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Culture / Sporting Life

Deshaun Watson Has Nothing to be Ashamed Of, He’ll Dominate Many Playoff Games to Come

Struggling as Andrew Luck Coasts Will be Forgotten as Long as Cal McNair Demands More of Those Around His Franchise QB

BY // 01.06.19

It’s the quiet of a season gone suddenly dead, the quiet of all the promise seeping from the room. Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus cuts the white athletic tape off his right ankle. A hurting DeAndre Hopkins needs someone’s help to pull off his cleats.

In the end, that improbable, star-dusted nine game winning streak means little. The Texans are still one and done in the postseason. They’ve still won one playoff game total in coach Bill O’Brien’s five seasons in charge on Kirby Drive.

It is Colts 21, Texans 7 on the first Saturday in January with the ever early-game-stuck Texans the first team ushered out of the NFL playoffs. But this loss is more valuable than most of those Houston disappointments past because Deshaun Watson lived (and largely struggled) through it.

This is not just another throwaway Houston heartbreak. It’s not just another beyond beautiful “winter” day in H-Town when Texans fans (71,798 of them in this case) stream into NRG Stadium full of hope and belief and walk out to dark skies and an even gloomier football future.

Because Watson will learn from this. The best quarterback the Texans have ever had is too good, too talented and too determined to let Colts 21, Texans 7 in his first playoff start ever define him.

He’ll learn from this — and be a better playoff quarterback when he gets back to another big January game. This is another painful stumble for this Texans franchise, a bitter end to a season in which the franchise lost the only owner it’s ever known, the self-made billionaire who brought football back to Houston.

“With everything we’ve been through this season, the death of Mr. (Bob) McNair, we wanted to do a lot more,” veteran Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph says.

At least this time, the stumble seems like part of a process that’s actually headed somewhere. This loss is better than 30-0 Chiefs and 34-16 New England because this time there is still no doubt the Texans still have the right quarterback to win in the playoffs. For years to come.

“My future’s bright,” Watson says firmly after the game. “I’m not going to lose any confidence in myself, what I can do.”

It looks like Andrew Luck could go full Sandra Bullock Bird Box blindfold and still complete passes against this Texans defense.

Watson can never spark O’Brien’s flawed, battered roster on this Saturday. He actually throws for more yards than Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who doesn’t need to do much of anything in the second half. But while Watson is almost all of Houston’s offense — with 235 passing yards and 76 rushing yards, the lifeline QB accounts for 311 of his team’s 322 total yards — he isn’t close to himself.

Watson never looks like the franchise quarterback. The ultimate big game quarterback seems somehow muted. Watson overthrows open receivers. He bounces balls off the turf. He throws an interception on Houston’s second possession, holds the ball too long for a deflating sack in the third quarter with the Texans still only down 21-0.

It’s the nightmare that no one sees coming for the QB who took down Alabama and the mighty Nick Saban. The one who stood up to Tom Brady and Russell Wilson on the road in those rookie season shootouts. Deshaun Watson always come through on the biggest of stages? Right! Right!?

Instead, Watson’s first NFL playoff game flips the script.

“I mean, you’ve got to look at the film,” Watson says when asked why so many of his passes are low. “The pressure was there. Couldn’t step into my throws. It wasn’t where I was sitting there by myself with a full pocket. Guys were in my face.

“Trying to make throws like that… I can’t fully throw. Any quarterback, not just me, can’t step into that throw like that. Can’t get their full strength with their lower body. A lot of throws can be low. That was just it really.”

In truth, it’s more than that. Deshaun Watson is not very good on this Saturday either. But he will be in his next playoff game — and the ones after that.

Don’t get me wrong. If O’Brien’s hand picked general manager cannot build at least a mediocre to average offensive line around the 23-year-old franchise lifeline (the line Watson currently works with is downright putrid), if Cal McNair is not willing to take more financial risks than his father, the Texans could still very well waste their  shining light.

But Watson gives them a path – one that wasn’t there after 30-0 Chiefs and 34-16 Patriots.

“He’s a great player,” Colts coach Frank Reich says of Watson.

No Laughing Matter

The Texans come into this postseason too beat up and injured (they still haven’t recovered from losing speedster Will Fuller) to make a long run. But you still want to show up. You still want the other team — and the league — to know you were actually there.

Instead, these Texans barely make a peep. There are church mouses that are more disruptive.

Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton marching into the Texans’ stadium wearing a freaky clown mask (a brilliant bit of counter trolling in response to Joseph calling him “a clown”) stands up as a bigger blow than anything O’Brien’s team delivers in 60 minutes of football.

“We just didn’t do enough,” J.J. Watt says. “I mean, it sucks. I told the boys in there, it sucks. I love them. I love every guy in that locker room. I know we start out 0-3 — and most everybody wrote us off. We found a way to come back from it.”

All for this?

The first boos hit NRG Stadium with 4:03 left in the first quarter. There is an eternity of game left, but O’Brien’s team is already down 14-0.

The Colts first two possessions? Nine plays for 75 yards and a touchdown. Nine plays and 74 yards for a touchdown.

It looks like Andrew Luck could go full Sandra Bullock Bird Box blindfold and still complete passes against this Texans defense.

With 6:04 left in the first half, it’s 21-0 Colts. When the Texans go for it on 4-and-1 inside Indy’s 10-yard line minutes later and Watson throws too low for Hopkins in the end zone, all looks more than  lost.

It’s just a matter of how badly the Texans will be embarrassed. It turns out that 21-7 is just about as kind of a score as they could get — and not nearly indicative of how one sided this game truly turns out to be. The evening ends with Luck taking three knees after the Colts methodically drive down the field again, chewing up the last 4:09 on the clock even with the Texans using all three of their timeouts.

Watson could use a young back like Marlon Mack, who averages 6.2 yards per carry in racking up 148 yards — including three runs of 25 or more yards — against this overrated Houston defense, too.

Instead, Deshaun Watson gets a valuable playoff lesson.

“Man, it was tough,” he says. “But I’m not going to walk off the field with my head down. I’m going to keep my chin up, keep my heart light and warm.”

Keep my heart light and warm. Deshaun Watson is something — even when he’s taking a pounding.

The lifeline quarterback will be much better in his next playoff chance. Now, the franchise just needs to keep up with him.

All’s quiet in the Texans’ locker room, the season’s dead and gone. But this time the light for next time is real. No. 4 is walking down the hallway underneath NRG Stadium, head still held high.

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