Deshaun Watson's ongoing right shoulder situation has mystified most everyone at one point or another.
The injury will cost the Browns quarterback another week, as Watson will miss Cleveland's game against the Seahawks on Sunday. But unlike in previous weeks, Watson was afforded a second opportunity -- this time, with the added context of a brief return in which he clearly wasn't fully healthy -- to speak on his situation, which has revealed a few more layers since last week.
Specifically, Watson admitted he may have rushed himself back too soon when he returned for the Browns' Week 7 win over the Colts only to exit early under at-the-time mysterious circumstances.
"I don't know. The (timeline) for rotator cuffs is usually four-to-six weeks," Watson said when asked if he'd returned too quickly. "I felt during the week that I had an opportunity to play. Right at that three-week, four-week mark. I just didn't have the strength and things like that to be able to go out there and play a full and complete game."
Watson did not, in fact, play a full game, exiting in the first quarter after taking a large hit and landing on his shoulder. Watson was evaluated for a concussion and was cleared after the play but did not return, and head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters after the game that he sat Watson to "protect" him.
Watson's exit came after he'd already thrown an ugly interception and nearly tossed another before replay review overturned the initial ruling of a turnover.
As Watson recalls it, perhaps the quarterback and the Browns should have foreseen such a result.
"I wouldn't sit here and say I was feeling perfect on Friday," Watson said of his full participation in practice prior to Week 7. "I was pushing through it because I'm a competitor. Felt like I had enough.
"At the same time, you gotta realize the reality. The reality in practice is very controlled, especially on Friday. We call it Fast Friday for a reason. The fact that you can't put in until you actually go out there on Sundays when the bullets is flying, you've got to be able to react and not think about each throw. And not know where you're going to throw the ball and how you're going to throw the ball. The philosophy, the speed, the tempo."
Essentially, Watson is describing a sense of rust brought about by time off and being less than 100 percent healthy. The latter was painfully evident in the first quarter of the Week 7 affair in Indianapolis, in which Watson appeared to lack arm strength and was a bit overwhelmed by the speed of the game after nearly a month away. Trust (in his own health and abilities) could have been the most crucial missing element, too, and in such an environment, a lack of trust and confidence can doom a quarterback.
After that failed outing, the decision was made to keep him out for Week 8, with veteran backup PJ Walker taking his place in the lineup this Sunday against the Seahawks. Neither Watson or Stefanski would elaborate whether Watson's Week 7 participation could have been more detrimental to his long-term cause, though Stefanski did admit on Wednesday that Watson was experiencing residual swelling in his throwing shoulder.
"I'm not sure. I'm not sure if it did or if it didn't," Watson said when asked if playing last week could have caused a setback. "At the same time, I wasn't 100 percent last week. So I just try, like I said before, go through the game go through the process of see if I can make the throws, make the plays. I thought I was ready; wasn't ready. At the time, I took a hit, took a blow right to the same area. Once I hit the turf on that last play. ... Same situation, boom hit that. So was a little shock. So, possibly could be. I'm not sure."
This fickle, back-and-forth process has to be frustrating for Browns fans, especially those who were very much anticipating a full season from Watson following his abbreviated first campaign in Cleveland in 2022 when he was suspended for the first 11 games of the season for violating the league's personal-conduct policy.
Watson feels that same pull to get back on the field, which he pointed to as the reason he decided to push it last weekend.
"Why wouldn't I want to play?" Watson said. "I've worked my ass off for two years to get back to playing, so why wouldn't I want to play?"
It's Walker's game Sunday in Seattle, where the 4-2 Browns take on a Seahawks team with an identical record, but much more stability under center. Cleveland can hope Watson will return before long, but at this point, it's truly anybody's guess.
"As soon as possible," Watson said of when he might play again. "Just gotta go through the process again, rehab and get with the docs and try to strengthen it as much as possible and get the pain away."