By TOM WITHERS – AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) – Deshaun Watson took it back and in one motion made it known he was back.
After weeks of waiting for Watson’s right shoulder to get stronger, Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper knew instantly that the Cleveland quarterback was back.
“If he wasn’t feeling good, he wouldn’t have thrown the ball deep,” said Cooper, who hauled in Watson’s pass in the first quarter for a 59-yard gain. “So when he threw that, I’m like, okay, cool. We will go.”
Watson had two touchdown passes – one for Cooper that ricocheted off Arizona’s helmet – in just his second start in five weeks as the Browns stuffed the Cardinals, holding them to 58 yards in Sunday’s 27-0 victory.
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Cleveland’s first shutout since 2007 was overshadowed by the return of Watson, who played in his first full game since Sept. 24, when he took a hit on a running play and sustained a strained rotator cuff in his shoulder.
Although there were moments of rust and he looked unsure at times coming off the layoff, Watson showed he can withstand some punishment as he completed 19 of 30 passes for 219 yards – 139 to Cooper.
It was far from perfect, but just being on the field was enough to satisfy Watson.
“This is what I’ve been preparing and training really hard to get back to,” he said. “Just going out there and playing free and being able to be really close to myself and go out there and compete and have fun with my teammates. That’s what today brought.”
He also delivered the strongest performance to date by Cleveland’s offensive defense.
The Browns (5-3) overwhelmed rookie Clayton Tune and the Cardinals (1-8) from the start. The Browns recorded seven sacks by Dalvin Tomlinson getting to Tune 2 1/2 hours.
The Cardinals ran just five of 48 plays on Cleveland’s side of the field and never got deeper than the 44.
“We couldn’t run it. We couldn’t defend it. We just couldn’t throw it,” first-year Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon said.
Watson, who gave the Browns hope he was ready to practice three straight days this week, connected with Cooper on an 11-yard scoring pass. He also connected with tight end David Njoku on a 5-yarder.
Unlike Cooper, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said he thought Watson looked himself much earlier.
Kareem Hunt had a 3-yard TD run and Dustin Hopkins kicked two field goals for Cleveland.
Arizona has lost six straight.
The Cardinals announced Saturday that Tune, a fifth-round pick out of Houston, would start in place of Kyler Murray, who is close to returning from a season-ending knee injury suffered last December.
Tune was the obvious choice after Arizona traded Joshua Dobbs, its starter in the first eight games.
And if it wasn’t bad enough for the Cardinals to get swept by the Browns, Dobbs had his first game for Minnesota, coming off the bench and leading the Vikings to victory over Atlanta.
Tune couldn’t get anything going against the Browns, who pressured him on almost every snap. He completed 11 of 20 passes for 58 yards with two interceptions.
“Frustration, of course,” Tune said. “Disappointment. I wanted to go out and put on a better performance.”
The Browns barely let him breathe. Arizona had just 31 yards at halftime as the Cardinals’ first half possessions went punt, punt, punt, interception, punt and punt. It wasn’t much better after half time.
“It feels great,” star defensive end Myles Garrett said. “I haven’t been off for a while, and it was a great back game. We are not playing to the standard of defense that we have set, and we played with our hair on fire.”
The Browns led 13-0 at halftime on the strength of two field goals by Hopkins and a fluky touchdown, which came after Denzel Ward was picked off by Tune.
Cleveland took a huge punt on the score and Watson’s throw deflected off the helmet of Cardinals defensive lineman Dante Stills, caromed high in the air and was caught by Cooper in the end zone.
A week ago, the Browns fell victim to a similar play when a late pass by backup QB PJ Walker bounced off the helmet of a Seattle blitzing defender and was picked off, setting up the Seahawks’ comeback win.
“The God of football owes us one,” Cooper said.
Cooper also hauled in a 49-yard pass from Watson on a play designed by the pair on the sideline.
“They pulled up in the dirt,” Stefanski said. “I called him.”
Arizona’s 58 yards were the third fewest allowed by the Browns in team history. Cleveland gave up 47 to Chicago in 2021 and 53 to Pittsburgh in 1989.
Cardinals: LB Zaven Collins was evaluated for a concussion in the first half and returned. … OLs Will Hernandez (knee) and DJ Humphries (ankle) both went out in the second half. … DL Roy Lopez was also treated for an undisclosed injury.
Browns: Starting LT Jedrick Wills Jr. left. on crutches with his right leg immobilized after being fouled in the third quarter. … WR Marquise Goodwin left with a head injury early in the third quarter. He was helped off the field and taken straight to the locker room for evaluation and treatment.
Cardinals: Host the Falcons on Nov. 12.
Browns: Visit AFC North-leading Baltimore on Nov. 12.
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