J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson's bond: From injury to playoffs

On the field, J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson hugged each other after clinching their first AFC South title together on Sunday. They often did after games, but this time was different.

"I wanted to say great game to him and we have more work to do," Watson said. "That was literally all that was said. I told him I love him, he told me he loves me, we're brothers."

Watt and Watson used to talk about days like this. While rehabbing from season-ending injuries, the three-time Defensive MVP and the rookie quarterback kept each other motivated for their comeback seasons in 2018.

"We talked about times like this when we were in the training room, what we wanted to accomplish and what we were working toward," Watt said. "So, for it to be where we are now and to have everything in front of us, it feels really good. I think that we can both look back at all the work and all the tough times that we had and be happy and proud of where we're at now."

Now both are preparing for a playoff game after record-setting seasons.

Watt, coming off back-to-back seasons cut short by injury, worked his way back from a tibial plateau fracture in his leg that caused him to miss the final 11 games of 2017. Many questioned if he would ever put up numbers like he during his four All-Pro seasons (2012-15). Not only did Watt start all 16 games in 2018, he finished with an AFC-leading 16.0 sacks, 61 tackles, 25 quarterback hits, 18 tackles for loss, four passes defensed, seven forced fumbles.

Meanwhile, Watson also started all 16 games and led the Texans on five game-winning drives to end the season with an 11-5 record and a division title. Watson only got better as the season progressed. In his last nine games, he was 193-for-264 (73.1%) for 2,228 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 115.2 passer rating.

But one year ago, Watson spent his days rehabbing from season-ending ACL surgery after a dyamic rookie campaign suddenly cut short.

"I mean me and J.J., we're brothers," Watson said. "We became really close over our rehab process this past offseason. And just being able to be on the same page. Like he told me back then, he's going to be that leader on that defense, and lead that whole troop, that whole squad and I'm going to do the same for the offense and we're going to bring this whole team up. We knew the work we had to put in to be able to come back and play a full season and try to get the team to this position, to have a chance."

The two became nearly inseparable during their long days of rehab and recovery. They shared their major milestones, jogging and running, on social media and soon both were cleared in time for training camp.

Now, they enter their first postseason together, one that is even more special because of their comebacks from injury.

"When I was around in the training room during the offseason, they were together a lot," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "They were side-by-side. Different injuries, but kind of going through the same schedule of things. I think you'd have to ask them, but it looks like there was a bond created there. Obviously, Deshaun's a younger player. J.J.'s been around for a long time and such a great player. I think there was a real bond there, and I think that was good for both guys."

After clinching the AFC South division title, the Texans will host the Colts in the AFC Wild Card game on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3:35 p.m. CT on ESPN/ABC-13 and SportsRadio 610.

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