Deshaun Watson throws a pass in practice as he prepares to make his debut as Cleveland Browns quarterback after serving an 11-game NFL suspension in the wake of sex assault accusations / © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File
Deshaun Watson says he's "locked in on being the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns" as he prepares to helm the team in Houston on Sunday in his return from an 11-game NFL ban.
Watson was suspended for violating the league's personal conduct policy after more than two dozen women accused him of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions.
Watson missed the entire 2021 season amid the allegations while with the Houston Texans. He didn't face criminal charges and landed a five-year, $230 million deal with the Browns.
His long-awaited debut will come against his former team in Texas, where attorney Tony Buzbee said this week that some 10 of the Watson accusers he represented were planning to attend the game.
"They thought it important to make clear that they are still here and that they matter," Buzbee said.
"I'm not worried about the atmosphere," Watson said Thursday in his pre-game press conference.
Watson has denied wrongdoing, and on Thursday deflected questions about the accusations, his suspension and the counselings that the NFL mandated he receive.
"There are only football questions that I can address at this time," he said. "I'm focusing on football.
"At this time, I can't address any of that stuff. Who knows what the future holds? Right now, I'm locked in on being the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns."
Watson took his first throws as the Browns starting quarterback in practice on Wednesday.
He takes over a Browns team that are 4-7, tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers behind the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals -- both at 7-4 -- in the AFC North division.
Jacoby Brissett guided the Browns to a dramatic 23-17 comeback win over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, but the Browns are hoping the arrival of Watson will expand their offensive horizons and resuscitate their playoff hopes.
"He's special," running back Nick Chubb said. "He's a playmaker. He puts the ball exactly where he needs it to go. Guys like that. Guys are excited. We all are. We're ready."
Elsewhere, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was planning to lead the Packers against the Chicago Bears despite being forced out of the team's 40-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday with a rib injury.
The four-time and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player said after the game that he went to the locker room to get checked out because of the intense pain and trouble breathing that had him fearing a punctured lung.
But Rogers, who was already playing with a broken thumb, said on Wednesday he was "feeling better than I thought I was going to feel ... definitely encouraged by the last couple of days."
Rodgers expects to play through pain on Sunday but "nothing that I can't deal with."
- Eagles flying high -
And he's eager to try to pile up a few more wins, even though the 4-8 Packers' playoff hopes are all but dead, and not yet contemplating stepping aside for young backup and heir apparent Jordan Love.
"Pride, for one. Love of the game," said Rodgers of soldiering on. "I love to compete, and I want to be out there with my guys."
The 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles could clinch a playoff berth on Sunday, but they'd need plenty of help to lock up a post-season spot this early along with a victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Philadelphia's dynamic quarterback Jalen Hurts piled up 310 total yards -- including 157 rushing yards -- in last week's victory over Green Bay.
Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel, whose Titans top the AFC South, is the latest to try to figure out how to stop -- or at least slow -- Hurts.
"He's going to be difficult to defend," he added of the QB who has accounted for 25 touchdowns -- 17 passing and eight rushing -- this season.