HOUSTON (AP) — J.J. Watt got better as the season opener went on, his first game since breaking his leg last October.
“Whatever it was, knocking rust off in the first half or just getting back up to speed in a full game, but definitely started to feel more like myself in the second half,” Watt said of the loss in New England.
After getting through that game, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is looking to make more of an impact this week when the Texans visit Tennessee.
Although the defensive end was confident he’d be OK last Sunday in his first game since Oct. 8, he admitted it was a relief to go for 70 plays on turf and come out feeling good.
“Felt fine the whole game,” he said. “Never thought about it once. I’m very pleased with how it turned out and ... with the second half, I started to really begin to find my groove as a player again.”
It was an encouraging start for a player who not only sat out the last 11 games of 2017 but also missed all but three games in 2016 because of a back problem which required two surgeries. The Texans hope Watt can shake off his last two injured-plagued years and reach the level of Defensive Player of the Year, which he won in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Watt’s injuries came after he never missed a game in his first five NFL seasons and twice led the league in sacks.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel loved having Watt back and said his presence makes the entire defense better.
“It’s always exciting to see him in the backfield,” Crennel said. “It’s very helpful because he’s a playmaker. When he makes plays it helps the other guys also, because he lifts everybody up.”
Watt insists that, except for a couple of tough months immediately following surgery, he never lost belief he could return to form. Now it’s just a matter of showing everyone that he was right.
“I’ve never questioned what I can accomplish, but ... it always comes down to going out there and doing it and proving it,” he said. “I just have to continue to work and grow. It may not come in the first game, but as long as I continue to do what I need to do and practice the way I need to practice, everything will take care of itself.”
Watt had two tackles and two hits on Tom Brady in Houston’s 27-20 loss to the Patriots. He also came close to getting his first sack since Sept. 18, 2016 before nose tackle D.J. Reader ended up taking down Brady instead for one of his two sacks.
“We’ve had a few discussions about it,” Watt said. “I’m not going to say my (hand) was on his ankle at the same time or before or anything, but we’ll see.”
Now that he has the first game out of the way, Crennel is looking for Watt to continue his progress and start making the kind of impact he did before his injuries. Houston could use a big game from Watt and the defense to avoid an 0-2 start.
“I expect him to continue to knock the rust off and get better every week,” Crennel said. “That’s what I’m expecting. So hopefully that will occur and if it does that will help us.”