Just as Deshaun Watson became the brightest star in a dark 2017 season, he was taken away from us. Almost halfway through this season, he had yet to fully return.
Watson had thrown nearly half as many touchdowns in the first seven games this season as he did in seven games last year while playing behind the second-worst line in the league. He has been sacked and pressured more than any quarterback in football, and that punishment has taken a toll. Doctors made Watson take a bus from Houston to Jacksonville for the Texans’ Week 7 tilt because they were concerned about the effect a pressurized plane cabin would have on his chest injuries.
Those struggles made his performance Thursday night that much sweeter. Watson led the Texans to a 42–23 win against the Dolphins for their fifth consecutive victory. He completed 16 passes on 20 attempts for 239 passing yards and threw five touchdowns to just four incompletions and zero interceptions for a 156.0 passer rating, while adding to the Texans’ lead at the top of the AFC South. Watson is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have two games with five touchdown passes in his first two seasons.
Three of Watson’s touchdowns came during a stretch of five passes. Up 14–10, the Texans’ first drive of the second half went 73 yards but stalled at the Miami 2-yard line, and coach Bill O’Brien left the offense on the field on fourth-and-goal. Watson took the ball in shotgun and rolled right to the painted “10,” but saw that nobody was open. Rather than force a throw or try a desperation dive toward the pylon, he ran back toward his left, nearly reaching the opposite painted “10” on the other side of the field but keeping his eyes on the end zone. In an instant, he flipped his hips, backpedaled, and threw a dart to tight end Jordan Thomas at the goal line for a score.
That patience is rare in young quarterbacks (and perhaps young people, period). After the Texans and Dolphins traded punts and the Dolphins scored a touchdown, Watson found Will Fuller V on a broken coverage for a 73-yard touchdown pass to put Houston up 28–17 with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter.
After Miami responded by driving down the field and settling for a field goal to make the game 28–20, Watson needed just two plays to strike again, this time to DeAndre Hopkins for 49 yards on what looked like another busted coverage to put the Texans up 35–20 11 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins responded with another field goal, and then Watson drove down and responded with a second touchdown to Hopkins for a 42–23 game with 7:34 left that all but sealed the game.
Watson had plenty of help. The Texans ran for a season-high 188 yards, including a season-best performance from Lamar Miller, who led the team with 133 yards on just 18 carries (7.4 yards per attempt) and a touchdown that tied the game at 7–7 in the first quarter. The Texans defense provided an interception on the Dolphins’ third drive of the game, which gave the Texans the ball on Miami’s 16-yard line (Watson turned it into a touchdown for a 14–7 lead two plays later).
Fuller led the team with 124 receiving yards on five catches and scored a touchdown before leaving the game with a knee injury, but not before making Dolphins defenders look silly. Hopkins added 82 yards to his two touchdowns but might have made the catch of the year on a play that didn’t count when he snagged the ball between his legs and held on for possession.
I don’t care about the offensive pass interference. This is an all time great catch from DeAndre Hopkins pic.twitter.com/1BUZAfD6oC— Andrew Ites (@PFF_Andrew) October 26, 2018
Yet Watson was the star of the night, converting a quarter of his passes into touchdowns for a game about as efficient as possible. Best of all, Watson was smiling again — and so was everyone watching (well, except for Dolphins fans).