HOUSTON — When J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans last faced the Kansas City Chiefs the defensive end was so badly hurt he only made it a little more than halfway through the demoralizing 30-0 wild-card playoff loss.
“For us to go out there and have the performance that we did it definitely helps build your confidence because that’s a very strong football team in your conference so you want to go out there and start 2-0,” Watt said. “It’s more about beating a good football team now than it is about (avenging) an old loss.”
Watt started that playoff game despite having several torn muscles in his core. He remained on his hands and knees for a couple of excruciating minutes after being thrown to the ground early in the third quarter and didn’t return, relegated to a spectator as the Chiefs romped to their first playoff win since 1994.
This time it was clear from the start that Watt was back to form after not quite looking like himself in Houston’s opener. Watt had back surgery in July that kept him out of camp and all four preseason games.
When a high snap sailed over Alex Smith’s head early in the first quarter Watt went to work. He shoved him out of the way with one hand and pounced on the ball.
The Texans (2-0) cashed in on that turnover on the next play when Brock Osweiler connected with DeAndre Hopkins on a 27-yard pass for the game’s only touchdown.
“Our defense really stood up there and when they had to in critical situations played well,” coach Bill O’Brien said.
Watt continued to shine later in the first quarter when he took Smith down for his first sack this season, forcing the Chiefs (1-1) to kick a field goal that made it 7-3.
Houston was leading by seven in the second quarter when Spencer Ware fumbled, Kevin Johnson scooped it up for his first career recovery and returned it 52 yards. The Texans couldn’t get their offense going after that and settled for a 24-yard field goal to make it 13-3.
John Simon forced the last fumble of the half on his strip-sack of Smith. It was recovered by Whitney Mercilus.
Watt and Simon finished with 1 1/2 sacks each and the pair combined for five quarterback hits. Jadeveon Clowney, the top overall pick in 2014, continued to be disruptive and had three tackles, including one for a loss, two quarterback hits and batted down one of Smith’s passes.
“We’re hungry. We’re trying to do better than we did last year. That’s the whole goal,” Clowney said. “We had to beat the Chiefs. They beat us twice last year. We had that chip on our shoulders like: ‘We can’t let this team beat us again.'”
Watt, who had surgery in January to repair his core muscles before undergoing the back surgery in July, doesn’t feel like he’s quite back to normal yet despite his big performance.
“I don’t think I’m all the way there yet,” he said. “But I definitely felt a little bit better today than I did last week and I think it’s going to continue that way.”
Some of the Texans tried to downplay the revenge-factor in this game. Team owner Bob McNair was not among them. McNair was asked if this win was more satisfying after what happened last year.
“It was for me,” he said. “I don’t know about the others. They beat us twice last year so we needed to step up and our guys did.”
For Mercilus the victory was a sign of how much has changed for this team in less than a year.
“It shows the progress we’ve made … coming from the playoffs and everything,” he said. “Two different teams. We came in and definitely showed out.”