Sunday was an important data point for the Cleveland Browns. Their defense has carried the weight for the majority of this season, buoying an offense that owns one of the worst passing games in the league. Through three quarters of their 33-31 win over the Ravens, that looked true once again. Deshaun Watson giftwrapped the Ravens a touchdown on his first pass of the game and only managed one touchdown drive through the three quarters.
However, Watson and the Browns’ offense were able to flip the script and finally get moving against a quality opponent. The Browns scored 16 points in the final quarter, which included multiple key plays for a quarterback that has yet to live up to the massive cost, on and off the field, that Cleveland paid to acquire him.
“Guy’s a dawg,” Browns star pass rusher Myles Garrett said. “We’ve known that for a long time now. Kept on trying to tell y’all, once he hits his stride he’s gonna be back to his previous ways of dominating the league.”
Through the first half of this game, Watson looked like has for the vast majority of his Browns tenure: completely unplayable. In the first two quarters, Watson completed 6 of 20 passing attempts for 79 yards and the pick 6. He was inaccurate, frenetic under pressure and bailed on passing concepts early as the Ravens’ pass rush closed in. Once again, it looked like Watson was stumbling his way toward ridicule with a performance that made him an anchor. Even though Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was having an up-and-down performance, Watson wasn’t creating any counterpunches to keep the Browns in the game.
Then, the story changed for Watson, and the Browns and they got their first true glimpse at the ceiling of this team if their quarterback can play up to a previously set standard. The fourth quarter was a tale of opposite performances for Watson and Jackson. Jackson struggled to get anything going, completing only one of his five passing attempts for 11 yards and an unlucky interception that was returned for a touchdown.
On the other hand, Watson completed all seven of his passing attempts for 88 yards and a touchdown and was able to create the plays needed to secure a Browns’ victory late in the game.
“The second half,we didn’t back down,” Watson said. “We came out on fire. … It was definitely a big moment for us.”
This is the complementary football that has evaded Cleveland for the majority of this season. Too often they’ve been forced to rely on their defense to suffocate offenses while their own offense dragged their feet throughout the game. That’s not a sustainable plan to win and part of the reason why the Browns felt like they needed to spend three first-round picks and $230 million guaranteed on a quarterback. Even the best defense in the league needs help from time to time and the Browns have largely had disappointing quarterback play against quality opponents outside of today.
It wasn’t just the fourth quarter in which Watson had success, it was really the entire second half. Watson completed all 14 of his passes after halftime with a conservative approach from the Browns’ passing game, but it was still enough for him to be a positive influence on their chances to win. If the Browns can figure out ways to increase Watson’s productivity like they did against the Ravens, they can be legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the AFC.
The timing is great for the Browns’ quarterback to finally play up to his perceived talent level. Cleveland is currently tied for second in the AFC North with games against the Steelers, Broncos and Rams coming up on the schedule. The expectations are going to be ramped up again for Watson now that he’s shown he’s capable of this performance against a Ravens defense that has eviscerated almost every quarterback and offense they’ve faced this season. If he can do it against Baltimore, he should be able to do it against any defense the Browns face.
Overall, the Browns’ investment in Watson is still looking like a major dud, but a game like this can get the ball moving back in the right direction for their current and future prospects of winning. There’s still a long way to go before the Watson trade can be considered a good move for the Browns on the field, but Sunday’s game against the Ravens showed that his talent level hasn’t completely dissipated over the past few seasons.