Sunday was bittersweet for Houston: The Texans beat the Raiders 27-24, keeping them in place for a wild-card spot at 5-3 and firmly in the race for the AFC South title with the 5-2 Colts. That’s the good news. The bad news is everything else. Three of the Texans’ most important players are hurt. Quarterback Deshaun Watson was kicked in the eye on a touchdown pass (before the pass, for the record). Left tackle Laremy Tunsil did not finish the game due to a shoulder injury. And defensive lineman J.J. Watt tore his pectoral muscle, confirming after the game he will miss the rest of the season.
This game can be beautiful and it can also be brutal. Absolutely gutted that I won’t be able to finish the season with my guys and give the fans what they deserve. I truly love this game and can’t stand letting you guys down. Thank you for all of the thoughts & well-wishes.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) October 28, 2019
Watt appeared to suffer the injury fighting through blockers to make a tackle on running back Josh Jacobs. He stayed in the game for one more play.
Watt did not miss a game in the first five seasons of his career, including when he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, 2014, and 2015. He is one of three players to win the award in back-to-back seasons, along with Aaron Donald and Lawrence Taylor. But in the four seasons since his last DPOY award, he has played three, five, 16, and eight games. Last year, he had 16 sacks and a league-leading seven forced fumbles, though he has just 4 sacks and 1 forced fumble this season. Houston defensive lineman D.J. Reader has been playing well and could pick up some of Watt’s slack, but the best Texans defender of all time is out after half of a season and will turn 31 in March.
Watson was injured on an otherwise spectacular play. Down four points with less than seven minutes to go and facing a first-and-goal at the Raiders’ 9-yard line, Watson dropped back from shotgun but quickly faced pressure from Raiders edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Arden Key. He rolled right but was caught from behind by Key. But Watson spun out of the tackle, braced himself with a hand on the ground, continued the momentum of the spin move to keep running, and then tossed a touchdown to tight end Darren Fells.
The play was remarkably similar to one of the first sensational plays of Watson’s pro career, which happened almost exactly two years ago against Seattle in Week 8 of 2017, when Watson spun out of a sack and tossed a touchdown from a similar spot.
The difference is the aftermath. As Watson spun out of Key’s tackle, Key’s foot whipped into Watson’s eye. Watson grabbed the eye immediately but tossed the score before going to the ground, where he remained as trainers attended to him.
“I kind of threw it blind,” Watson said in his postgame press conference. “I kind of assumed where he was going and kind of adjusted and let my arm guide it. I didn’t even see the play until after the game. I kind of laid there and heard the crowd go crazy and knew we scored.”
Watson returned on the following drive, albeit with a visibly swollen left eye. Watson threw two passes after the injury, each going for a first down, the second of which sealed the game. Watson completed 27-of-39 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers, but his health is the Texans’ primary concern coming out of the game. The severity of Watson’s injury is unknown, but his return for the final drive is (for now) a good sign.
As for the man the Texans traded for in August to protect Watson’s blind side, Tunsil’s injury is the least clear and could have a big impact on what’s already an area of weakness for the team. The Texans have little depth at offensive tackle, and if Houston was reminded of one thing on Sunday, it’s the importance of protecting Deshaun Watson. The Texans need Watson to see the field, literally and figuratively.