HOUSTON — J.J. Watt was back on the field in Houston’s 23-14 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, but not quite back to form after missing the entire preseason following back surgery.
“I’m knocking a little bit of rust off, and I think as we move forward here I’ll start to feel fully like myself again,” he said. “But there’s definitely some things I wish I could have done differently today.”
Coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t surprised at how Watt looked and thought he improved as the game progressed.
“I think it’s hard when you haven’t practiced in a long time or played in a game in a long time,” O’Brien said. “I thought at the end there, he was really revving. He was going pretty good.”
Watt said he didn’t feel any lingering effects from the surgery he had in July to repair a herniated disk and he played about as much as he normally does. But the man who has won NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year the last two seasons and three of the last four wasn’t the game-changer he has routinely been in the past.
“Physically my body feels fine,” he said. “I just need to get back into fully being myself out there and trusting my body and letting my body take over and do what it knows how to do.”
While Watt, who led the NFL with 17 ½ sacks last season, didn’t sack Jay Cutler on Sunday, he did register three hits on the quarterback. Watt’s teammates sacked Cutler five times, with Whitney Mercilus getting two and Jadeveon Clowney, Josh Simon and Andre Hal tallying one each.
Watt enjoyed watching his teammates get after Cutler and can’t wait to see what Houston’s defensive front will be able to do once he’s back to full strength.
“It’s a lot of fun out there and it’s fun when everybody is making plays,” he said. “You never know where it’s going to come from … it could be anybody and that’s what’s so fun about our defense.”
Watt had a difficult offseason and had surgery to repair five torn muscles in his core in January before going under the knife again to repair his back problem. Watt wasn’t too hard on himself for not playing up to his lofty expectations on Sunday after the months of rehabilitation it took to reach his goal of returning for Week 1.
“It’s been a long road and to be out there with my teammates for a win, it feels great,” he said. “We overcame a lot.”
While Watt was still shaking off the effects of his injury, Clowney looked to be completely healthy for the first time since his NFL debut in 2014. Clowney, who was the top overall pick in 2014, has failed to live up to expectations in two injury-filled seasons.
But on Sunday the Texans moved him around often and he showed flashes of what convinced them to select him first in the draft. He finished with five tackles, including two for losses and had a career-high three hits on Cutler.
“My first game ever was shaky, first two seasons were shaky, had a couple of injuries, but I’m feeling better and going out there competing and having fun,” Clowney said. “We’re winning games. So that’s great.”
With Watt not at full strength the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Clowney had to deal with some of the double-teams that Watt normally commands on Sunday.
“It was rough,” Clowney said with a laugh. “I know what he goes through.”
Clowney’s performance drew rave reviews from coaches, players and even team owner Bob McNair.
“He’s doing what we thought he would do when he was healthy,” McNair said. “He’s going to be fun to watch, and J.J. will play himself back into shape. So the defense will do nothing but get better.”