During the 2015 season, I saw a tweet in reference to J.J. Watt that I wished I had taken note of the author. Paraphrasing, the author said that if anyone was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year other than Watt, it was akin to handing someone a participation trophy, because it was clear, still, that Watt was, is and will be the greatest defensive player on the planet.
I thought a more apt comparison would've been to the 1990s NBA MVPs not named Michael Jordan. The NBA and its writers could've saved themselves a ton of work each year.
Work done. But, it really didn't go that way, as numerous NBA players were named MVP in years that Jordan clearly should've taken home the hardware.
Look, Carolina cornerback Josh Norman had a tremendous season, as did his teammate Luke Kuechly. St. Louis, soon-to-be Los Angeles Rams, defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been a disruptive menace on the line of scrimmage from the day he arrived in the NFL.
I thought about all the plays that have made Watt special and I've used this space to point them out on a weekly basis. But, there's one instance that stands out more than any other that encapsulates why Watt has become the most dominant defensive player in the NFL.
It actually started on the Saturday before the Texans traveled to Jacksonville. Early that morning, as we were waiting to get on the bus for the airport, I saw J.J. walk into the building on his way to the locker room. He had his shades on and it struck me a bit odd, just the timing of him arriving. Usually, he was there well ahead of time. But, I didn't really think too much of it at the time.
When we got on the plane, Drew Dougherty leaned over and said "J.J.'s sick as a dog and they put him on the injury report as questionable for tomorrow."
My heart dropped, but it made sense with what I'd seen at the stadium before we left. Then, I saw him get on the plane and he looked in bad shape.
The Texans were 1-4 and desperately needed a win in the worst way. How could that happen without Watt on the field? Somehow, someway Watt got out on the field that Sunday.
In the end, he had two tackles. That's it. No sacks. No tackles for a loss. He had just enough gas to play the next play and that was it. But, ask me what made Watt the Defensive Player of the Year and the best defensive player on the planet and I'll point to this game. There was one play in particular that stood out, more than any other.
The Texans led only 17-14 when the Jaguars had a 3rd and long. The Jags put 11 personnel on the field and aligned in a 3x1 tight bunch set.
Watt, as you can see, was aligned inside over the Jaguars rookie guard A.J. Cann.
We'll flip it over to the end zone shot to get a better view. On the snap, Watt immediately shot his hands at Cann to control the 300 pound rookie.
As soon as Watt realized that he had a two-way go and that there was no help for Cann, Watt immediately swam over Cann with his right arm.
At that point, Watt won. Now, it was a matter of whether he could get to Jaguars QB Blake Bortles for the sack. But, Cann never let him to get there…
...as he tackled Watt to the ground. It was clearly a holding penalty and the refs saw it the same way, throwing the flag on Cann. But, Watt didn't stop.
From the ground, he crawled on all fours to get to Bortles.
Then, at the last second with no energy remaining, he dove at Bortles' feet. He missed and the Jags QB completed the pass for a first down. But, the holding call on Cann called it back. The Texans forced an incompletion on the next play. Five plays later, DeAndre Hopkins caught his second TD pass on the day to put the Texans ahead to stay.
What would've happened if Watt had not drawn that holding penalty? Luckily, we never had to find out.
After A.J. Bouye intercepted Bortles' last pass of the day, Watt walked over near me on the sideline and squatted down like a catcher. I knew what was coming as Watt leaned over, so I briskly walked away so as to not see what he had for breakfast, if anything. I couldn't even watch that man in the pain he was in, but I marveled at how the man willed himself through nearly every single play in that game.
Sure, the splash plays are fun to watch and, honestly, what put him in position to win an award as such. However, this play exemplified Watt's soul as a defensive stalwart and the drive to be great on every play.
No matter the obstacle in the way.