It has to be incredibly difficult to err on the side of caution when it comes to a generational player who seems like a real-life Terminator to those of us on the outside, looking in.
But, the Houston Texans know better and saw first hand what playing through a series of core muscle injuries, as well as a broken hand and a herniated disk, did to J.J. Watt in 2015.
At one point, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year even broached the subject of early retirement in the offseason because of the toll the game had taken on his body.
Despite that, Watt was pushing harder than ever to be ready for Week 1, despite the fact that he underwent a microdiscectomy procedure for the herniated disk in late July.
To no one’s surprise Watt was indeed “ready” for Chicago on Sept. 11, but the player that showed up was not the same. The four-time All-Pro probably had the least effective three-game stretch of his career before the news broke on Tuesday that he could miss the rest of the season as his back problem flared up again.
The cyborg turned out to be flesh and blood after all. Perhaps if the Texans had slowed him down in August or kept him on the sidelines at the beginning of the year we wouldn’t be talking about another possible operation for the game’s best defensive player.
Admittedly, that’s easier said than done when dealing with a player who has never missed a game and was likely pushing hard to return. Moreso, if you’re medically cleared, you’re medically cleared so perhaps this is just a case of chronic back issues that will plague Watt for the rest of his career.
Dr. David Chao, a former San Diego Chargers team physician who now has taken his injury expertise to the media, believes blaming the Texans is a little too “simplistic.”
“Of course, people will say it’s predictable and say he came back too early, Chao told the Houston Chronicle. “The problem is if you come back too early is you can be ineffective and the re-herniation of the disk chances are low, but you can aggravate the disc. It’s a little too simplistic to jump on the Texans and say they pushed him back too soon and this is why this happened.”
That said, extra time when returning from something like a herniated disk is never going to hurt and at the bare minimum, it would have better from a strategy standpoint for the Texans to hold back Watt as long as possible with the intent of having him available later in the season in order to make a run at the AFC South crown — a division which is shaping up as one of the NFL’s worst.
To highlight just how bad it is, the Texans had emerged as the heavy favorite through three weeks despite the ineffectiveness of Watt and the realization they were whitewashed 27-0 in New England despite the fact that the Patriots were down to their third quarterback, rookie Jacoby Brissett.
Watt was officially placed on injured reserve Wednesday and will have to miss at least the next two months or so as Houston attempts to gather more information and decipher whether or not the superstar will need another surgery.
With Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, the Texans likely still have enough pass rushers to stay relevant in a bad division, but dreams of a potential deep playoff run are likely just that now that Watt is on the shelf.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.