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Browns bottle up Burrow, Watson throws two touchdowns in 24-3 win

Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns
In his first game with the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Deshaun Watson takes his team to victory against long-time rivals the Cincinnati Bengals.

It looked like the Cleveland Browns had new life last Sunday as they won a home opener for the first time since 2004. The victory unfolded in front of a sold-out crowd of 67,919 that witnessed the 100th “Battle of Ohio” between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Browns. A strong defensive performance held the NFL’s new highest-paid player—quarterback Joe Burrow signed a five-year, $275 million extension just two days before kickoff—to a measly 82 yards passing as he completed just 14 out of his 31 attempts.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson, in his first opening appearance with the Browns, was the better of the two quarterbacks in this matchup. Though he missed 11 games last season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, Watson completed 16 out of his 29 attempts for 154 yards passing, a passing touchdown and an interception. Watson did a lot of his damage on the ground, carrying the ball 5 times for 45 yards and scoring a rushing touchdown with an outstretched arm. Watson also rushed for a two-point conversion to make the score 24-3, which proved to be the nail in the coffin for the Bengals.

The rushing attack was a theme all afternoon for the Browns, who amassed 206 total rushing yards. Running back Nick Chubb continued to prove himself as a premier running back in the league by carrying the ball 18 times for 106 yards.

Out in the rain before the game, the Browns honored Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, the leading rusher in Browns’ history. Brown died in May at age 87. Chubb led the team onto the field with a flag emblazoned with Brown’s number 32. Browns players will wear a 32 patch all season, and Brown’s number is painted on both sidelines. The rain set the tone for the defensive slugfest that was chock full of sloppy moments, with both teams struggling to get any offense going or even handle the ball. Burrow later blamed his inability to get the offense going on the wet conditions.

The teams combined for 17 punts, 2 turnovers and under 500 yards of total offense. The Bengals converted just two third downs all game (out of 15), but the Browns were not much better (4-14). Nevertheless, the Browns absolutely dominated this matchup, having 21 first downs to Cincinnati’s 6 and running an efficient offense in the latter three quarters of the game. The win represents new hope for the long-struggling franchise and earned them a spot in pundit Stephen A. Smith’s top 5 NFL teams at No. 4.

Browns fans hope that Watson returns back to the form he had in his previous life as a Houston Texan and that coach Kevin Stefanski continues the renaissance of a Browns team that has made the playoffs just twice since their return to the NFL in 1999. One stumbling block has already appeared: starting right tackle Jack Conklin tore his ACL and MCL in the first half of Sunday’s game and will be out for the rest of the season. Rookie Dawand Jones, a fourth-round pick out of Ohio State University, filled in for Conklin and did quite well.

The Browns remain hopeful about the season and will take their positive momentum into a marquee Monday night matchup with their heated rival the Pittsburgh Steelers. That game will air on ABC at 8:15 p.m. EST.

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