CLEVELAND — Deshaun Watson dropped to a knee for the third time to extinguish the final seconds. He turned and walked alone, taking a few steps before tilting his head back screaming into the frosty air.
This win meant a little bit more.
“It was special,” he said.
Watson threw a touchdown pass in his home debut for Cleveland, leading the Browns to an ugly 13-3 win on Saturday over the Baltimore Ravens, who need injured star quarterback Lamar Jackson to get back quickly.
In his third game after serving an 11-game NFL suspension for alleged sexual misconduct, Watson wasn’t spectacular. But he did enough to help the Browns (6-8) keep their miniscule playoff hopes alive while knocking the Ravens (9-5) off stride.
Baltimore had won six of seven. But the loss knocked the Ravens out of first in the AFC North, dropping them a half-game back of Cincinnati pending the Bengals’ game at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Before he left the field, Watson let all his emotions pour out.
“It was a lot,” Watson said, explaining his feelings at the conclusion. “Just to be able to get my first victory in my first home start, just to get a victory against a tough divisional team. Last week we wanted that one, and it didn’t go our way.
“It was me just soaking in the moment and releasing all the energy and the happiness I had in myself. I just wanted yell that and scream that out. I feel like everyone needs that every once in a while.”
Watson, who connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones on a 3-yard TD pass in the third quarter, left FirstEnergy Stadium with a game ball tucked under his right arm.
Watson finished 18 of 28 for 161 yards, and added 22 on the ground. He’s still not close to playing like a three-time Pro Bowler or franchise QB, but there’s no doubt he’s getting better every time.
“He’s trending upward, which we knew he would do,” said Browns star Myles Garrett, w ho had 1 1/2 sacks. “He’s a baller.”
Browns rookie Cade York made two field goals — and missed two tries — but outkicked Ravens All-Pro Justin Tucker, the league’s most accurate kicker, who missed a 48-yarder and had another attempt blocked by Cleveland defensive tackle Jordan Elliott.
Jackson missed his second straight game with a knee injury, and the Ravens aren’t the same without his dynamic playmaking ability.
Tyler Huntley, who was only cleared from concussion protocol a few days ago, started again for Jackson but couldn’t get Baltimore going. Huntley went 17 of 30 for 138 yards, but threw a critical interception inside Cleveland’s 10 in the third.
Baltimore’s J.K. Dobbins ran for 125 yards, and the Ravens rolled up 198 yards rushing. But forced to throw while playing from behind in the fourth, Huntley couldn’t come up with a big play.
“We have to just have a better passing game, basically,” coach John Harbaugh said with Huntley sitting nearby. “It’s not a good enough passing game right now across the board to do the things that we’re hoping to do. So, that will be priority one.
“Every area can get better at something in certain things, but from an offensive standpoint, that’s something that we have to go to work on, and we will.”
After Denzel Ward intercepted Huntley, Watson directed a 91-yard scoring drive, delivering his TD strike to Peoples-Jones with 2:10 left in the third.
Without Jackson, the Ravens have been relying on their solid running game, strong defense and Tucker’s trusted leg to keep them in the playoff hunt.
The formula worked the previous two weeks, and despite some offensive issues, Baltimore was positioned to tie it at 6 before Tucker hooked a 48-yard attempt on the final play of the second quarter.
Tucker apologized to his teammates following the game.
“I let a number of them know that this one is on me,” Tucker said. “As someone who feels like I’m a leader in this locker room, I think that’s the example that needs to be set.”
It didn’t get much better for Baltimore in the second half.
“Very frustrating,” Huntley said. “You have to score to win, so I’m very mad that we didn’t.”
The Ravens have been encouraged by Jackson’s progress and are hoping he’ll return to practice this week and possibly play on Saturday.
Jackson was injured in the first quarter of Baltimore’s 10-9 win over Denver on Dec. 4.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and some of his staff ran the stadium’s steps before the game to raise awareness and funds for the The Coach Knapp Memorial Fund, established for longtime NFL assistant Greg Knapp.
The 58-year-old Knapp was killed in 2021 by a distracted driver while cycling.
Ravens: Harbaugh did not have an update on massive DT Calais Campbell, who hurt his knee in the fourth quarter. He was able to walk off under his own power. … CB Marcus Peters went out in the third quarter with a calf injury and didn’t return.
Browns: DE Jadeveon Clowney sustained a head injury late in the second quarter. … S John Johnson III (thigh) went out in the third quarter, shortly after forcing and recovering a fumble.
Ravens: Host Atlanta on Dec. 24.
Browns: Host New Orleans on Dec. 24 in their home finale.