The Cleveland Browns were showered with boos as Deshaun Watson made his debut on Friday against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the preseason.
It’s something that veteran guard Joel Bitonio expects to be a common occurrence this season when the Browns are away from Cleveland.
As Watson stepped under center in orange and brown for the first time, boos and vulgarities filled the air at TIAA Bank Field. The Browns can only expect that noise to increase during the regular season, especially within the AFC North.
“It seems like more than ever, ‘Cleveland against the world,’” Bitonio told reporters on Sunday when asked about the boos. “So we’ll be ready for it.”
Fans expressing their clear displeasure with Watson, who has been the center of an investigation surrounding accusations of sexual misconduct during massage therapy appointments.
“I’m sure every stadium we go, we’ll be booed,” Bitonio said. “I don’t know if it will get worse. I think people get tired of booing, you know? But I’m sure every time he goes out there, there’ll be some sort of boo to start the game and we’ll kind of go from there.”
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski also addressed the noise from the crowd but is stressing that it’s something his squad will not be focused on as they look to return to the postseason after missing out a year ago.
“It’s our job to focus on the things that are important in those game settings,” he said. “We’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we focused on anything that people were saying about us before the game, during the game, after the game, those type of things.”
Watson May Not See Field This Season
How Watson is received in visiting stadiums around the league might be a moot point, considering it’s still up in the air whether or not he’ll even see the field this season. The NFL appealed the six-game ban handed down by independent arbitrator Sue L. Robinson and air aiming for a year suspension along with a hefty fine.
It’s currently unclear when that final decision will come down, although the appeal — being heard by former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey — is expected to be handled expeditiously.
Watson previously said he had “no regrets” over his situation but changed his tune in a pregame interview with Aditi Kinkhabwala on the Browns’ pregame show.
“I’m truly sorry to all the women that I’ve impacted in this situation,” Watson said. “My decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position, I would definitely like to have back. I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character. I want to keep pushing forward.”
Deshaun Watson Shaky in Debut for Browns
Watson was shaky at best during his brief, three-series outing, going 1-of-5 for 7 yards. However, Bitonio thinks the three-time Pro Bowl passer was just knocking off some rust.
“I haven’t talked to him about that,” Bitonio said. “I’m sure not playing football in however long it’s been is probably a bigger concern. But the crowd was loud for a preseason game in Jacksonville. They got pretty loud down there.”
The Browns will begin to transition their quarterback reps this week, with Jacoby Brissett picking up more of the starting work. The 29-year-old veteran is expected to be the starter for at least the first six games with Watson out.