CLEVELAND (AP) — Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s strong training camp and preseason persuaded the Browns to install the rookie as Deshaun Watson’s backup.
That decision looked very flawed on Sunday.
With Watson sidelined by a bruised right throwing shoulder, Thompson-Robinson made his NFL debut and looked overwhelmed and overmatched throughout Cleveland’s 28-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Under duress from Baltimore’s defense, Thompson-Robinson showed none of the poise that made him so impressive this summer. He was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and had a fumble.
“I have a lot to clean up,” said the fifth-round pick from UCLA. “Going out there for the first time and now actually getting some tape to watch on myself to see what I need to correct. There’s definitely a lot to clean up.”
Watson was unable to play with the shoulder he injured last week in a win over Tennessee. He had his best performance in nine starts since joining the Browns in that game but took a hard shot to the shoulder on a called running play in the second half.
He barely threw during practice this week, and the Browns listed him as questionable while holding out hope he’d be able to play.
But after a 10-minute pregame workout watched closely by head trainer Joe Sheehan, coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry, Watson informed the Browns he couldn’t go.
“He pushed himself. He tried,” said Stefanski. “He did everything in his power to get ready, but just did not feel comfortable earlier this morning and didn’t feel like we could put him out there. He knows his body. I trust him.
“He tried like crazy to make it. It’s not a pain tolerance thing. As everybody knows, his history speaks for itself. In terms of that, he just didn’t feel like he could operate at enough of a level to play for us today.”
Watson was not available for comment after the game.
The Browns are entering their bye week, giving Watson more time to heal before they host San Francisco on Oct. 15.
Stefanski said Watson did not sustain any tear or separation and that his shoulder is structurally sound.
Asked if Watson will be ready for Cleveland’s next game, Stefanski said, “I do. I think obviously having the bye helps.”
The Browns felt so good about Thompson-Robinson and his progress in July that they traded veteran quarterback Joshua Dobbs to Arizona for a fifth-round draft pick in 2024. The move was risky because it meant that if Watson got hurt, Thompson-Robinson would have to step up.
His baptism against the Ravens was brutal.
The 23-year-old, who made 48 starts in college, rarely appeared confident and his stat line — 19 of 36 for 121 yards — didn’t fully capture his struggles. Thompson-Robinson threw several passes that were nearly picked off, and the three the Ravens grabbed were balls he forced into tight coverage.
“He battled,” Stefanski said. “Listen, I know there’s going to be plenty that he can do better. I know plenty that I can put him in a better spot. But the kid battled.”
Receiver Amari Cooper thought Thompson-Robinson did his part.
“I don’t think we did as much as we could for a young guy,” said Cooper, who was called for holding on Cleveland’s first play, wiping out a 26-yard run by Jerome Ford. “We’ve got to be better.”
The Browns’ defense didn’t do enough, either. The group came ranked first in the league in every major statistical category but couldn’t contain Lamar Jackson as Baltimore’s bewildering QB ran for two touchdowns and threw for two scores.
Cleveland lost star running back Nick Chubb to a season-ending injury in Week 2, one week after right tackle Jack Conklin went down with a knee injury. Now, the Browns have to hope Watson recovers or a season that began promisingly could quickly deteriorate.
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