Houston Texans, NFL, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, playoffs, AFC wild card

Texans escape Bills in Wild Card OT win

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 1/4/20

It goes down on the stat sheet as a third-down sack in the third quarter, with the Buffalo Bills leading the Houston Texans by 13 points before adding another three points with the ensuing field goal.

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Houston Texans, NFL, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, playoffs, AFC wild card

Texans escape Bills in Wild Card OT win

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It goes down on the stat sheet as a third-down sack in the third quarter, with the Buffalo Bills leading the Houston Texans by 13 points before adding another three points with the ensuing field goal.

But it will be remembered in Texans lore as the play that likely saved Houston’s 2019 season.

Because it was J.J. Watt who made the sack, and not just any sack. It was a play made by the Texans’ star making a remarkably fast return to the field from what had seemed to be a season-ending torn pectoral injury, and though it essentially allowed the Bills to push their lead to a full two scores in an AFC Wild Card playoff game, it was a game-changer.

From there, Houston scored 19 unanswered points to surge a dramatic comeback, and quarterback Deshaun Watson’s 34-yard toss to Taiwan Jones after eluding two tacklers and scrambling from pressure in overtime buoyed the Texans to a 22-19 win on Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 28-yard field goal on Jan. 4 at NRG Stadium.

Houston improved to 4-5 all-time in the playoffs. The Texans (11-5) play the Chiefs (12-4) in an AFC divisional playoff game at 2:05 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 11, in Kansas City on CBS. It is a rematch. Houston beat Kansas City, in Kansas City, on Oct. 13, 31-24.

Watson completed 20 of 25 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another touchdown against the Bills, and Watt tallied only the one sack for an eight-yard loss with 6:02 left in the third quarter and two quarterback hits. But there was no question who turned the game around for Houston after a miserable first half.

“J.J.’s sack, that was probably the turning point,” Watson said. “We knew it was a matter of time before he’d make a play. It’s J.J. Watt. Hall of Famer, the best guy to do it. Eventually, he was going to get his opportunity. He made a heck of a play, and it just turned the whole momentum.”

Watt’s sack came when the Bills were threatening in the red zone. It forced a 38-yard field goal by Stephen Hauschka instead of Buffalo possibly pushing its lead to three touchdowns.

The Texans’ offense capitalized off Watt’s play, which energized all of NRG Stadium into a frenzy as he screamed “Let’s go!” demonstratively after throwing quarterback Josh Allen to the ground. Watson capped a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive with a 20-yard plunge around the right end to cut the 16-0 deficit in half after a two-point conversion.

After a Fairbairn 41-yard field goal opened the fourth-quarter scoring, Watson struck again, this time on a 5-yard toss to running back Carlos Hyde. Watson found receiver DeAndre Hopkins for an easy two-point conversion and a 19-16 lead, Houston’s first lead in the game, with 4:37 left.

Hauschka’s 47-yard field goal with five seconds left tied the game and forced overtime. The Texans punted on their first drive to open overtime. Buffalo punted. And then Watson produced one of the most memorable plays of his career, a Houdini-like escape of a pair of Bills defenders in the pocket as he sprinted to his right and found running back Taiwan Jones for a 34-yard catch-and-run to the Buffalo 11-yard line with 5:42 left in overtime.

“It was a blitz-zero,” Watson said of the defense. “I knew I was going to have pressure. I knew the ball was going to have to get out quick. I was trying to make a play with (Hopkins), and it just happened to be (Bills defensive back and former Houston Texan) Kevin Johnson sitting over there at the corner spot, who’s been here for five years and knows exactly where I wanted to go against this coverage. He sunk off, and by the time I was trying to get it to Taiwan earlier, they were going to be right there; the pressure was there.

“I braced myself, spun out of it, and I knew exactly where Taiwan was going to be at.”

Watt said Watson was “unbelievable.”

“You’re never out of a game when you have Deshaun Watson as your quarterback,” Watt said. “The guy’s incredible. We knew all we needed was a spark, and you add Deshaun Watson to a spark and you’re going to have one hell of a fire. I’m lucky and thankful to have him as my quarterback.”

After Jones’ run, coach Bill O’Brien called on Fairbairn right away to end matters, and the kicker drilled a 28-yarder for the win.

“There’s not a lot of words to describe what it’s like in that locker room,” O’Brien said. “They’re very resilient. You’ve got a good group of guys that really care about each other, that really care about trying to do the right thing. When they mess up, they’ll tell you.

“It was tough sledding there for a long time, but I think it shows you the heart of this team.”

Watt missed only two months with the torn pectoral suffered during the Week 8 win over the Raiders in late October. It is an injury that generally takes 3-4 months of recovery time.

“It was one day at a time,” Watt said of his rehab process. “It was whatever they would allow me to do, and whatever they’d let me do, I’d do. I’d do everything and listen. I’d stop when they told me to stop, but we would push and we’d test the boundaries. Every step of the way, we’d start trying some stuff that people don’t try at that level or that many weeks. And (the doctor) would say, ‘Nobody has ever done this at this level.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, has anybody ever tried?’ He’d say no. And I said, ‘Well, how do we know?’ We’d try it, I’d do something, we’d check it out, it holds up and we move on to another checkpoint. It kept holding up and we pushed it all the way.

“Part of it was that belief that it was going to hold up and part of it was that belief that I could come back, and part of it was you’ve got to be crazy enough to try.”

During the first three quarters, Watt only played on obvious third-down pass-rushing situations and any other situational downs that demanded a pass-rush, though he and doctors did scrap that plan and “let it loose” in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The first three quarters were frustrating at times, Watt admitted, but he promised doctors and his family he would be smart about his comeback. He held to that.

His reward was a crucial play at a crucial time for the Texans.

“It’s incredible to be back out there with the guys,” said Watt, who played 61 percent of the Texans’ defensive snaps (52 of 85). “That’s why you do it. That’s why you take the risk, that’s why you put in the work, that’s why you do the rehab. That’s why you do all of it, for those moments to be out there with the guys and be a part of the team and try to be out there and create that spark.”

Watt said he was “pretty shocked” at how the shoulder held up through the game and how it felt afterward. His rehab was aided by Texans’ Director of Sports Medicine and head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan, and director of rehabilitation/associate head athletic trainer Roland Ramirez.

“It feels pretty good,” he said. “There was one play where (a Bills ballcarrier) was rolling out and I dove for him, and before I dove, I thought to myself, ‘Here it is. It’s (the pectoral muscle) either going to hold or it’s going to go.’ I dove, landed right on it, popped up, checked it out, looked over to the doctor standing 10 feet away, and was like, ‘OK, it’s alright.’”

With Watt’s inspiration and Watson’s leadership and ability, the Texans never felt out of the game, even when trailing 13-0 at the half or 16-0 late through the third quarter.

“The game is never over, regardless if we’re down 16-0, 7-0, 28-0,” Watson said. “I’m going to keep fighting. That’s just me. I’ve been told, especially at a young age and in college … if you’re up or if you’re down, don’t look at the scoreboard. Keep fighting and keep pushing forward, and at the end of the day you’ll look up at the scoreboard and you’ll be where you want to be at.”

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