HOUSTON -- Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson dissected another defense on Sunday with a precision belying his experience, doing so against an opponent with a miserable history of failed quarterbacks and one that bypassed an opportunity to draft Watson last April.
Watson passed for 225 yards and three touchdowns, his ledger marred only by a 56-yard interception return for a score by Browns cornerback Jason McCourty in the fourth quarter. With 15 touchdown passes, Watson not only leads the entire league in that category, he has produced the most scoring strikes by a rookie through six games since the NFL/AFL merger.
"It's pretty cool. It's straight," Watson said of the accomplishments. "I should have had more (touchdowns). I missed some opportunities. But if you look at the big picture and see the things I'm doing, it goes all to the support cast I have around me and the people that push me.
"It's bigger than me. It's the support cast that's helping me do what I'm doing. I appreciate all of them."
The Texans (3-3) harassed Browns quarterback Kevin Hogan into a miserable debut as a starter. Hogan threw three interceptions, with Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph recording a pair of picks. Joseph returned his first interception 82 yards for a touchdown with 11:08 remaining in the first half to extend the Texans' lead to 16-3. Hogan passed for just 140 yards.
Playing their first game since losing defensive end J.J. Watt (leg) and linebacker Whitney Mercilus (pectoral) to season-ending injuries, the Texans limited Cleveland (0-6) to 247 yards.
"There's no way that you can replace those guys," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "You're talking about a Defensive Player of the Year (Watt), you're talking about a guy, Whitney Mercilus, who has had a lot of big plays for us over the last three years. So, I think it's a matter of scheme, it's a matter of moving guys around and it's really trying to stay ahead of the offense with multiple schemes, multiple things that we do.
"I thought (Texans defensive coordinator) Mike (Vrabel) and the staff did a really good job. Give all the credit to the players; they went out there and executed and played very hard."
In addition to their three interceptions, the Texans sacked Hogan four times. The Browns benched struggling rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer last week seeking a spark from Hogan.
Watson, who finished 17 of 29, completed scoring passes of 39 yards to Will Fuller V with 41 seconds left in the first quarter, 1 yard to Braxton Miller at the 3:04 mark of the second, and 3 yards to DeAndre Hopkins with 4:05 remaining in the third. Watson is the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw three-plus touchdowns over three consecutive games.
"He has that 'it' factor," McCourty said. "Being in this division (AFC South) playing against Andrew Luck, getting the chance to play alongside Marcus Mariota. Young quarterbacks that they look like they are poised at being at the position as soon as they come in. He has that ability."
The Texans moved up 13 places to select Watson 12th overall this offseason, swapping picks in the first round with the Browns while also sending Cleveland their first-round pick for 2018. Early results suggest that Houston has found its franchise quarterback while the Browns continue to stumble about, with Hogan representing their 28th different starter under center since the franchise was reborn in 1999. As has always been the case, the Browns appear lost.
"Go back and watch the tape," Browns head coach Hue Jackson said of the ongoing evaluation process. "Like I told you guys this is going to be week to week. You guys asked me last week, I never said that Kevin was going to be the starter for the rest of the season. So, we're going to go back and watch the tape and go from there. Make a decision next week."
NOTES: With two first-half interceptions, Texans CB Johnathan Joseph became the franchise career leader with 14. Dunta Robinson (2004-09) and Kareem Jackson were tied atop the list with 13. ... Browns rookie DE Myles Garrett sacked Texans QB Deshaun Watson with just under two minutes remaining in the first half, his third sack in only six quarters of play. Garrett recorded two sacks in his NFL debut last weekend against the New York Jets. ... While recording his second interception of the season, a total that leads all rookie linebackers, Texans LB Dylan Cole suffered a hamstring injury and did not return. ... Browns WR Kenny Britt (knee/groin) missed his second consecutive game due to injury. Britt recorded eight receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown during the opening four games of the season.