For several seconds—immediately after rookie Houston QB Deshaun Watson had broken free for a 49-yard scramble for a touchdown during Thursday’s night’s 13-9 win over the Bengals—I thought to myself, “Did we just watch the most exciting play in Texans history?” Now, to be clear, it felt silly before I’d even finished the thought, and it feels even sillier now. BUT it was undeniably a thought, and it was the first time ever a Houston Texans quarterback was the person who made me think it, which surely means something.
Regarding very exciting, very symbolic plays for the Texans, there are three big ones that come to mind.
There was the time during a game against the Chiefs in 2015 when J.J. Watt, who would go on to become an actual grizzly bear that season, had his helmet illegally shoved off his head by an offensive lineman during a play. Watt, rather than slowing down or simply stopping and waiting for the refs to throw a flag (which they did shortly thereafter), charged into the fray helmetless like a maniac, snatching up the quarterback and then dragging him down into hell. The crowd went bonkers, and J.J. sprung up and snarled and saluted the invisible troops he likes to salute. It was so, so, so exciting, in part because it was a sack, but mostly because it was a sack in just about the most J.J. Watt–y way possible. (The only way it’d have been even more J.J. Watt–y is if he’d have driven a Ford F-250 toward the quarterback.)
There was the time during a game against the Cardinals in 2009 when the Texans were down by a touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter and Andre Johnson caught a pass at the 4-yard line, collided head-on with a defender with so much force that the defender flipped backward through the air, bowling balled a second defender at the 2-yard line, then powerbombed his way through a third defender who’d met him at the 1-yard line. The play ended with three Cardinals players deceased and Johnson celebrating a touchdown that would mark all of the things that Texans fans would come to love about him. (My personal favorite Andre Johnson play was when he beat up the loathsome Cortland Finnegan in 2010.) (It was excellent and beautiful.) (Andre was already beloved in Houston by that point. After he mollywhopped Finnegan, though, he became a deity.)
Then there was the time during a game against the Giants in 2014, when Ryan Fitzpatrick decided to just throw the ball up for grabs down the field. (The only part of this scenario that was abnormal was the “down the field” part. Every Fitzpatrick pass as the Texans’ QB was one that could accurately be described as “up for grabs.” They were all just happening within about 6 feet of the line of scrimmage.) Fitzpatrick let the ball go and everyone watching on TV kind of held their breath until the camera panned over and we saw it was DeAndre Hopkins in one-on-one coverage that Fitzy was aiming at. The ball was of course 2 yards in the wrong direction, but Hopkins, a master and also a magician, reached all the way back to the Mesozoic era and caught it with just the fingertips of his left hand. Look at how goofy this is:
He caught that.
But so those are three plays that pop up when I try to think about moments that, when they happened, you watched them and you said something like, “OK. I get it. That’s who this guy is. That’s what this guy can do. We got something here.” And if I’m retrofitting me talking to myself after that Deshaun run, that’s probably a better way to have described it. It was a play that happened that made me like: [pretend I’m making that face where you turn the corners of your mouth downward while also raising your eyebrows in a very Robert De Niro kind of way].
It was a play that happened where you could say, “OK. This guy just turned 22 years old. This was his first professional start. It was a nationally televised game. It was his birthday. Earlier in the day, a video of him playing doorway basketball with an ex-porn star spread across the internet. And, just two plays earlier, he had his vertebrae shoved out of his back by Geno Atkins because someone missed a blocking assignment. And he still had the longest run by a quarterback in franchise history, as well as a late-game drive that ate up five or so minutes. And also the Texans won the game? We might have something here.”
There are a bunch of things that Deshaun can be better at, absolutely. (It’s going to be very cool when someone on the coaching staff tells him that he has other receivers besides just DeAndre.) And next week the Texans play the Patriots, and so of course Bill Belichick is going to be on some Pennywise shit with all of his usual traps and horror movie schemes. But Thursday night—that run. That was excellent. And interesting. And, potentially, symbolic.