Deshaun Watson is back.
His 11-game suspension is over, and the NFL’s most controversial figure is set to play in a game, on Sunday, for the first time in nearly two years.
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Where? In Houston. Where the multi-talented quarterback began his promising pro career with the Texans in 2017. Where more than two dozen female massage therapists alleged he subjected them to acts of sexual misconduct, harassment or assault from 2020-21. And wherefrom he was traded by the Texans in March to his current club, the Cleveland Browns.
Look, the league is coming off a week when it had its largest-ever single-game TV viewership, as some 42 million Americans took in the Cowboys-Giants late-afternoon game. But this week, all eyes will be on Watson. In the leadup to the Browns-at-Texans game, and surely during it for those able to watch it.
Millions of North Americans rightly remain outraged that Watson even will be playing in it. For them, his negotiated suspension of 11 games without pay will never be enough penance for the serial massage-arranger, whose purported disturbing misbehaviours, granted, were never proven in court — or even admitted to by Watson himself.
In fact, the 27-year-old doubled down on his innocence, only minutes after the compromise punishment was announced back on Aug. 18, and only days after giving obviously insincere interview answers, in which he said, “I’m truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation.”
With his punishment finally settled, and a full year’s or even an indefinite suspension avoided, Watson discarded such concerns and instead unhesitatingly revealed his true feelings on that hot summer day at Browns headquarters.
“I’ll continue to stand on my innocence,” he said. “Just because, y’know, settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean that a person is guilty of anything. I feel like a person has an opportunity to stand on his innocence and prove that, and we’ve proved that from a legal side. (I’m) just going to continue to push forward as an individual, and as a person.”
We’ll probably never know for sure the full extent of Watson’s off-field actions in this ignoble regard. But we do have a pretty good idea.
A New York Times report in June said Watson arranged private massages away from Texans facilities with at least 66 different women over a 17-month period from 2020-21, and that the Texans even provided him with non-disclosure agreements to give to each therapist. And this past July, all 30 women who had been suing the Texans, as being culpable in the QB’s alleged disturbing sexual misconduct, settled out of court.
Watson’s camp all along has argued that any sexual activities that might have occurred between the passer and any therapist were completely consensual.
“I never assaulted anyone. I never disrespected anyone,” Watson insisted in June. “I never forced anyone to do anything.”
August’s long-negotiated compromise punishment, you may recall, also included a $5 million fine for Watson, plus mandatory evaluation of him by, and subsequent treatment from, behavioral experts. In all seriousness, hopefully the latter is changing the man for the better.
Regardless, Watson may now resume his playing career as one of the highest-paid players in league history, because the Browns in March instantly rewarded him with a new $230 million, five-year deal that is so sweepingly back-loaded, he has lost far less than $1 million in suspension pay, excluding the $5 million fine.
By terms of his punishment, Watson was permitted to resume practising and meeting with coaches two weeks ago. On Monday afternoon he was fully reinstated.
The Browns are 4-7, unlikely to make the playoffs what with only six games to make up so much ground, record-wise. Watson’s new team, indeed, has myriad roster holes and other issues; the Browns seemingly always will be the Browns.
If you’re among those outraged he’s back at all, let alone so soon, maybe there will prove comfort in this.
The last season Watson played, 2020, the similarly roster-challenged Texans went 4-12. Watson is carrying a five-game losing streak as starter, in which span he threw nine TD passes against only two picks, for a bunch of yards — but he was sacked a hard-to-believe 21 times in those five games.
His last game until now was played on Jan. 3, 2021. Quarterbacks are never tackled in practice, so — even including a brief preseason appearance this past August, in which Watson completed 1-of-5 passes for seven yards against a lot of backups — he has not faced a bona fide, live, NFL defence at any point over the past 22 months.
In no way can he be fully prepared for such pressured pocket decision-making, even against the team with the worst record in the league, Houston.
So, if the Texans defence ‘brings the house’ on most passing downs, to apply extra pressure with the hope it mucks him up more in that regard, few in North America will be reaching for the tissue box.
FIVE FAST FACTS
Josh Jacobs leads the league in rush yards (1,159), scrimmage yards (1,484) and first downs (80) … Patrick Mahomes has passed for 1,533 more yards than Marcus Mariota (2,052) … Minnesota is allowing more pass yards than any team … Russell Wilson has eight TDs after 10 games, when two years ago he had nine after two … Dallas (7-5, 8-3) and San Francisco (6-5, 7-4) are the only NFC teams the past two seasons to enter December with a winning record.
