EDITOR'S NOTE:This article appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday magazine on Nov. 4, 2012, for the Texans' game against the Buffalo Bills at Reliant Stadium.
Two Sundays ago, Connor Barwin picked the perfect time to notch his first sack of 2012.
Now, his teammates think he might add to that total in bunches.
"Hopefully, it's only the start,"
Texans defensive end and NFL sack leader J.J. Watt said. "You look at what he did last year; he had four in one game, so hopefully he can get four in every game. That'd be nice."
Barwin set a team single-game record with 4.0 sacks at Jacksonville in 2011, part of his team-leading 11.5 sacks last season. He finally got on the board this season in the Texans' final game before their bye week.
In Week 7 at Reliant Stadium, with the Texans trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, Barwin blazed a trail to Joe Flacco's blind side, blasting the Baltimore Ravens quarterback and dropping him for a loss of seven yards and a safety. The Texans scored again on their next drive and never looked back in what became a 43-13 shellacking of their AFC rival.
Barwin finished the game with three tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and a pass defensed. Close-up replays of his safety showed an ear-to-ear smile on Barwin's face before he even let go of Flacco in the grass of the north end zone.
"It was a huge weight lifted off my back," Barwin said after the game. "Football is a lot of confidence, and so to get that early on in the game, I felt like I could really let it go for the rest of the game, and I was able to play well. I was just really happy that I finally got a sack."
Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had to wait in line to congratulate Barwin after his big play. The fourth-year outside linebacker was mobbed by teammates in the end zone, and linebackers coach Reggie Herring greeted him with a jubilant bear hug on the sideline.
"I could hardly get to him because everybody else was so happy for him, too," Phillips said. "The guy is really a great football player. He works tremendously hard and works at what he does. Everybody was happy for him."
After Barwin's breakout 2011 season, expectations were natural for more in 2012. With Texans career sack leader Mario Williams leaving in free agency for the Buffalo Bills, Barwin entered the season as the Texans' clear-cut top pass rusher. The former college tight end and defensive end was entering his second season as a linebacker and second season under Phillips, and coaches and teammates raved about how impressive he looked in the offseason.
Barwin was unable to ring up a sack through the first six games, but Phillips and head coach Gary Kubiak repeatedly said he was contributing despite his lack of numbers in that category.
"I appreciate the coaches having my back in those first six weeks, but that excuse only goes so long," Barwin said. "I wasn't happy with myself that I didn't have any."
Watt, who has 9.5 sacks this season, was happy to see Barwin and his teammates get in on the sack action against Baltimore.
"It's a lot of fun," Watt said. "It's nice when everybody's in on the party. It's always fun when everybody's getting sacks, everybody's getting plays and we're just having fun out there as a defense together."
That contagious playmaking isn't limited solely to the Texans' front seven. Not long after Barwin's sack-safety against the Ravens, Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph intercepted a batted pass and returned it for a touchdown.
"It's kind of funny because Connor and I had been getting blanked the last couple of weeks," Joseph said. "We always say we're always tied together. As soon as he made his sack and I made my interception, we both went over to each other and I was like, 'Hey man, we are starting to get something rolling here.'"
Pro Bowl defensive end Antonio Smith thinks Barwin is just getting rolling for the rest of the season.
"I don't want to jinx Connor, but I think (sacks) come in bunches," Smith said. "He finally got that first one knocked off, and all the pressure's gone. Connor's going to have a good year."
If Smith and Watt are right, Barwin's first sack of 2012 should be the first of many more to come.