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NFL won’t suspend Deshaun Watson after contact with official Monday night

Deshaun Watson couldn’t get away from, or beat, the Steelers on Monday night.

At least he avoided a suspension Tuesday.

Watson made contact with an official near the Steelers sideline in the third quarter of the Browns’ 26-22 loss in Pittsburgh. Watson ran a quarterback draw and was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness for grabbing the face mask of linebacker Kwon Alexander on a stiff-arm and throwing him to the ground on the sideline.

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Linebacker Nick Herbig got in Watson’s face, and Watson barked at him and then an assistant coach. Umpire Barry Anderson walked Watson back toward the field, and Watson used his hands to move Anderson to the side as he continued to yell at the assistant and point. Browns center Ethan Pocic and tight end David Njoku finally helped push Watson toward the middle of the field.

“Officials are called upon to maintain order on the field, and sometimes while performing those duties, there is inadvertent contact between players and officials,” the NFL said in a statement Tuesday. “In this instance, in their judgment, the contact did not rise to the level of a foul.”

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Watson won’t be fined for that. He will most likely be fined for the penalty and a similar second face mask in the fourth quarter as he scrambled.

After the game Watson denied touching the official.

“Me and the ref was having conversation,” he said. “There wasn’t no contact with the ref.”

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Watson was penalized in the fourth quarter for grabbing and twisting the face mask of defensive tackle Montravius Adams Sr. as he tried a stiff-arm to escape the pass rush.

“Obviously you can’t grasp it,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “You can’t pull it. He knows that. I don’t see that as a problem going forward.”

Things didn’t go much better when Watson threw.

He went 22-for-40 for 235 yards, a touchdown, an interception, six sacks, two lost fumbles and a 70.3 passer rating as the Browns fell to 1-1. He had the ball twice in the final seven minutes but couldn’t put together a drive, going 3-for-7 for 30 yards with two sacks and a 3-yard scramble.

“I feel like tonight it was sh****,” Watson said of his performance. “As far as my part, it’s not good enough.

“I can take the full blame, I can take the criticism and I’m going to do that. And I told everyone in our offense, the whole team, I’m going to do better for this team, for this organization so we can win games like that.”

Stefanski said Tuesday the responsibility shouldn’t fall all on Watson.

“We all have to play better,” he said. “I’ve got to coach better. It runs the gamut when you’re talking about winning and losing in the NFL.

“For us as an offense, it’s very, very obvious. We can’t turn the ball over four times. We call them giveaways. We can’t give them anything.”

Watson’s first pass went off tight end Harrison Bryant’s hands, was intercepted by linebacker Alex Highsmith and returned 30 yards for a touchdown. He lost two fumbles — a fourth-and-1 keeper and a strip-sack that was recovered by T.J. Watt and returned 17 yards for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Njoku fumbled for the other turnover.

“That starts with me as a quarterback, as the leader, I can’t allow that,” Watson said of the sloppiness.

“It’s never about one person,” Stefanski said. “I completely understand that the quarterback gets way too much of the credit, way too much of the blame. That’s just life of being a quarterback in the NFL.”

Stefanski was asked what makes him confident Watson will work through his issues.

“I know what he’s made of,” Stefanski said. “I know how he works, and I expect him to come in here ready to work tomorrow. That’s really where the focus is.”

Through two games Watson has completed 55.1 percent (38-for-69), and ESPN has his off-target pass rate at a league-worst 27.6 percent, which doesn’t include spikes and throwaways. He’s made eight starts with the Browns after the 700 days between games and the 11-game suspension, and the results remain mixed.

“There’s plenty of good out there on tape,” Stefanski said. “We’ve just got to build off of it.”

The coaches redesigned the offense in the offseason to suit Watson, and Stefanski was asked how concerned they are with how it looks.

“My concern is we lost the game last night,” he said. “We’re a 1-1 football team. We have a 1-1 football team (Titans) coming to our place next week.

“We have to play better, particularly on offense. We have to take care of the ball and we need to put our guys in a position to succeed. But in terms of big picture, I really narrow my focus and just worry about what we can do better moving forward.”

Watson was hit 11 times by the Steelers. The protection was certainly an issue, but he also continues to look slow making some decisions while hanging onto the ball too long.

“I’ve just got to get the ball out quicker,” he said.

 

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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