CLEVELAND (AP) — Deshaun Watson ran for a touchdown and threw for another, and Cleveland's defense bottled up Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow — the NFL's new highest-paid player — as the Browns opened the season with a 24-3 win over the Bengals on Sunday.
Watson bolted for a 13-yard TD late in the first half, making the kind of dynamic play the Browns (1-0) envisioned when they signed him to a $230 million contract in 2022. He missed 11 games last season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
Watson is in uniform from the start this season, and his presence has Cleveland expecting big things.
He added a 3-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to tight end Harrison Bryant, and Watson celebrated by skipping down the field in front of Cincinnati's sideline before converting the 2-point try with a run up the middle.
Burrow had a rough opener, two days after signing a five-year, $275 million extension — giving him the highest average annual salary in league history. The Browns held Burrow to a career-worst 82 yards passing (14 of 31) as Cleveland's rebuilt defensive line pressured him all day.
Myles Garrett sacked Burrow on fourth down with 10:27 left to help seal Cleveland's stunningly easy win over the AFC North champions. The Browns forced the Bengals to punt 10 times in 14 possessions.
The Bengals (0-1) pulled Burrow with 5:15 left, and he spent the remainder of the game watching with his arms folded on the bench.
Dustin Hopkins kicked three field goals — from 42, 34 and 43 yards — in his debut for the Browns, who traded for him last month after cutting Cade York.
The 100th “Battle of Ohio” was short on memorable moments, but Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski improved to 6-1 against the Browns' in-state rival.
Watson's scoring run on a perfectly designed draw play put the Browns up 10-0 at the end of a sloppy first half in which the teams combined to punt 11 times.
Out of timeouts, the Browns overloaded the right side before Watson took the snap and sprinted left for the end zone, getting a seal block from wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt celebrated with a big hug after their QB crossed the goal line.
Burrow missed most of training camp with a calf sprain and didn't appear to be as mobile as usual. The misty, wet weather didn't help him either as he struggled to get a good grip in the first half before putting on a glove.
Cincinnati punted seven times in the opening half, crossed midfield twice and picked up 97 yards.
The Browns honored the late Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown throughout the home opener. Brown, the leading rusher in team history, died in May at age 87.
Nick Chubb led the Browns onto the field carrying a flag bearing Brown's No. 32. He ran to the other end zone and handed it to Brown's son, Aris.
Cleveland's players are wearing a 32 patch on their jerseys this season and his number is also painted on both sidelines.
Bengals: Stay inside the AFC North, hosting Baltimore next Sunday.
Browns: A Monday night trip to Pittsburgh to play the rival Steelers on Sept. 18.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Tom Withers, The Associated Press