This game, regardless of the Houston Texans’ or Cleveland Browns’ potency, was circled on the calendar for a reason. Deshaun Watson’s return to NRG Stadium to face his former team, despite what Watson and the Browns may want to believe, was an event that existed beyond football. But, when the game began, any sense of vengeance or closure from one of the most controversial players in Texans history was replaced by the numbing mediocrity that Texans fans have gotten all too used to experiencing on Sunday afternoons.
Deshaun Watson’s first snap and the reception from the crowd. pic.twitter.com/ghJXNqPS8M— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) December 4, 2022
This was the dramatic, dreadful moment Deshaun Watson returned to the NFL, kicking off the next chapter of his now infamous career in the same building where it all started. Watson has made it clear his aim to “move on” and enter this new chapter with eyes towards the future, not the past. But Houston made it very clear that he cannot simply run from the past, and that there will be no escaping those that know the truth of who he is.
But, that isn’t to say his attempts at “moving on” from a past that he vehemently denies the truth of isn’t rubbing off on fans and players alike:
Deshaun Watson with his former teammates, handing jerseys out. pic.twitter.com/XBgpKS8rv2— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 4, 2022
As football spectators, long have we accepted the fact that we must embrace reprehensible people as our gladiators on Sundays. Long have we turned a blind eye to the horror they have inflicted upon the world around them in a twisted embrace of their “heroism” on the field. Through our selective gaze, these players have been able to reject the reality of their actions and assume a sort of existence held by many rich and powerful people: immunity to the consequences of their actions, especially if they continue to be entertaining.
"Keep it going. Take a deep breath...It's going to take a little bit...I love you," Brandin Cooks, Texans WR, says to Deshaun Watson after Sunday's game at NRG (via @mikeorta) @KHOU @wkyc pic.twitter.com/1mm0vJIjYB— Jason Bristol (@JBristolKHOU) December 5, 2022
In a way, Watson is right that he and many others have “moved on” from his off the field issues. They have, as they have always, skipped any kind of public reflection or reconciliation of his actions with the aid of the media and spectators that have joined them, and returned to business as usual. Time and time again, they have found redemption in denial. On Sunday, Houston collectively had a chance to function as roadblock to Watson’s attempts to ignore the past. For once, the jeering fans, the media, and the football team shared a goal to force this person to remember what he had done. But, as with every game this season, Houston’s ugly ineptitude washed away any chances for retribution, both real and imagined. While they held Watson out of the end zone, they could not prevent him from winning, and while he left the team under absolutely infamous circumstances, the media and players alike could not help themselves and embraced the big lie with a hug and a handshake.
While many fans had and will continue to surround these players with reminders of the truth that they cannot escape, the silence of the empty seats and the failure to create any kind of “revenge game” quelled any kind of cinematic end to a story that only stings more the longer it is ignored.
Here’s where everyone is ranking the Houston Texans after their loss to the Cleveland Browns, becoming the first team eliminated from playoff contention:
32. Houston Texans (1-10-1)
Week 13 ranking: 32
We’re No. 1 in ... opposing quarterbacks’ red zone completion percentage.
The Texans’ defense is holding quarterbacks to a completion of 40.4% in the red zone, the best in the NFL. It’s part of the reason they allow touchdowns on only 51.28% of opposing offenses’ trips, seventh best in the NFL. They also have two interceptions in the red zone, which is tied for third most.
— DJ Bien-Aime
32. Houston Texans (1-10-1)
Previous rank: No. 32
Texans fans served up loud boos for Deshaun Watson on Sunday, expressing their displeasure with the Browns quarterback who began the second half of his career as a visitor in the stadium once packed with fans who adored him. So much has changed since the final game of the 2020 season, and the Texans are still very much digging out from the wreckage caused by Watson’s alleged misconduct, their internal reaction to those actions and the resulting blockbuster trade that sent the quarterback to Cleveland. The result of Sunday’s game — a 27-14 loss — was an afterthought: This game was less a competition and more like another hurdle this team needed to clear in its attempt to start over.
- Dan Hanzus
PRO FOOTBALL TALK:
32. Texans (1-10-1; No. 32): Twenty years after they were the most recent expansion team, maybe it’s time to start thinking about contraction.
- Mike Florio
32. Texans (32): Gotta be disheartening to get blown out at home against your former franchise quarterback when your defense doesn’t surrender a touchdown while forcing two turnovers.
- Nate Davis
32. Houston Texans (1-10-1 | last week: 32)
Whether it’s Davis Mills or Kyle Allen, the Texans’ quarterback situation is horrid. Mills ranked 36th among qualifying starters in EPA per dropback through the first 11 weeks of the season; Allen ranks 33rd in the same metric in his two weeks as the starter. The only thing Houston has to look forward to is that it’s almost a sure thing they’ll own the no. 1 pick in the draft and get their choice of QBs around whom they can rebuild.
- Austin Gayle
32. Houston Texans (1-10-1)
Last week: loss vs. Cleveland, 27–14
Next week: at Dallas
The Texans were flagrantly bad against the Browns on Sunday. While, as a former Browns fan, I agree with the woman in the stands who said she would rather be 1-9-1 than have Watson, it doesn’t mean this is an enjoyable fan experience. That said, there has to be something exciting about sitting in Nick Caserio’s position. In terms of equity, your team is loaded. There aren’t many better opportunities for GMs out there at the moment.
- Connor Orr
32. Texans (1-10-1)
They find new ways to lose games, but it’s the same story. They are bad as they head to Dallas to play the Cowboys.
- Pete Prisco
32. Houston Texans (1-10-1)
Last Week: 32
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Cleveland 27-14
The Houston Texans have seemingly decided that just getting beat is boring. That being drilled is drab. That being pounded is pedestrian.
No, the Texans have to lose with panache—like losing by double digits in a game in which they didn’t surrender an offensive touchdown.
No, really. The Texans allowed a punt return touchdown by Donovan Peoples-Jones, and the nadir of an atrocious second start by Kyle Allen were fumble and interception returns for scores.
Houston’s defense tried to keep the team in the game, allowing just six points and 304 yards of offense. But as head coach Lovie Smith said after the loss, an offensive offense didn’t hold up its end of the deal.
“I think our defense played well throughout, [but] their defense outplayed our defense today,” Smith said. “Offensively you can’t win many games playing like that. I’m just disappointed in how we played offensively.”
Here it is. The plain truth. The Texans are terrible. The worst team in the league by a sizable margin. Over the next three weeks, Houston will be demolished by Dallas, killed by Kansas City and trampled by Tennessee. Maybe Houston can squeak by the Jaguars or Colts at the end of the year. But at this point all that would accomplish is jeopardizing the No. 1 overall pick in 2023.
- Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton, Brent Sobleski
32. Houston Texans (1-10-1, Last Week: 32)
The Texans never should have switched to Kyle Allen at quarterback. Allen has posted a 60.6 passer rating while Houston has become wholly uncompetitive. The Texans should go back to Davis Mills unless their plan was to play Allen to tank for the first overall draft pick. If that was the plan, it’s working.
- Frank Schwab
On Sunday, the Texans travel to Dallas to take on the 9-3 Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. This in-state rivalry has contained several exciting moments in recent years as both Houston and Dallas occupied a similar space of mediocrity in the field of NFL teams. This year, it’s not quite the same.
At least Deshaun Watson isn’t on this team, anymore.