HOUSTON - Texans defensive end J.J. Watt had avoided making excuses for the broken left hand that undermined his play the past three weeks yet on Sunday, with the cast that impeded his performances removed, Watt reminded everyone of his influence when he's healthy.
Watt and linebacker Whitney Mercilus spearheaded an outstanding defensive effort and the Houston Texans clinched their third AFC South title with a 30-6 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium.
The Texans (9-7) closed the regular season with three consecutive intra-division wins for their first division title since 2012. The Texans, 2-5 following a loss at Miami on Oct. 25, won six of eight games after their bye week and will host an AFC Wild Card game next weekend.
"Feel good for these guys," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "These guys have fought hard to get into this position. I'm proud to be associated with these guys."
Opponents combined to score 22 points against the Texans over their last three games with the finale yielding the momentum they sought entering the postseason. With his cast removed Watt regaining his All-Pro form participating with a thick protective padding while playing like a whirling dervish with eight combined tackles, four quarterback hits, three sacks, two batted passes, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
"It was beautiful," Watt said of playing unencumbered. "I think for a little while there people started to forget and today was a little bit of a reminder of what it's like when I have both hands. It felt great.
"I was never going to say that it was hindering me or anything. I was just going to go out there and play. But I think that you can see today it was much better with two (hands) than one."
Mercilus was as dynamic, posting five combined tackles, 3.5 sacks (giving him a career-high 12 this season) and three quarterback hits.
With the Jaguars (5-11) trailing by 14 and threatening early in the fourth quarter, Watt recorded a strip sack of quarterback Blake Bortles. Mercilus plucked the fumble out of the air to thwart a potential scoring drive with 9:16 left to play. The Jaguars produced just 215 total yards.
Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer returned from a two-game injury hiatus and passed for 249 yards and a score. Running back Jonathan Grimes added a 12-yard TD catch and 3-yard scoring run, while kicker Nick Novak delivered field goals of 29, 51 and 51 yards.
Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson capped the sparkling defensive showcase with a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:09 left to play, his second career pick-6. Bortles passed for 239 yards plus two interceptions and was sacked eight times, including on the final play from scrimmage with the Jaguars attempting to penetrate the goal line. Jacksonville averaged 31.8 points over its previous five games.
"It's tough to end a year on a note like that but I guess the good thing is we've got a lot of time to look at it and figure out how to fix it and do different things," said Bortles, who set franchise records for completions (355) and passing yards (4,428). "This is definitely tough. You never want to play a game like that."
Following a victory against Tennessee on Nov. 19, the Jaguars closed to within one game of the Texans and Indianapolis Colts for the division lead. Five losses in six games later, that promise was squandered.
"That's disappointing," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said of the 1-5 finish. "We have a chance to go into the last six games and had some opportunities there and we didn't finish like we wanted to and the results didn't come up like we hoped to."
NOTES: Jaguars WR Neal Sterling was sidelined with a concussion in the first half and did not return. ... Texans LT Duane Brown was carted off the field with a torn right quad with 3:03 remaining in the first quarter. Brown suffered the injury while pulling across the formation on a 5-yard gain by RB Alfred Blue. ... With his 22-yard reception in the second quarter, Jaguars WR Allen Robinson recorded his 30th reception of at least 20 yards, the most in the NFL this season and the most in franchise history. ... With his second sack, Texans LB Whitney Mercilus increased his season total to 12 sacks and joined DE J.J. Watt (17.5) in double digits, marking the first time in franchise history the Texans had two players with at least 10 sacks in a single season. ... Texans WR Nate Washington departed with a hip injury late in the first half and did not return.