HOUSTON (AP) — Romeo Crennel joined the Houston Texans in 2014 as the defensive coordinator.
This week the interim coach was asked what it’s been like to see J.J. Watt making game-changing plays in the past two games.
“It was like it was when I first got here,” Crennel said. “He was making those huge plays when I first got here.”
After years plagued by injuries, Watt is experiencing a renaissance, taking over games as he did when he won NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times from 2012-15. And it’s helped the Texans to two straight wins this season.
Watt defended a career-high four passes two weeks ago in a win over the Patriots before returning an interception for a touchdown in a Thanksgiving victory over the Lions.
“He’s helping us win, he’s uplifting the team,” Crennel said. “He did that on Thanksgiving. Hopefully, we’ll continue that and let him keep making plays.”
The touchdown was his first score since he had five touchdowns and a safety in 2014. That season he returned a fumble for a touchdown, had a pick-6 and added three TD catches lining up as a tight end.
He has one other touchdown in his career. That one was his first and remains his favorite score, despite the fun he had getting back in the end zone last week after his long drought.
Watt was a rookie in the 2011 season when the Texans made the playoffs for the first time. They were tied with the Bengals in the second quarter when Watt swatted down a pass from Andy Dalton and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown to put Houston on top, and the Texans sailed to the 31-10 victory.
“(My favorite) is the one in the playoffs because the playoffs matter,” Watt said. “This one, it’s a very memorable play. I’ll always remember Thanksgiving ... it was a big game. You’ve got the whole country watching, so the chance to make a big play on Thanksgiving is great, but playoffs and plays that impact the playoff race are always going to be higher on the list for me.”
Watt was selected as an All-Pro for the fifth time in 2018 when he had 16 sacks. But that’s the only full season he’s played since 2015 as a broken leg, back surgery and a torn pectoral muscle cost him 32 games combined in the previous four seasons.
He’s been healthy this year and his play has been a highlight in Houston’s difficult season, reminding people of how dominant he can be.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson loved seeing Watt score against the Lions and called his touchdown “dope.”
“It brought me back to the old days,” Watson said. “He’s not getting old as we look at it. He’s still got some athletic ability. I knew sooner or later, especially after (the New England) game, he was going to get one of them.”
Houston’s opponents have also been keeping track of Watt’s recent work and know better than to underestimate the 31-year-old. Indianapolis offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni discussed his preparations for Watt leading into Sunday’s game against the Texans.
“He’s been not a good but a phenomenal player in this league for a lot of years ... we’ve thought about J.J. Watt more than you could possibly think about a person these last couple of days,” Sirianni said.
Colts veteran quarterback Philip Rivers has faced a lot of great defenders in his 17-year career, but few compare to Watt and the unique skills he possesses.
“There are certain guys that can ruin the football game and he’s certainly one of those guys,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if it’s just an internal clock, but what it is, is you know where 99 is on every snap, not just me but all of us as a collective group because of the type of player he is. He’s still playing at a super high level.”
Watt has spent his entire career in Houston and has long been the face of the franchise. He’s been visibly upset and frustrated this season as the Texans have struggled after winning the AFC South the past two seasons.
He brushes off talk about his performance and remains focused on helping the Texans finish the season strong. He’s glad that his recent work has helped the team win and hopes that he can help keep the winning streak going by making more big plays.
“That’s my job, to go out there and make those kinds of plays,” he said. “It feels good when you get the opportunity to go out there and do it ... to put points on the board for your team, which is rare. It’s always good. It’s great to be able to change a game in that way and to be able to swing momentum and hopefully sustain it and keep it going.”