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Deshaun Watson Was a Shot of Adrenaline for a Texans Team That Needed One

And he’s still the face of the young generation of quarterbacks we’ve been waiting for

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I have been a Deshaun Watson stan since he was at Clemson, when he did the impossible against Alabama. I was surprised to see him not be the first quarterback selected in last spring’s NFL draft; I was stunned to see him be the third quarterback off the board. But even I’ve been surprised by how quickly he became brilliant—and now I’m devastated, as his season is done because of an ACL injury.

Last year, the Texans were tied for 28th in total points, 31st in net yards per passing attempt, 31st in yards per play, tied for 30th in passing touchdowns, and tied for 29th in rushing touchdowns. They were also 31st in yards per play in 2015, and were 31st in total points in 2013. Year after year, offensive output and competent quarterback play were foreign concepts to the Texans.

With Tom Savage under center to begin this season, things looked no different. In the season opener against Jacksonville, Savage led what was perhaps the worst offensive half any team has played all year. Texans offensive plays resulted in seven Jaguars points (off a Savage fumble) and zero Texans points. Savage completed seven passes and was sacked six times. Between Savage’s 13 pass attempts and the six sacks, the Texans gained 29 yards, 1.53 yards per dropback.

With Watson, the Texans have had the best offense in football. They lead the league in points per game in spite of the seven-point effort in Savage’s start and a 13-point game against the Bengals in Watson’s first start. Watson tied for the league lead in touchdown passes with 19. He threw one on 9.3 percent of his attempts, the highest in the league by over two percentage points. (The only players to finish a season a TD% higher than 9.0 since the AFL/NFL merger: Peyton Manning in 2004; Ken Stabler in 1976.) Watson led the NFL in ESPN’s Total QBR, was second in yards per attempt and fifth in passer rating. He did this in spite of the fact he was pressured on 47.7 percent of his dropbacks, the highest percentage in the NFL by over five percentage points.

But stats don’t tell the story of what Deshaun Watson meant. Look at this dude:

LOOK AT THIS DUDE.

Last year, the Texans made the playoffs in spite of their offense, thanks to one of the best defenses in football. But any hope of that scenario happening again evaporated when Houston lost J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, perhaps the team’s two most important defenders, in Week 5 against Kansas City.

This year, Watson had the Texans in position to make a run at the playoffs because of their offense. They are just a game off the lead in the rudderless AFC South. Houston had waited for a player like Watson for so long, somebody to unlock the passing game for a franchise whose quarterbacks have been universally dismal. In just six starts, he made the top 5 of the Texans’ all-time single-season touchdown list. Ahead of him: Matt Schaub, Matt Schaub, Matt Schaub. He’s tied with Brian Hoyer. Behind him: Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Carr, Matt Schaub, Brock Osweiler. With Watson, the Texans were must-see TV, one of the most exciting teams in a league with few. Without him, the Texans are again doomed and miserable.

His performance Sunday against the Seahawks was not just one of the best quarterback performances of the season, but a historically brilliant effort. He was the first quarterback with 400 passing yards, four touchdowns, and 50 rushing yards in a single game, and he did it against a Seattle defense that’s stifled even the best quarterbacks in the league for a decade.

Here are the top six non-Watson passing performances against Seattle since Pete Carroll became their coach: Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer. (Watson’s 402-yard game goes in between Manning’s and Brady’s.) I say those names because for a while now, we’ve been told that there is an upcoming-quarterback crisis in the NFL. Incoming passers were spoiled by spread college offenses that never taught them how to make the reads or throws they’d need to make in the NFL, or perhaps that they were just too [insert qualm with millennials] to develop the skills quarterbacks have had for decades. We were told nobody would replace the great old legends, like Brady and Brees. Even the second tier of quarterbacks, like Roethlisberger, Rivers, Manning, and Palmer, were sometimes treated like the last members of a dying breed. When players like Peyton Manning retired, it was treated like another step toward quarterback extinction.

Watson was a rebuke to that premise, a player that promised the league future life. He wasn’t just effective—he was dynamic, the prototype you’d design if you were asked to craft an exciting young quarterback. And as soon as we’ve met him, he’s gone for the year, and we have to wonder what his future—or the NFL’s—looks like.