Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) scrambles with the ball in the first quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on September 24, 2017. File photo by Matthew Healey/UPI | License Photo
SEATTLE -- On a day when he threw a career-high three interceptions, Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson did enough against one of the NFL's best pass defenses to prove again that he belongs.
Watson torched the Seattle Seahawks for 402 yards and four touchdowns, but it wasn't enough in Houston's 41-38 loss on Sunday.
"He played great," head coach Bill O'Brien said after Watson led the Texans to a 38-34 lead in the final minutes before a Russell Wilson touchdown pass with 21 seconds left rescued the Seahawks.
Watson completed 19 of 30 passes and got 224 receiving yards from wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, but he was intercepted twice by Richard Sherman and once by Earl Thomas in the loss.
Sherman, for one, was impressed with the rookie's performance.
"You've got to give him a lot of credit," he said of Watson. "He's going to be a great player in this league."
The Texans unleashed Watson on Seattle's secondary, as he tested Sherman on the opening drive and didn't make a concerted effort to avoid the Pro-Bowl cornerback throughout the game.
"We have to attack," O'Brien said. "We're not the kind of team that can dip a toe in the water. If we do that, we're not going to be successful."
Watson continues to be the leading candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and his performance Sunday provided more fodder.
"Go ahead and give him Rookie of the Year," Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. "He's special."
Said Hopkins: "He's going to do what he's going to do when the ball's in his hands."
On what may have been the most important play of the game, O'Brien took the ball out of Watson's hands on a key third-and-4 with less than two minutes remaining. With Houston clinging to a four-point lead, a first down may have clinched the victory, but the Texans let Lamar Miller run the ball -- and he came up short.
"That was my fault," O'Brien said. "A miscommunication, and it was my fault."
The Texans made a statement about owner Bob McNair's controversial comments by kneeling for the national anthem before the game. Most of them, anyway.
All but about a half-dozen Houston players took a knee during the national anthem. Linebacker Brian Peters and offensive linemen Nick Martin and Xavier Su'a-Filo were standing, but locked arms with their teammates. Offensive lineman Breno Giacomini stood behind his kneeling teammates with a hand over his heart during the anthem.
Texans tackle Duane Brown, who has been at the forefront of the discussion about McNair's comments, said the players were unified and that there was no ill will toward those who did not kneel.
"I'm never going to force anybody to do anything they're not comfortable with," Brown said. "I think we all felt the same way (during a team meeting) Friday, and some people didn't feel confident doing it. But we all support each other."
The Seahawks continued to make their own anthem statement, which they have been doing since the beginning of the season as a way of protesting the treatment of African-Americans by police. Defensive end Michael Bennett and six of his teammates were seated on a bench during the anthem. When Bennett recorded a first-quarter sack, he took to one knee and pointed toward the sky.
Thomas made another big play Sunday when he intercepted a first-quarter Watson pass and returned it 78 yards for the Seahawks' first touchdown.
Thomas, who flirted with the idea of retirement after sustaining a leg injury last season, has made his presence known all year. He had a key forced fumble near the goal line in a win over the Los Angeles Rams earlier this season, and he made his second interception of the year Sunday.
Meanwhile, the rarely tested Sherman had gone nine consecutive regular-season games without an interception before recording two Sunday.
Brown hasn't had any trouble finding the spotlight since ending his holdout earlier in the week. He made his season debut as Houston's starting left tackle Sunday.
"There was some rust," he said, "but I felt I did OK."
During a week when player protests dominated the news, Hopkins and running back D'Onta Foreman skipped practices Friday because of McNair's comments.
On game day, Hopkins made eight receptions and scored the Texans' go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Foreman played, but did not have any rushing attempts.
"Blue practiced better," O'Brien said, referring to Alfred Blue, who carried the ball five times for 21 yards as the primary backup to Miller on Sunday.
Hopkins wasn't in any mood to talk about missing practice. When asked about it after Sunday's game, he kept repeating the same line.
"The Seahawks played a good game," he said. "Any football questions?"