control what the reaction’s going to be.”
Watson’s bigger concern might be the greeting he gets from the Ravens (9-4), who are tied with Cincinnati atop the AFC North and intend to stay there.
“We want to give him a not-so-soft welcoming,” Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “It’s cool to welcome him to the rivalry. It’s interesting to see when guys come in this AFC North. It’s not sweet over here.”
When Watson visited with the Texans in 2020, he was treated to one of those weather days that make playing in Cleveland a unique challenge. There were gusty winds, rain, hail, lightning and sunshine — all before the national anthem. The opening kickoff was delayed 35 minutes.
Hardly a chamber of commerce day.
“That was crazy,” Watson said. “That was something I was nowhere close to expecting and wasn’t used to. It was like five different weather changes in an hour, so it was pretty nuts.”
Watson played much better in a loss to the Bengals last week after a rough start against the Texans in his first regular-season game in 700 days. He’s nowhere close to where he wants to be or where the Browns expect him to get after investing $230 million into him to be their franchise QB.
Before they signed him, Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam considered how he might handle Cleveland’s disagreeable weather before Watson, who initially rejected their offer, assured them he was prepared for the cold.
Of course, a record-setting contract warmed him up.
“I told him (Jimmy Haslam) at the end of the day, it’s football,” Watson said. “You can get any weather in any situation other than playing in a dome. But for me, my main focus was just — what is the locker room? What is the organization? How can we go win a Super Bowl? That was my main focus and that’s why I chose Cleveland.”
THE OTHER GUY
Jackson’s knee injury will keep him out for a second straight week, giving Tyler Huntley the start.
Huntley cleared concussion protocol Friday after getting hurt last week in a win over Pittsburgh. Although not as dynamic as Jackson, he’s also a handful — as the Browns learned last year.
Huntley replaced an injured Jackson and rallied the Ravens from a 17-0 deficit before losing 24-22. He went 27 of 38 for 270 yards and a touchdown and added 45 yards rushing.
“He’s fast. He’s elusive,” Browns star end Myles Garrett said. “He’s a lot of the things that Lamar is. It just felt like you were trying to chase down a chicken doused in honey or something.”
BACK IN BUSINESS
With their quarterback situation unsettled, the Ravens will likely lean on a running game that got a major boost last week with the return of explosive back J.K. Dobbins.
Playing for the first time since Week 6 due to a knee issue, Dobbins rushed for 120 yards and a TD.
It was the first time Dobbins and Gus Edwards (66 yards) played in the same game since the 2020 season.
The Ravens gashed the Steelers for 215 yards rushing last week and lead the league with 179.7 in road games.
ROQUAN THE ROCK
Baltimore’s defense looks different from when the Browns faced it in October.
Roquan Smith has changed the Ravens — for the better.
In the five games since Smith arrived via trade from Chicago, the Ravens have allowed the fewest yards rushing (55) and the second-fewest points (13.4) and touchdowns (6).
“I know him well just having seen him over the years with the Bears,” said Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who faced Smith twice a year when he was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator. “He is excellent sideline to sideline. He is great taking on blocks. He is good in the pass game. He is a very athletic player. I do think now that he has been there for a little while he has a very good feel for what they are doing. He fits what they do.”