Thousands of Clemson fans, several wearing Deshaun Watson No. 4 jerseys, were at Bank of America Stadium Wednesday night to watch Watson and the Texans face off against the Panthers.
While Houston lost the game 27-17, those who came to see Watson did not leave disappointed.
The former Tigers star played the entire second and third quarters and half of the fourth while putting together a solid NFL debut.
Watson was 15-for-25 passing for 179 yards with no passing touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had three carries for 24 yards and a score.
“To get out there and experience my first NFL game, it was fun,” Watson said. “It was awesome just to be able to have that support and that fan base, especially when I come back to this area. I thank all of my fans and the people that support me.”
Watson entered the game with 14:47 remaining in the second quarter and the score tied at 7 after Texans starter Tom Savage played three series.
Watson completed his first attempt to tight end RaShaun Allen for six yards but Houston went three-and-out during the series.
The Texans’ first-round pick was given eight series, with two of them resulting in points. The Texans kicked a field goal late in the first half to cut Carolina’s lead to 17-10 before Watson scored on a 15-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter to cut the Panthers’ lead to 24-17.
“It’s always good, regardless if it’s a scrimmage, practice, preseason, regular season game, whatever it is, to get in that end zone,” Watson said. “It’s hard to do. It was a good feeling.”
Watson’s touchdown scramble led to a mixed reaction from the crowd as Clemson fans cheered loudly, while Panthers fans tried to drown out the applause with boos.
“I was just extending a play. That’s what coach always tells me, if there’s nothing there do what I do and don’t change and try to force it during the game,” Watson said. “I extended the play. I saw the hole. I tried to get in the end zone and I did.”
The performance was a strong one overall for Watson. He looked calm, confident and in control and did not turn the ball over.
He had a couple of passes sail high, but the majority of his incompletions came because he avoided a sack by throwing the ball away.
“I have to watch the tape, but I thought moving the ball there were some good things,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s a smart player. He’s an instinctive player. His first game out there I thought he did some good things. It’s a big jump. It’s a big jump from college to the NFL, and I thought he handled it pretty well.”
In addition to Watson, several other players with ties to the Palmetto State impressed during the game.
Former South Carolina star Damiere Byrd led all receivers with four catches for 98 yards and two scores with the highlight of the night coming on a 50-yard reception from Joe Webb in the second quarter.
Fellow former Gamecocks Jadeveon Clowney and Johnathan Joseph saw action for the Texans, while Captain Munnerlyn joined Byrd as a former USC player on the Panthers.
Clowney, Joseph and Munnerlyn each made one tackle in limited action.
There were also several other Clemson players in the game. Former Clemson star Nuk Hopkins had two catches for 15 yards for the Texans on offense. Defensively for the Texans, former Tiger Carlos Watkins finished with three tackles, while D.J. Reader also made a tackle. Ben Boulware had one quarterback hurry for the Panthers.
IPTAY secured a box for the family members of former Clemson players playing in the game to sit in, allowing Watson’s family and others to watch the game in style.
“God works in mysterious ways so my first NFL game being close enough for my family to come see, everyone came by,” Watson said. “Everyone showed up and supported me.”
Watson knows of plenty of areas where he can improve as he makes the jump from college to NFL, but overall he is pleased with his progress.
“This is professional football. This is the highest level of this sport. Of course they’re going to be faster. A lot of bigger guys, smarter guys. But at the same time I’m doing the same thing they’re doing, watching film and trying to play fast also,” Watson said. “At the end of the day it’s still football. You’ve just got to go out there and operate and do your job.”