Indianapolis on Monday afternoon elevated Canadian tight end Nikola Kalinic from its practice squad, for the third straight week. Kalinic is from Toronto’s Etobicoke community, and starred at York University before playing the last two seasons with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats … Carolina head coach Steve Wilks on Monday confirmed Sam Darnold will remain QB starter following this week’s bye, but was non-committal as to whether Baker Mayfield would back him up, if PJ Walker is ready to return … Rookie Minnesota CB Andrew Booth was to undergo knee surgery Monday, which possibly might not end his season … NFL Network said Cincinnati WR Ja’Marr Chase is set to return to action this week, and that Tampa Bay RT Tristan Wirfs is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with an ankle injury … Some type of stomach flu or other illness has been sweeping through the Colts facilities … Jalen Hurts on Sunday night became one of only four QBs ever to both throw and run for 150 yards in a game … The Saints hadn’t been shut out in 332 games, dating back to 2001.
TAKING A KNEE
Of all teams currently in playoff position, the New York Giants seems most tenuous, and unlikely to last.
Since the last week of October, rookie head coach Brian Daboll’s team is 1-3 — still unable in most games to score more than 20 points, but now defensive cracks are doing them in.
In starting the season 6-1, the Giants never allowed as many as 24 points. But during the current four-game slump they have allowed 31, 28 and 27 points. QB Daniel Jones and the offence can’t score enough to win those kinds of games, despite Daboll — and offensive guru — wringing everything he can out of the offensive talent on hand.
Worse for the Giants, their three NFC East rivals are playing their best ball of the season. Since late October. Philly is 4-1 and Dallas and Washington are 3-1.
The Giants still play both the Eagles and Commanders twice, with Minnesota and Indianapolis to round out their remaining schedule.
A lot needs to happen for the Giants now to even secure a wild-card playoff berth.
All 32 starting QBs, after Sunday games, with last week’s rankings in brackets:
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City (1). Up next, the Bengals.
2. Josh Allen, Buffalo (2). That clutch rope to Diggs … Wow.
3. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati (3). Reason Bengals beat Titans.
4. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami (4). A real test comes this week.
5. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia (8). Authored beatdown of Pack.
6. Dak Prescott, Dallas (7). Arguably has never looked better.
7. Justin Herbert, L.A. Chargers (9). Elite throwing to win it.
8. Geno Smith, Seattle (6). Still made fab plays in defeat.
9. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay (5). Time to stop taking days off?
10. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota (12). Maybe he is Top 10 now.
11. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (11). Gallant effort at Philly.
12. Matt Ryan, Indianapolis (13). Played Monday night.
13. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore (10). If he had better WRs.
14. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Fran (15). Needs to shine more.
15. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville (25). He’s busting out.
16. Kyler Murray, Arizona (16). This even feels generous.
17. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee (17). Needs King to romp.
18. Jared Goff, Detroit (18). Ever one pass from victory.
19. Derek Carr, Las Vegas (19). Helps when Jacobs goes off.
20. Taylor Heinicke, Washington (21). Did enough, barely.
21. Justin Fields, Chicago (22). Late scratch. Back vs. Pack?
22. Mike White, N.Y. Jets (NR). Now, can he stay this high?
23. Daniel Jones, N.Y. Giants (24). Ceiling getting lower.
24. Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland (29). In the end, wasn’t bad.
25. Russell Wilson, Denver (23). Who can explain this guy?
26. Mac Jones, New England (26). Still not as good as 2021.
27. Andy Dalton, New Orleans (20). Bench beckoning.
28. Sam Darnold, Carolina (NR). Won in first action of 2022.
29. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh (28). Played Monday night.
30. Marcus Mariota, Atlanta (30). Comes up short so often.
31. Kyle Allen, Houston (NR). First start at Miami? Mulligan.
32. Bryce Hopkins, L.A. Rams (NR). Tough spot. At K.C.
Quick thoughts on Week 13 games (all on Sunday unless noted):
• Bills at Patriots
• Steelers at Falcons, 1 ET: Atlanta still well within playoff reach, if only by winning its awful division. A must-win.
• Broncos at Ravens, 1 ET: Sure feels as though things are fast falling part for Denver. Complete disaster of a season.
• Packers at Bears, 1 ET: Well, will the owner of the Bears franchise (Aaron Rodgers, don’cha know) even play?
• Jaguars at Lions, 1 ET: This could be as interesting and competitive a game as we’ll see between losing-record clubs.
• Browns at Texans, 1 ET: Deshaun Watson makes his return, in Houston of all places. There. Will. Be. Booooos.
• Jets at Vikings, 1 ET: Can Mike White repeat that performance against a real defence? Can’t wait to find out.
• Commanders at Giants, 1 ET: Guess what? If Washington wins it would drop the sagging Giants into last in NFC East.
• Titans at Eagles, 1 ET: What a game this could be. Tennessee’s defence is no pushover. Ask Mahomes.
• Seahawks at Rams
• Dolphins at 49ers
• Chiefs at Bengals
• Chargers at Raiders
• Colts at Cowboys
• Saints at Buccaneers
BYES: Cardinals, Panthers. Last one’s next week.