To say Deshaun Watson had a rough outing in the Cleveland Browns' 26-22 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football would be a gross understatement.
Watson caused three of the Browns' four turnovers in the loss, two of which resulting in Pittsburgh touchdowns.
On the first play of the game, Watson threw a pick-six to Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith, who returned the deflected pass 30 yards for a score.
Highsmith would frustrate Watson again with less than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter with a strip-sack. T.J. Watt scooped up the loose ball and returned it for what would prove to be the winning touchdown for the Steelers.
It gets worse. Twice during the second half, Watson killed Cleveland drives with two 15-yard facemask penalties, making contact with an official after one of them.
From last night:
Deshaun Watson appears to shove an official, wasn?t ejected or flagged
— lindsey ok (@lindseyyok) September 19, 2023
The NFL announced they will not discipline Watson for the contact, saying it did not warrant punishment.
"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 league said in a statement per NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero "In this instance, in their judgment, the contact did not rise to the level of a foul."
However, according to Pelissero, Watson could still face discipline for the two blatant facemask penalties.
The NFL's decision comes as a bit of a surprise. After all, the league rarely passes up a chance to fine or suspend a player for less egregious offenses. According to the rule, unnecessary contact with a game official is considered a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the player is often ejected. A referee can not be shoved, struck or needlessly touched. In this case, the league did not consider Watson's act serious enough to punish him.
It's one thing to have an off-night making costly plays. Watson, however, continues to display a troubling pattern of behavior since his career took a nosedive following allegations of sexual assault and harassment by over 20 women he interacted with as early as 2019. The Browns aren't paying him a $230 million guaranteed contract to repeatedly lose his composure with childish behavior. He already served an 11-game suspension last season due to the sexual assault allegations. He's lucky to have avoided more time off the field with this incident, at least for now.
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