Watson was part of a fumbled handoff that ended one drive against the Kansas City Chiefs, then threw two incompletions while going three-and-out on the next.
But the $230 million quarterback eventually settled down, leading Cleveland to touchdowns on his next two drives, before the Chiefs rallied behind a host of backups for a 33-32 victory in their preseason finale.
“It was good for us to be able to deal with some adversity early on,” said Watson, who is coming off a disappointing six-game stint a year ago, which followed an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy.
“We made some plays overall, and we kind of moved the ball. We had guys touch the ball and things like that.”
That includes the defense, where the Browns got pick-6s from Juan Thornhill and Caleb Biggers in taking a 29-16 lead.
After the Chiefs rallied to go ahead 30-29 late in the fourth quarter, struggling Browns kicker Cade York hit a 40-yard field goal to regain the lead. Kansas City marched the other way and Harrison Butker answered from 44 yards, and York’s last chance to play the hero with 53 seconds remaining was partially blocked and never had a chance.
“People gave me pats on the back, but I hate pity,” said York, who also missed an extra point Saturday and whose job may be in jeopardy. “I know how good I am and it’s been the most frustrating thing the last month, struggling with that.”
Watson played sparingly in the Browns’ first three preseason games, so coach Kevin Stefanski gave him the entire first quarter against Kansas City (2-1). He finished 5 of 10 for 92 yards and a touchdown pass to David Njoku.
“He got, I think it was about 20 plays and it felt like we saw everything in those 20 plays,” Stefanski said. “There were throws downfield, there were scramble plays, there was third down and there was some really good balls and some things I’m sure he wants back. We got into a bunch of different situations there which was really, really helpful to put Deshaun in.”
Otherwise, both teams rested many of their stars in their preseason finale — Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce did not play for Kansas City, and Myles Garrett sat out for Cleveland — and left a collection of backups to decide the outcome.
Despite the precautions, the game proved costly for Cleveland (1-2-1) on the injury front.
Jakeem Grant Sr., who had returned after tearing his Achilles tendon last summer, was carted off with what Stefanski called “a significant” knee injury while returning the opening kickoff. Top cornerback Denzel Ward ended up in the concussion protocol, defensive tackle Jordan Elliott hurt his hip and linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk injured his knee.
Shane Buechele, who has been in a tight competition with Blaine Gabbert for the Chiefs’ backup quarterback job, was just 8 of 17 for 89 yards with a touchdown and two picks — including Thornhill’s return for a score against his old team.
Gabbert fared marginally better, going 10 of 18 for 169 yards with two TD passes and an interception.
Justyn Ross and Ihmir Smith-Marsette had touchdown catches for Kansas City as they fight for the last wide receiver spots before Tuesday’s deadline for roster cuts. La’Mical Perine was another other bright spot, potentially locking up a backup job in the backfield by running for 32 yards while catching three passes for 44 yards and a score.
“I saw some good things. There was a couple things we need to work on,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Obviously too many turnovers and they cost us points. You can’t have that for sure.”
Browns: Garrett did not suit up for any of the Browns’ preseason games. RB Nick Chubb, who had a career-best 1,525 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns last season, and All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio also sat out Saturday.
Chiefs: Mahomes was 12 of 17 for 120 yards with a TD pass during his preseason work. Other starters joining the league MVP and Kelce on the sideline included linebacker Nick Bolton, who had 180 tackles in a breakout season a year ago.
Browns: RT Jack Conklin (concussion) did not play despite returning to practice this week. RB Jerome Ford (hamstring), SS Grant Delpit (arm) and WRs Marquise Goodwin (illness) and Anthony Schwartz (hamstring) also did not play.
Chiefs: LB Leo Chenal left in the first quarter with a hamstring injury, and WR Kadarius Toney (knee) and CB L’Jarius Sneed (knee) did not play. RB Isiah Pacheco (shoulder) made his preseason debut, running once for no gain.
Browns: Open the season against AFC North rival Cincinnati on Sept. 10.
Chiefs: Play the Lions on Sept. 7 in the NFL’s regular-season opener.