CLEVELAND — Deshaun Watson’s season is over, once again leaving the Cleveland Browns without a franchise quarterback.
Watson will miss the rest of his second year with Cleveland after sustaining a fracture in his throwing shoulder, an injury that came during his best performance since joining the team following a controversial trade in 2022.
“I’m still in disbelief,” Watson said Wednesday.
Watson will undergo surgery to repair the fracture in his right shoulder, which happened during last Sunday’s 33-31 win in Baltimore on an unspecified hit in the second quarter. The team said an MRI revealed a displaced fracture to the glenoid.
The Browns (6-3) must go forward without Watson and coach Kevin Stefanski said rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson will start Sunday against the Steelers (6-3).
It will be the second start for Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round pick from UCLA who made an emergency start on Oct. 1 against Baltimore when Watson was ruled out just before kickoff with a shoulder strain.
Thompson-Robinson had a rough pro debut, throwing three interceptions in a 28-3 loss. But now he’ll have more time to get ready, and Stefanski is confident Thompson-Robinson will fare better.
“I want to give him a week where he knows he’s a starter,” Stefanski. “He gets a full week of preparation.”
Stefanski’s other option was P.J. Walker, who started two games and came off the bench in another for Watson. Walker had six turnovers in three games, throwing a late interception that led to a loss in Seattle.
Watson said he has “no idea” when the fracture happened, but knew by the end of the first quarter there was a problem.
“I kind of recognized something was wrong, but during the midst of the game, I was just pushing through whatever I was feeling,” said Watson, who was also in a walking boot. “And then after the game, and Monday and Tuesday we got testing done and that’s when I found out from the doctors that it was something worse than what we thought it was.”
Watson paused for several seconds when asked about his emotions at his season being over.
“It’s very tough,” he said. “But I’m going to make sure I keep my head above water and make sure I stay in touch with all the guys and support them as much as I possibly can and attack this rehab process after surgery and make sure that I’m doing whatever I can to be beneficial for the team while not actually being on the field with them and also prepping for the next year.”
Browns general manage Andrew Berry said the fracture is not related to the strained rotator cuff that Watson sustained earlier this season.
“We are very disappointed and devastated for Deshaun, especially given all that he has battled and gone through medically this season,” Berry said. “We look at this as an incredible challenge and opportunity for our organization.”
Berry credited Watson for staying on the field against the Ravens and leading the Browns to the last-second win despite his shoulder injury and a high left ankle sprain.
“He really didn’t start even really feeling it to the second half of the game and that he didn’t even really raise it until well after the game,” Berry said. “It’s an incredible display of physical toughness for him to play with that and not even notice it given the severity of the injury.”
Watson will go on season-ending injured reserve, a devastating blow to the Browns, who are in the playoff race and invested $230 million into the 28-year-old whose arrival seemed to end their long search for an elite quarterback.
Now, Watson will have to work his way back from a shoulder injury with just three seasons left on his deal.
It’s the latest setback for the Browns, who have managed to stay in the playoff hunt despite losing star running back Nick Chubb and Pro Bowl right tackle Jack Conklin to season-ending injuries and playing without Watson for several games.
Berry said the team will add a third quarterback, but did not give any details.
The Browns traded three first-round draft picks last year to Houston for Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler who wound up being suspended for 11 games by the NFL after he was accused of sexual assault and harassment by more than two dozen women during massage therapy sessions.
Watson, who has made just 12 of 26 possible starts since coming to Cleveland, twice twisted his left ankle Sunday but insisted on staying in. He completed 14 of 14 passes in the second half while leading the Browns to one of their biggest wins in years.