BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson won't practice this week or play this Sunday in Seattle.
Those are the only absolutes at this point as Cleveland's quarterback continues to struggle with a right shoulder injury that started out as seemingly minor and become somewhat mysterious over the past month.
Learning from another tough lesson last week, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski ended speculation about Watson's game status on Wednesday by ruling him out against the Seahawks (4-2) and saying P.J. Walker will start.
Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson will back up Walker.
Watson remains slowed by a strained rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder, an injury he initially sustained on Sept. 24 and has already kept him out of three games. A three-time Pro Bowler in Houston, Watson has made only nine of 23 possible starts since signing a $230 million fully guaranteed contract with the Browns last year.
He was suspended 11 games in 2022. This season, the shoulder has shelved him.
Stefanski said an MRI taken on Monday did not reveal Watson sustained any new damage to his shoulder after taking a hit during a start Sunday at Indianapolis that lasted only 12 plays.
Stefanksi added that Watson is dealing with “residual swelling" that’s affecting his ability to throw.
"I feel like this is the best decision for this week,” Stefanski said. “He’s trying like crazy. This is not for lack of effort. He’s making every effort he can to be out there. But with the hit he took, with the swelling, it makes the most sense to focus on rehab this week and then he’ll be out there as soon as he’s ready.”
Stefanski said surgery has not been discussed because there is nothing to repair. It's simply a matter of Watson being able to throw pain-free and with velocity.
Watson, who practiced last week for the first time in nearly three weeks, did not speak to reporters during the open locker room period.
With Watson out, the Browns (4-2) can give all the practice reps to Walker, who started an Oct. 15 upset of San Francisco and came off the bench Sunday. Helped by two questionable penalties called against the Colts defense, Walker led the Browns on a game-winning TD drive in the final minutes of a 39-38 victory.
Watson looked ready to play last week after practicing twice. He wasn't.
The Browns listed him as questionable going in and were confident he could perform. But it became clear quickly against the Colts that Watson's wasn't right. He threw an interception on Cleveland's second possession and was nearly picked again while being shoved down and banging his head and shoulder hard on the turf.
Although cleared for a possible concussion, Watson didn't return as Stefanski decided to stay with Walker, a former QB in the XFL, who in a blink has risen from the practice squad to Cleveland's active roster.
Watson said last week he has “microtears” in his rotator cuff, an injury that normally takes up to six weeks to heal.
The Browns now seem intent on giving Watson all the time he needs.
Although the team anticipated Watson playing on Oct. 1 against Baltimore, he didn't. Stefanski pushed back on the idea the injury was misdiagnosed.
“Every injury, you take in information every single day," he said. "So, in that way, you’re day to day. He’s going to focus on rehab this week. But throughout his rehab, you’re going to continually find out every single day how he’s feeling, how he’s progressing through it.”
Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. has spoken to Watson and said he's disappointed by the situation.
However, as one of the team's captains, he's still trying to lead despite not being on the field.
“It’s tough. He understands that,” said Walker. "But he’s a tough-minded person. I talked to him the last couple of days just about his role and he understands that and we want him healthy. So, he’s fine. Trust me, he’s a tough-minded guy. He’s going to do everything to battle and get back as soon as possible and when that is we’ll need him.
"Obviously, he’s our franchise quarterback. We all believe in him in his locker room, defensively, offensively, special teams. We all believe in him, and he understands that.”
NOTES: The Browns earned a win Sunday and two honors. Defensive end Myles Garrett and kicker Dustin Hopkins were selected as the AFC Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Week, respectively. Garrett had nine tackles, two strip-sacks and blocked a field goal when he jumped over the line from a three-point stance. Hopkins won for the second week in a row after making four kicks at Indy, including a career-best 58-yarder. He's the first kicker in NFL history to make a field goal of at least 50 yards in five straight games.
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Tom Withers, The Associated Press