An odd thing happened during Sunday’s Texans-Colts 22-car pileup that was disguised as a football game. It was sometime during the second half and Tom Savage, “quarterback” of the Texans, was Tom Savage-ing his way to another loss that should’ve been a win, and everything in the entire universe was feeling frustrating and ugly and dumb. And then, in an instant (and for only an instant), it wasn’t. Because the camera cut to the sideline, and when it did it showed Deshaun Watson, the Texans’ 10,000-watt beam of football sunshine. He was over there talking to somebody about something, and while he was doing so he had the tiniest smile on his face. It was invigorating.
When the news broke this past week that Watson had torn his ACL during a practice (or possibly during a game against the Seahawks) and would miss the rest of the season, the only possible feeling to have was a misery-based one. Because how could you not? Because he’d been fucking incredible. And not just for Texans fans, either. He’d been the rare, non-horrible thing in an otherwise mostly horrible NFL season. And it feels a lot like right here is the point in the article where I’m supposed to rattle off a bunch of unbelievable stats that Watson had stacked on top of each other during the first six starts of his (rookie) season. Something about how he was on pace to SHATTER the record for the number of touchdowns thrown by a rookie in a season. Or something about how only four rookie quarterbacks in the past 57 years have amassed four games of three or more touchdowns thrown, and it took Deshaun less than half a season to get there, and also while doing so he became the only rookie quarterback ever to score five touchdowns in back-to-back games. Or something about how he was tied for first place in touchdowns thrown this season among all quarterbacks, not just the rookies. But instead, consider just these five story headlines he forced into existence:
- Houston Chronicle: “Was Deshaun Watson Having the Best Rookie Season Ever?”
- Sports Illustrated: “Richard Sherman Says Deshaun Watson Will Be a Top-Five Quarterback Next Season”
- ESPN: “Is Deshaun Watson in the Same Fantasy Tier as Brady and Brees?”
- CBS: “Deshaun Watson, a Star in the Making”
- ESPN: “Deshaun Watson Gives Texans ‘A Chance in Every Single Game’”
That last one is really the most important one; it’s the one that’s tied to the odd feeling I mentioned at the start of this piece. Because what Deshaun Watson provides (even more than touchdown throws) (or possibly because of all the touchdown throws) is hope. And more than that: everlasting hope.
I have watched basically every Texans football game since the team came into being in 2002. And at no point ever before this season was there a time when it felt like whoever happened to be playing quarterback for the Texans at any particular time was going to be anything other than the reason they lost a game. Even that 2012 season where Matt Schaub led the team to a 12-4 record didn’t feel that way.
When I was a senior in high school I had this terrible little four-cylinder car called a Hyundai Scoupe. One night, while out late and on a mostly empty road, I decided to see how fast I could get it to go. I mashed on the gas pedal and held it all the way down as long as I could. It got up to about 95 miles per hour, and as we zipped along at that speed, the windows were shaking and the tires were shaking and the engine was howling this horrible high-pitched howl. It was a miracle it didn’t explode with me inside of it. That’s what that 2012 season felt like to me. Matt Schaub got the Texans up to 95 miles per hour, but in what felt like the most unsafe way possible.
But that’s not what it felt like with Deshaun back there. With Deshaun at quarterback it felt, for the first time, like the Texans were chasing wins instead of trying to just outrun losses.
I didn’t really notice it until the Texans played the Patriots in Foxborough in Week 3. Typically, the Texans playing the Patriots in Foxborough is about as fun for Texans fans as being strapped down to that chair was for the woman at the end of Hostel. (The one who had her eyeball dangling out of her head from being tortured, in case you needed clarification there.) It’s just literal torture. Prior to this season, the Texans had played there five times, and they lost those five games by a total of 119 points.
But it wasn’t that way with Deshaun. When Touchdown Tommy started flinging the ball all around the field, same as he always has against the Texans, it finally felt like we wouldn’t back down—like Deshaun wouldn't back down. In fact, it felt like he stood up taller just so he could look Brady in the eyes. He threw for 301 yards, averaging more than 9 yards per throw with two passing touchdowns and 41 yards rushing. And I mean, it wasn’t technically Deshaun’s best game, but it might as well have been because it came against Brady and Belichick.
Brady ended up throwing some hellacious bomb at the very end of the fourth quarter to seal the game for the Patriots (36-33, because sometimes the devil prevails), but it didn’t matter. Because it felt like we’d seen what we needed to see: that Deshaun Watson was that fucking dude.
The next week against the Titans, Deshaun led the Texans to a 57-point explosion, the most ever in franchise history. Three weeks after that (and in what would go on to be his last game of the season), he went bonkers on the road again, this time trying to pile drive Russell Wilson into submission. Both Deshaun and Wilson threw for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns apiece. It was only the sixth time that had ever happened in NFL history, which is why Richard Sherman said that Watson was going to be a top-five quarterback next season. It was great. Because even though the Texans lost, it felt like a loss that had meaning. And if not that, then at least a loss leading to something, which is essentially as good as a win for a young quarterback (and for fans of a young quarterback). And then the ACL news came out. And [fart noise].
But that moment during Sunday’s game when they showed him on TV for the first time since we found out his season was done: It felt invigorating. This may just be me projecting my own ambitions onto him, but he looked like he knew that he was going to be back next season and that he was going to be back with as much menace and venom in his bones as he’d shown in the games prior. Which makes sense, given that he went through this exact same injury in college, and when it happened he came back to win a national championship. Will he do it again? I don’t know. I can’t say for certain. But it feels like there’s hope now. Because that’s what Deshaun brings, what he represents. And it feels a lot like 2018 is going to be fantastic.