Culture / Sporting Life

J.J. Watt Haunted by Missed Sack, Tony Romo Flashback in Texans’ Inexplicable Return to Mediocrity

Jadeveon Clowney's Pick-6 in Seattle Only Adds to the Pain For a Franchise That's Still Lost

BY // 09.29.19

Almost as soon as Kyle Allen ducks under a flying J.J. Watt and somehow stays on his feet, it brings back images (and YouTube clips) of Tony Romo’s own great sack escape against No. 99. It is not fair that one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history keeps getting haunted by his rare misses.

But no one said that the National Football League is fair.

This is a ruthless business — and here, the Houston Texans and J.J. Watt are again. Stuck with a 2-2 record after four weeks despite that impressive road win over the Chargers, smack dab in the middle of NFL mediocrity.

This Sunday ends with the Carolina Panthers holding on for a 16-10 victory in the Texans’ house. With Watt grasping at air. And Texans coach Bill O’Brien seemingly grasping at straws, using the word “bad” three times in his first two postgame answers, and adding a “terrible” shortly after.

“I take that one all on me,” Watt says afterwards at his locker as a horde of TV cameras push in to capture his words. “If I make that play at the end… (they’re) probably out of field goal range. Probably we get the ball back with some time left.

“So, I put that 100 percent on me. I have to make that play.”

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Allen, the former Texas A&M and University of Houston quarterback who didn’t exactly win the hearts of fans at either school, leaves his close encounter with Watt still standing. Instead of being sacked on third-and-6 with the game clock inside of three minutes, he fires a 17-yard strike to Jarius Wright for the first down.

The Panthers keep the ball for another two minutes, add a field goal and leave Deshaun Watson with only 28 seconds to attempt a miracle.

This game isn’t really on Watt. Or his near sack in a game where he strip sacked Allen and recovered a fumble deep in Panthers’ territory earlier. It’s on an offense that looks lightning fast on the road and Sloths at the DMV slow at home.

The Texans score only 10 points against a Carolina team that managed to give up 20 points to both the Cardinals and the Buccaneers. Ten points and only 264 total yards. At NRG Stadium.

“J.J. is a great leader,” Texans linebacker Brennan Scarlett says. “There’s evidence of that, him putting it upon himself. But it’s not. It’s on everybody, from players to coaches.”

Watt doesn’t want to hear it. Not after a play that can’t help but bring back memories of Tony Romo escaping J.J. Watt’s grasp to fling a 43-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams in a memorable Cowboys-Texans clash. This came in the 2014 season, back when Bill O’Brien represented fresh promise for Houston’s football team.

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

Watt can be excused for thinking he’s caught in some Groundhog Day’s version of NFL blahness. Even now that Watt finally has a franchise quarterback on his side, the Texans are struggling to beat the Jaguars at home — and losing to a Panthers team without Cam Newton.

Nine seasons, numerous injuries and heroic feats for Houston in, you can bet this must be getting a little old for No. 99.

The Kyle Allens of the world are not supposed to get the better of a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. There’s something about that more screwed up than even the most devious computer program in Mr. Robot.

“Thank God I stayed on my feet,” Allen says of his near Watt leveling.

Allen is pumped up enough about the play to post a picture of himself still standing with Watt on the ground behind him to his Instagram account right after the game. The young quarterback does not taunt Watt in the caption or anything. But that does not make it hurt any less.

Or make it likely go unnoticed.

“It’s a 60 minute game,” Watt says. “But I mean, control what you can control. That was my play to control. I did not do a good enough job on that play. So I will take full responsibility for it.”

Nine seasons in, Watt should not still be kicking himself after games when he goes superman. That strip sack/fumble forced and recovered play from him is a bit of pure individual brilliance. It’s still not enough.

This is the Texans’ way. In the past. And somehow, still now.

Cal McNair’s put all his trust in Bill O’Brien, virtually anointed him king of Kirby Drive. Watt and Watson are dependent on the coach/GM, too.

But on a day when Jadeveon Clowney shows off all his talent on a one-handed pick-6 that gets his new franchise — a proven winning franchise — rolling, O’Brien’s roster looks like it is still several playmakers short.

DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller pick up a paltry combined 64 yards between them despite making eight catches. Watson’s longest completion travels 14 yards.

With a 3-1 start just there for the taking, the Texans cannot find a playmaker to grab it.

J.J. Watt will go right to his locker after the game. He’ll be the first Texan to talk to reporters. He’ll blame himself every which way he can.

It’s noble sure. But it’s also sort of sad. When will someone else ever pick up No. 99?

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