CLEVELAND (AP) — Deshaun Watson reared back and in one motion signaled his return.
After waiting weeks for Watson's right shoulder to get stronger, Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper knew in an instant that Cleveland's quarterback was back.
It only took one pass.
“If he wasn’t feeling good, he wouldn’t have thrown the ball deep,” said Cooper, who hauled in Watson's pass in the first quarter for a 59-yard gain. “So once he threw that, I’m like, OK, cool. Let’s go.”
Watson had two touchdown passes — one to Cooper on a ricochet off an Arizona helmet — in just his second start in five weeks and the Browns stuffed the Cardinals, holding them to 58 yards in a 27-0 win Sunday.
Cleveland's first shutout since 2007 was overshadowed by the return of Watson, who played in his first full game since Sept. 24, when he took a big hit on a running play and sustained a strained rotator cuff in his shoulder.
While there were moments of rust and he looked indecisive at times coming off the layoff, Watson showed he can withstand some punishment while completing 19 of 30 passes for 219 yards — 139 to Cooper.
It was far from perfect, but just being on the field was enough to satisfy Watson.
“This is what I’ve been preparing and training very, very hard to get back to,” he said. “Just to get out there and play free and be able to be very close to myself and just go out there and compete and have fun with my teammates. That’s what today brought.”
It also brought the strongest performance to date by Cleveland's aggressive defense.
The Browns (5-3) overwhelmed rookie Clayton Tune and the Cardinals (1-8) from the start. The Browns recorded seven sacks with Dalvin Tomlinson getting to Tune 2 1/2 times.
The Cardinals only ran five of 48 plays on Cleveland's side of the field and didn't get deeper than the 44.
“We couldn't run it. We couldn't protect it. We couldn't throw it," said first-year Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon.
Watson, who gave the Browns hope he was ready by practicing three straight days this week, connected with Cooper on an 11-yard scoring pass. He also hooked up with tight end David Njoku on a 5-yarder.
Unlike Cooper, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said he thought Watson looked like himself much earlier.
“Pregame,” he said.
Kareem Hunt had a 3-yard TD run and Dustin Hopkins kicked two field goals for Cleveland.
Arizona has lost six straight.
The Cardinals announced Saturday that Tune, a fifth-round pick from Houston, would start instead of activating Kyler Murray, who is close to making his return after suffering a season-ending knee injury last December.
Tune was the obvious choice after Arizona traded Joshua Dobbs, its starter in the first eight games.
And if being blasted by the Browns wasn't bad enough for the Cardinals, Dobbs had quite the debut for Minnesota, coming off the bench and leading the Vikings to a win over Atlanta.
Tune couldn't get anything going against the Browns, who pressured him on virtually every snap. He completed 11 of 20 passes for 58 yards with two interceptions.
“Frustrated, obviously,” Tune said. “Disappointed. I wanted to go out and put up a better showing.”
The Browns barely let him breathe. Arizona had just 31 yards at halftime as the Cardinals' six first-half possessions went punt, punt, punt, interception, punt and punt. It didn't get much better after halftime.
“It feels great," said star defensive end Myles Garrett. “Haven’t had a shutout in a while, and it was a perfect back game. We haven’t been playing up to the standard that we’ve set on defense, and we played with our hair on fire.”
The Browns led 13-0 at the break on the strength of two field goals by Hopkins and a fluky touchdown, which came after Denzel Ward picked off Tune.
Cleveland caught a huge beak on the scoring play as Watson's throw deflected off the helmet of Cardinals defensive lineman Dante Stills, caromed high in the air and was grabbed by Cooper in the end zone.
A week ago, the Browns were victimized by a similar play when a late pass by backup QB P.J. Walker bounced off the helmet of a blitzing Seattle defender and was picked off, setting up the Seahawks' comeback win.
“The football god’s owed us one,” Cooper said.
Cooper also hauled in a 49-yard pass from Watson on a play the pair designed on the sideline.
“They drew up in the dirt,” said Stefanski. “I called it.”
HOLD THAT LINE
Arizona's 58 yards were the third-fewest allowed by the Browns in team history. Cleveland gave up 47 to Chicago in 2021 and 53 to Pittsburgh in 1989.
Cardinals: LB Zaven Collins was evaluated for concussion in the first half and returned. ... OLs Will Hernandez (knee) and D.J. Humphries (ankle) both went out in the second half. ... DL Roy Lopez was also treated for an injury that wasn't announced.
Browns: Starting LT Jedrick Wills Jr. left on crutches and his right leg immobilized after being carted off in the third quarter. ... WR Marquise Goodwin left with a head injury early in the third quarter. He was assisted from the field and taken straight to the locker room for evaluation and treatment.
Cardinals: Host the Falcons on Nov. 12.
Browns: A visit to AFC North-leading Baltimore on Nov. 12.
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