HOUSTON -- While burnishing a resume that was fast-tracking him toward the Hall of Fame, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt not only amassed sacks and pass deflections at a remarkable clip, he did so while showcasing extraordinary durability over his first five seasons in the NFL.
As important as the 74.5 sacks and 45 passes defensed Watt recorded between his rookie campaign in 2011 and the 2015 season that saw him challenge for league MVP honors was the number of games he missed during that stretch: zero. Watt made himself available to the Texans repeatedly, doing so through injuries that might have slowed a less determined individual.
However, in Houston's 42-34 loss to the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night at NRG Stadium, the Texans again encountered what has suddenly become their new reality regarding Watt.
After having Watt for just three games last season thanks to a pair of back surgeries, Houston likely lost him for the season again after Watt sustained a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg.
"I feel terrible for the guy," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "But, with that being said, just knowing him and knowing the type of guy that he is, he's an amazing human being. He's an amazing human being, and he will work extremely hard to be back, to be back to play for this football team. I know that."
While it would be foolhardy to question Watt and the commitment he will showcase in rehabilitating for a return to the field, the growing concern of whether Watt would be diminished when he does come back is worthy of consideration.
Watt had yet to record a sack through four games this season, and while his performance had been outstanding as usual, the unrelenting dominance he displayed winning three Defensive Player of the Year awards merely flickered.
With Watt now 28 and facing another season prematurely lost to injury, there is a sense that he can't replicate the productivity of his prime. And, after pacing the NFL in total defense last season with Watt sidelined, the Texans are accustomed to playing without him.
"Anytime you lose any player, obviously, a player of J.J.'s stature is always tough, but you got to continue to move on because the game doesn't stop for anyone," Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. "So we'll adjust as a team and move forward and get better."
Making matters worse for the Houston defense, however, was that linebacker Whitney Mercilus exited with a chest injury in the first quarter Sunday. According to the Houston Chronicle, he is due to undergo season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
Mercilus recorded 12 sacks in 2015 and 7.5 in 2016. He has one sack this year.