(Photo credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)
Deshaun Watson is out and Dorian Thompson-Robinson is in for the Cleveland Browns when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a crucial AFC North game on Sunday.
Watson's injury-plagued season ended when the Browns (6-3) announced they were putting their $230 million quarterback on injured reserveas he prepares for right shoulder surgery. Watson suffered both a displaced fracture in his shoulder and a left high ankle sprain in last week's 33-31 comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens.
"I'm still in disbelief. I'm still trying to process all the information," said Watson, whose Browns have won four of their last five games. "I felt like we were turning a corner to really make a run and still believe we still will with the guys in this locker room. I just wanted to physically be a part of it."
The Browns also have journeyman P.J. Walker on the roster, but coach Kevin Stefanski named the dual-threat rookie Thompson-Robinson his Week 11 starter.
The fifth-round draft pick out of UCLA had an eye-catching preseason but threw three interceptions in a loss to Baltimore on Oct. 1 when he started in place of an injured Watson.
"I want to give him a week where he knows he's the starter and gets a full week of preparation," Stefanski said.
Cleveland already is without star running back Nick Chubb, who needed a second surgery this week to repair torn ligaments in his right knee.
Despite the injuries, the Browns are in the mix in the division and AFC wild-card races.
Credit a defense ranked tops the league in yards allowed (242.7 per game) and sixth in scoring (18.9), with Myles Garrett tied for the NFL lead at 11 sacks. Jerome Ford (107 yards last week) has taken over lead-back duties with Kareem Hunt earned a co-op role in the backfield to help ease the loss of Hunt.
Cleveland and Pittsburgh (6-3) are right behind the Ravens, who entered the week 7-3 ahead of a date with Cincinnati (5-4) on Thursday night.
"It's a big game in their venue," said Mike Tomlin, whose Steelers are 6-0 in one-score games and have a minus-26 point differential. "We respect that. We're really excited about the rivalries that comprise our division. We've had two divisional games but we haven't had an opportunity to go into a hostile environment."
Like the Browns, the Steelers also have won four of five, most recently a 23-19 triumph over Green Bay. Kenny Pickett threw for just 126 yards, but Jaylen Warren provided a season-high 101 rushing yards and a touchdown to complement Najee Harris' 82 yards and a score.
"You've got to win at all costs in this game," Pickett said. "That's all I truly care about. Of course, you want to light up the stat sheet. But as long as we're getting the wins, I'm OK with that. I sleep good with getting a win."
Pittsburgh beat Cleveland at home in Week 2. T.J. Watt's 16-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter was the difference in the 26-22 victory.
The Steelers opened the 21-day practice window for tight end Pat Freiermuth (hamstring), but he remains on IR for now.
Other noteworthy injuries for Pittsburgh include wide receiver Diontae Johnson (thumb), safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring), and defensive tackle Heyward (groin), none of whom practiced Wednesday.
The Browns listed 18 players on their Wednesday injury report, although four were for rest and no associated injury concern. Of note, cornerback Denzel Ward (neck) returned to practice in a limited capacity.
--Field Level Media