NFL Insider Gives Major Deshaun Watson Injury Update vs. 49ers

Getty Quarterback Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns.

The San Francisco 49ers are preparing for Sunday’s home matchup vs. the Cleveland Browns as the top team in the NFL according to nearly every ranking.

Still, head coach Kyle Shanahan tries hard to keep his team focused on the immediate task at hand and this week’s matchup vs. Cleveland won’t be a cakewalk, especially if starting quarterback Deshaun Watson is under center for the Browns.

On Wednesday Oct. 11, NFL Insider Ian Rapoport provided an update on Watson’s status heading into Sunday’s matchup in San Francisco.

“Deshaun Watson did not practice today for the Cleveland Browns, I would say putting his availability for Sunday’s game in some doubt,” Rapoport said. “He’s dealing with a rotator cuff bruise, essentially bruising around the rotator cuff that limits the way he can throw the ball and forced him to look not exactly like himself.”

While Watson has struggled to find a consistent rhythm in Cleveland since taking over as the starter late in 2022 after a lengthy suspension, his last outing against the Tennessee Titans was arguably one of his best performances with the Browns. Watson finished the game 27-of-33 for 289 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, helping Cleveland cruise to a 27-3 victory.

There’s been uncertainty swirling around the severity of the shoulder injury Watson suffered on a running play against Tennessee. It unexpectedly kept him out of the Oct. 1 matchup vs. the Baltimore Ravens despite being cleared to play.

Although Watson was limited in the week leading up to the Baltimore game, he was expected to start. But the Browns’ starting QB couldn’t throw a pass got more than a few yards when he got to the stadium, forcing Cleveland to turn to rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who struggled mightily in his NFL debut. The 5th-round pick out of UCLA finished the game 19-of36 with no touchdowns and three interceptions as Baltimore came away with a dominant 28-3 win.

Browns Coach Sounds Unsure About Watson 

After the loss to the Ravens, Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski was more than optimistic Watson would be ready for the 49ers, especially considering Cleveland is coming off a bye-week.

But on Wednesday, just four days before the road matchup vs. San Francisco, Stefanski’s tone changed significantly according to the Associated Press.

Stefanski was asked if Watson’s playing status could come down to a game-time decision.

“We’ll see how the week goes,” he said. “I’m really focusing on today.”

Still, it’s clear the Browns’ front man isn’t overly confident Watson will be available.

“I don’t care if it’s ankle, knee, shoulder, you have to be able to do your job and you have to be able to function and be able to do all the things that are asked of you to play your position,” Stefanski said. “So that’s really what it is. Making sure that he continues to rehab and get to a place where he’s able to do his job at a high level.”

Browns Will Start Veteran if Watson Out vs. 49ers

While the No. 1 ranked 49ers defense will likely have a game plan for Watson in place and may alter it slightly if he doesn’t end up playing, they won’t have the benefit of facing a rookie like the Ravens did on Oct. 1.

Instead, Stefanski elevated veteran signal caller P.J. Walker from the practice squad to the No. 2 spot over Thompson-Robinson — and if Watson isn’t able to play on Sunday — Walker will get the start for the Browns.

Stefanski was asked about the significant change at backup quarterback for his team. 

“Just felt like it was the right decision for the team,” Stefanski said. “P.J.’s been here now for a month plus, getting a better understanding of what we do.”

While the 49ers defense hasn’t made it easy for any opposing quarterback they have faced in 2023 — ranking third in the NFL in yards per pass — Walker’s veteran presence makes the move understandable. 

He went 4-3 in seven starts with Carolina over the past three years.

“With a veteran, he’s played in some games. He’s won some games,”  Stefanski said. “Obviously, P.J, is not 40, but he’s played in some games. He’s been around a little bit. He’s played in different systems. So he’s getting comfortable with what we do here.”