Remember the back surgery for a herniated disc and all of the talk surrounding when and if Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt would be available to play this season?
Yeah, no one else remembers either.
A couple hours before terrorizing the Kansas City Chiefs offense, Watt looked as content as could be on the sideline playing catch with Harrison Steiner, a young fan from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Steiner has been diagnosed with interstitial lung disease and meeting the three-time NFL defensive player of the year was at the top of his wish list.
Watching Watt casually interact with the young fan while rearing his oven mitt-sized hand back to catch a pass seemed all too ordinary for even someone so extraordinary. No one expected him to see the field until later in the season, and even if he returned early, it was hard to envision him being anything more than the broken down version we saw in last year’s playoffs. There aren’t many human beings that could undergo back surgery and then jump into a regular season NFL game a couple months later.
But Watt did exactly that.
He went from teetering on being ruled out for the game to playing in 88 percent of the team’s snaps against the Chicago Bears in Week 1. It was a quiet performance of one tackle, three quarterback hits and no sacks, but there are things a stat sheet can’t account for, like the morale boost for the team with Watt simply being on the field.
The unit crushed the Bears 23-14, and then it was onto Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, a playoff team a season ago. It was in that game that Watt played like the superstar fans have grown accustomed to seeing. He was up to his old tricks of blowing up plays and giving the opposing offensive coordinator headaches.
He finished the game with a fumble recovery, 1.5 sacks and five tackles in the Week 2 victory.
“I think I’m getting closer. I don’t think I’m all the way there yet,” said Watt, when fielding questions at a post-game podium. “But, I definitely felt a little bit better today than I did last week and I think it’s going to continue that way. A short week is obviously going to be a little bit of a challenge, but I’m really looking forward to the game. I think today was just a lot of fun.”
Thursday night, the team will head on the road in Foxborough to visit the New England Patriots. Rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett is expected to be the starter for the Patriots after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an AC joint sprain in the team’s Week 2 win over the Miami Dolphins.
Don’t expect the Texans to look past Brissett. Watt isn’t taking anything for granted against the organization that has had his number since he was drafted into the NFL.
Although the injury is no longer a focal point, it is still a lingering issue Watt faces on a day-to-day basis. He was once again a limited participant at practice on Monday as the team continues to err on the side of caution. There is definitely some risk in Watt being on the field ahead of schedule, but there are also positives.
He’s not sitting on the sidelines collecting dust, and the Texans have a much better shot of winning with him in the game. It’s a win-win for both sides as long as he stays healthy.