HOUSTON -- Welcome to the NFL, Ryan Tannehill. On a dismal weekend for Aggies everywhere, you had the misfortune of seeing your first game turned into a nightmare thanks to several up-close-and-personal experiences with second-year defensive end J.J. Watt.
Don't feel too bad about it, although there is probably no consoling three interceptions and a QB rating of 39 in losing your first start, 30-10. But, in case you weren't watching Texans games during your senior season at Texas A&M, Watt spent his rookie year making life miserable for lots of QBs.
Ask Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton about him. Dalton will remember the Wisconsin ball swatter well, after the pass he tipped, then caught for an interception and returned for a momentum-swinging touchdown in the Texas’ first ever playoff victory over the Bengals
Matter of fact, Watt was so good as a rookie that Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who has seen all the great ones in some 35 years in the NFL, was moved to say during training camp that he sees the nimble 6-5, 295 pounder as a potential Hall of Famer. That remark moved some to say Wade was getting a little carried away.
Nobody who raised his eyebrows was an NFL quarterback. Or an offensive lineman.
Actually, Ryan, you were having a respectable game for a rookie late into the second quarter when Watt decided to take matters into those big paws of his. As you know, it was 3-3 with 4:06 left in the half when your next two passes were batted up in the air by Watt, intercepted by Brian Cushing and Kareem Jackson and became short-field touchdowns that made it 17-3 in a matter of 2:08.
At that point, you guys were just playing out the string. Another turnover, this one a fumble that led to yet another Texans’ TD, made it all the more academic. Thing is, nobody gets 14 down to a Wade Phillips defense and comes back to win. Especially a bad team with a first-year coach and a rookie QB going up against J.J. Watt and company.
In all fairness, Ryan, you sort of got sandbagged. Watt missed the entire pre-season with an elbow injury, so you didn’t see him on tape. But you surely witnessed enough Sunday afternoon to flinch whenever you see the No. 99 on anything.
Stop to think about what this guy did Sunday, and it’s pretty ridiculous. Hell, he was credited with more passes defensed than any player in either secondary. Officially, they gave him three knockdowns, but I counted four. Oh, yes, as you surely remember, he also had a sack and a half. About the only thing he didn’t do was get an interception.
Maybe you can’t appreciate this after the miserable afternoon you had, but JJ also has a great sense of humor for a defensive lineman. He was asked in the post game press-conference if he’d been inspired to do all the spking of your passes by watching beach volleyball in the Olympics.
As serious as can be, he said he plays volleyball every Tuesday and Thursday at the YMCA. “I play outside blocker.”
After letting the media chew on that a minute, he laughed and passed on the real key to his unique pass-blocking ability.
“I know I have long arms and I know you can’t get a sack every play. You might as well try to bat the ball down. Once you start to understand a quarterback’s rhythm, you see his eyes, you understand his arm motion, you can start for figure when he’s going to throw it.”
Watt also passed along that being on the outside looking in during the pre-season had him breathing fire.
“I was like a caged animal that was finally let loose,” he said.
By the way, Ryan, the word from Houston insiders is that Watt at times has been so disruptive to Houston’s offense with knockdowns in practice he’s left head coach Gary Kubiak out of sorts. Kubiak didn’t sound that way in his press conference, though. Probably because he knew Watt kept this game from being uncomfortably close for the over-hyped Texans.
“We do a good job of getting our hands on balls and tipping balls in practice,” said Kubiak, who was clearly and understandably not happy with several aspects of the Texans play. “As for JJ, it has not surprised me that he’s turned into a great player very quickly. The great thing you can do as a defensive lineman, if you can’t get to the quarterback, is to get your hands up. Nobody does it better than JJ Watt.”
Kubiak, meanwhile, was honest enough to admit to being disturbed over the Texans’ inability to run the ball — Arian Foster had only 49 yards on 12 carries — and the fact they settled for field goals twice after having first and goal inside the 10. He was really ticked have having to send out kicker Shayne Graham after Houston was first and goal at the three in the fourth quarter.
He was also most certainly aware that outside of a four-minute span of the second quarter the Texans were outscored, 10-9.
“I won’t sleep well tonight,” said Kubiak, who is bound to be troubled by inadequate special teams play, lowlighted by a 72-yard punt return touchdown by the Dolphins in the third quarter.”
On the flip side, the Houston coach had to like how crisp his passing game was. Matt Schaub, who was 20-of-31 for 266 yards, 2 TDs and a 102.4 rating, was terrific in his first game back after missing much of last season with a foot injury. Andre Johnson looked like anything but an aging receiver, with eight catches for 199 yards and a TD. Owen Daniels wasn’t bad, either, with four catches for 87.
The game ball and the most attaboys, though, go to Watt. Nobody had as much impact on the game as he did. You will vouch for that, won’t you Ryan?
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
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