It was a quick moment. Real quick. Almost imperceptible, really. Certainly imperceptible during the actual game. But it’s clear on the replay.
The Texans and the Bills were playing. And it was the first game of this season’s playoffs. And it was overtime. And the next score by either team was going to send a bunch of someones to the next round, and a different bunch of someones home. And everyone was feeling proper tense. And the Bills had just successfully executed a safety blitz to back the Texans into a third-and-18 from inside their own red zone, a set of circumstances that was miserable for Texans fans and (I suspect) delightful for Bills fans. And that’s when the quick moment happened.
The blitzing safety, Siran Neal, had sprinted into the backfield basically untouched. Watson saw Neal coming, but it was too late for him to do anything. He thought about throwing the ball for half a second, realized that nothing was available, and then turned to try to escape. Neal dove after Watson, getting his arms around him and dragging him to the turf. Neal immediately stood up, then lorded over Watson as Watson laid there holding the football. It was a perfectly understandable act of showmanship.
Neal, enjoying his alphaness, kept staring at Watson as Watson stood up. He pounded his chest twice, then started barking things at Watson. Neal held his stare for a second longer before turning and slapping hands with a teammate in celebration. Watson, who is perfect and I love him, looked at Neal, smirked a bit, turned his head, smirked in the opposite direction, then looked back at Neal, who was no longer looking at Watson. And that’s when the smirk disappeared. As soon as Watson saw that Neal was no longer focused on him, his face went cold. It didn’t go angry. And it didn’t go defiant. It just went cold.
This is Neal talking shit to Watson:
This is Watson smirking:
And this is Watson going cold:
Watson licked his bottom lip, erased all of the emotion from his face, and then walked toward the spot where he knew his huddle was about to form. Three minutes later, Neal would feature heavily in another highlight with Watson, except this time it’d be Watson turning in the greatest play of his NFL career thus far, and an all-time incredible moment in Texans franchise history.
A funny-in-a-gallows-humor-kind-of-way thing about watching Deshaun Watson be brilliant in football games is the way that it often feels like he’s doing it in spite of head coach Bill O’Brien. Watson is out on the field doing unbelievable things (the first touchdown the Texans scored Saturday, for example, came when Watson broke loose for a 20-yard scramble that ended with him carrying two defenders into the end zone, which he then followed by stiff-arming a defender and diving headfirst toward the pylon to convert a two-point try); O’Brien, meanwhile, is on the sideline desperately trying to find the clipboard that he’s holding in his own hands. It’s like watching someone swim across the ocean while someone else holds on to his foot and tries to go in the opposite direction, or like watching someone zoom a race car around the sharpest curves of a gravel road way high up a mountain while the person in the passenger seat keeps reaching over and trying to cover the driver’s eyes.
That being said, I love that O’Brien went for it on fourth-and-inches with a chance to end the game outright near the end of regulation. The Texans weren’t able to get the first down, because the Texans love nothing more than stretching and twisting their fan base up as much as possible during the tensest moments, but that’s fine. O’Brien went for it. O’Brien went for the win. That’s excellent. Thank you, Bill. Keep going for it, Bill.
Deshaun Watson is my very favorite football player. He just has a way about him that, when you watch him as a Texans fan, you feel like he’s never ever going to miss a throw because he’s scared, or lose a game because he’s scared, or make a mistake because he’s scared. (He might do any one of those three things at any point, mind you, but it will never be because he’s scared, and that’s really all anyone can ask for.) You feel like, regardless of all else that has happened in a game, if he gets the ball with a chance to win, he’s going to figure out a way to do it. (Watson, by the way, leads the league in game-winning drives this season. He has six. Texans fans have never had the chance to root for a quarterback like that before. But we do now. And it’s the fucking best thing.) He’s going to tap into that reservoir of talent and confidence and unfuckwithableness that only the very best quarterbacks have, and he’s going to do something special.
The Greatest Play of Deshaun Watson’s NFL Career Thus Far, and an All-Time Incredible Moment in Texans Franchise History
With 4:18 remaining in the first overtime session of the aforementioned Texans-Bills playoff game, Watson stood back in the shotgun. He looked at the defense that the Bills had lined up in and recognized that they were in something called a “zero blitz,” meaning he knew that (a) his receivers would be going against man-to-man coverage; and (b) he would have to take a hit from at least one unblocked blitzing defender if he wanted to get a pass off. He clapped his hands for the ball, dropped back three steps, and then became a legitimate Houston legend.
