CODY STOOTS

Texans player of the game: Cunningham makes impact all over the field

Zach Cunningham scored a touchdown. Bob Levey/Getty images

As the Texans defense continues to get healthy, Zach Cunningham's contribution is clear each week. This week he set the tone early and helped the Texans extend their first-half lead over the Cleveland Browns on their way to their ninth straight win. 

Cunningham in coverage was active, nearly intercepting a pass from Baker Mayfield on the first drive for the Browns. In the second quarter, with the Texans leading by 10, Cunningham got his hands on a Mayfield pass again. This time though he didn't let it hit the ground. Rumbling back 37 yards, and running over teammate Benardrick McKinney in the process, Cunningham dove and extended for a touchdown. Though he was ruled out at the one, the replay review saw he stayed in for the score. 

"It was more of an instinctual play that I felt," Cunningham said. "Getting back on the ball, obviously made an amazing catch, great catch, so it definitely felt pretty good. It was my first pick, first touchdown in the NFL. Definitely felt great for me."

Cunningham joked he knew it was a touchdown and celebrated but had to wait for the official call. He said he knew he was scoring. 

"That means a lot," said DeAndre Hopkins of the Cunningham score. "We know we can go out there and depend on those guys to get the ball. That's championship football."

"The guy made a great play," said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield on the Cunningham score.

Cunningham was a leader for the defense who slowed down a hot Cleveland rushing attack. Nick Chubb entered the game trailing only Cowboys Ezekiel Elliot for yards over the past four weeks. The game-flow didn't lend itself to rushing a ton as Cleveland trailed big after Cunningham's big play but the defense kept the Browns from getting comfortable. Cleveland managed just 31 rushing yards. 

With a healthy Cunningham, the Texans have one of the most stout rushing defenses in football. Cunningham adds a great element in coverage as well and the defense seems to operate a little smoother with him in there. With injuries to backups in the game, Brennan Scarlett went down with a leg injury, Cunningham is healthy at the right time. 

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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