HOUSTON -- With the Chicago Bears hoping against hope for a miraculous rally that might save them from a come-from-ahead loss, Houston Texans All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt arrived, forcing quarterback Jay Cutler into two late incompletions with the pass rushing skill that has made Watt one of the most feared players in the NFL.
That Watt arrived at all qualified as a significant victory. Despite undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back on July 20, Watt was in the starting lineup for the Texans' 23-14 victory over the Bears on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
It was a relatively quiet afternoon for Watt (one tackle, three quarterback hits), but the image of Watt with one hand grasping Cutler by the ankle offered a most promising picture.
"I knew I wouldn't have any problems with my back, and I didn't," Watt said. "Today definitely knocked some rust off. It felt good though to get some live balls and to go out there and get some live shots at you and get back into the flow of things. So I think it really gives me a good perspective going into Week 2 and lets me know what I need to work on."
Even without Watt at his extraordinary best, the Texans dominated defensively, particularly in the second half. They managed five sacks of Cutler, including two from linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was a disruptive force (four tackles, three quarterback hits, one sack) and the Texans managed to thrive despite losing inside linebacker Brian Cushing to a first-quarter knee injury.
Given those standout defensive performances, all eyes were on Watt, who played a significant number of snaps despite sitting out the entire preseason to rehab. The Texans were coy during the week regarding how they would utilize Watt, and after the opening kickoff, Watt played with vigor even though his production wasn't up to his Defensive Player of the Year standards.
"I think it's hard when you haven't practiced in a long time or played in a game in a long time," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I thought that at the end there, he was really revving. He was going pretty good. So I think we definitely need to see how much he played, see how he feels."