Because look: Not only had linebacker Matt Milano charged into the backfield uninterrupted after the ball had been snapped, but so too had the villain Siran Neal. (Neal was lined up on the opposite side of the field that he’d sacked Watson from previously.) And listen, I don’t mind telling you: Once the play started, I thought Watson was toast. I thought it was the end of him and the end of the game and the end of my life. Neal, in a dead sprint, had a direct line to Watson, who was facing the other way and already preoccupied with calculating how to deal with Milano. I watched it all start to fall apart and I could feel my stomach climb all the way up behind my eyeballs and my intestines climb all the way down to my ankles.
I’ve seen this play before. EVERYBODY who has watched football has seen this play before. It’s murder. The way it’s supposed to go is the blindside attacker absolutely crushes the quarterback. And then the quarterback, in his final act before death, fumbles the ball backward. And then the ball gets scooped up by a defender and carried down the field some large number of yards in the opposite direction, either ending the game right then and there or setting up the play that ends the game. That’s what happens there. Or, rather, that’s what’s supposed to happen there, because that’s what always happens there. In fact, Justin Reid, who plays safety for the Texans, said that he was watching this play on the Jumbotron and got worried as soon as he saw the blitz in motion because he knew what we all knew: Deshaun was about to get his head lopped off. Except he didn’t. He super fucking did not.
Watson, friend of the universe and beloved by the universe, somehow sensed that Neal was about to great white shark him from behind, and so he stepped forward juuuuuuuuuuuuust enough to neutralize 40, maybe 50 percent of Neal’s hit. Milano, the linebacker who had also gotten into the backfield, crashed into Watson at full speed from the other direction, but it didn’t matter. By that point, Watson had become atomic. He absorbed the blow from each defender, spun out of their grasps, and then scrambled out to his right. Multiple Bills gave pursuit. Watson scanned the field, found a target in third-string running back Taiwan Jones, then launched the ball at him as Buffalo defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (who is 6-foot-6 and 341 pounds) crashed into him.
Watson went tumbling backward several yards. Jones caught the ball and then lightning-bolted down the field for a 34-yard gain, setting up the game-winning field goal on the very next play.
And there was Deshaun.
Who had just breathed fire from his nose and shot lightning bolts from his eyes.
Cold as ever.
In terms of pure football joy, Watson’s X-Men Nightcrawler escape, which happened during the most tense and roller-coaster-y playoff game in franchise history, instantly became the greatest moment of my Texans football fandom. It came under the greatest amount of pressure (the Texans had flopped in their wild-card game last season, so there were going to be no easy conversations if they did so again), on the heels of an improbable comeback (the Texans were down 16-0 midway through the third quarter before Watson got cooking), with a perfectly baked-in story line (the hero J.J. Watt had miraculously returned to the field after tearing his pectoral muscle a little more than two months prior), against an unfathomably hungry team (the Bills have not won a playoff game in 25 years now). And it starred my favorite player. The six plays that it beat out:
- J.J. Watt’s pick-six from the wild-card game against the Bengals in 2012. Watching Watt, a defensive end who we were all hoping would be something incredible, get a pick-six in his first playoff game was like if someone set your penis on fire, except in a good way. (This really was the play that propelled Watt toward superstardom the next season. He’d go on to lead the league in sacks, win his first Defensive Player of the Year award, and get selected to his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro team.)
- Andre Johnson’s pinball Superman touchdown against the Cardinals in 2009. If I were granted one NFL wish, it’d be to go back in time, freeze Johnson in some kind of cryogenic chamber like in Demolition Man, and then unthaw him a decade or so later so that he could play with Deshaun Watson as his quarterback.
- DeAndre Hopkins’s impossible catch against the Giants in 2014. I mean, how the fuck? (Also: You can replace this one with that one he had against the Dolphins in 2018 if you want.)
- J.J. Watt’s helmetless sack against the Chiefs in 2015. If I were given an assignment to go through NFL history and select one play for every great player that represents all the reasons fans loved that player, this helmetless sack is what I’d pick for Watt.
- Andre Johnson beating up Cortland Finnegan in front of everyone at Reliant Stadium in 2010. The most cathartic moment in Texans franchise history, of that I am certain.
- DeAndre Hopkins delivering the perfect Hard Knocks scene in 2015. The Redskins were having a joint practice with the Texans on an episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks. DeAndre spun around a defensive back on a route. As he walked back to his side after the play, Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall charged up to Hopkins, telling him, “You do that shit to me, we’ll see what the fuck goes down.” Shortly thereafter, Hall and Hopkins were lined up against each other, and Hopkins, an all-world route runner, put a move on Hall so unstoppable that Hall’s body ended up like this despite having been touched by no one but God:
The Texans play the Chiefs in the divisional round this Sunday. I don’t know whether they’re going to win or not. (At the moment, they are listed as 9.5-point underdogs, which would seem to suggest that they are not.) But I do know that if they do win it’s going to be because they have Deshaun Watson on their team, and because Deshaun Watson will have done more things that are incredible.