He's not done yet, but Sunday was an exclamation point of sorts for J.J. Watt's outstanding season.
Watt had 10 solo tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss and one forced fumble at the goal line as the Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts 29-17, clinching their second consecutive AFC South title. The second-year defensive end now has 19.5 sacks this season, tied with Aldon Smith for the NFL lead and just three sacks shy of Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record.
"It seemed like every time I looked up, he was making a play," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's him. It's that time of year, and big-time players make big plays in big games."
With two games remaining, Watt has the sixth-most sacks in a season by a defensive lineman in NFL history. He is tied for the ninth-most sacks in a season overall. He also has a team-high 15 passes defensed, 33 tackles for loss, 38 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles.
"What he's doing is amazing," said Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, a five-time Pro Bowler who eclipsed 11,000 career receiving yards on Sunday. "If he keeps going at the rate he's going, I think he'll probably be the greatest Texan to come through here. He's a hell of a player, and I enjoy watching him."
Said Watt, who's still only 23: "(I'm) having fun. I'm enjoying myself. I've said all along that if you're not trying to be the greatest, you're wasting your time. I'm going out there every single day and trying to do what I can to help this team win football games… Once you step on the field, you have to go into monster mode. That's what I try to do."
It's not just how many plays Watt makes, it's how and when he makes them. He breaks through double-teams from the interior of the defensive line, often manhandling guards and centers on his way to the quarterback. And he always, it seems, finds a way to do so at the most crucial of times.
Watt's first sack on Sunday came in the first quarter with the Texans leading 10-0. The Colts had driven into Texans territory and had a first-and-10 at the Houston 34-yard line. Watt sacked Luck for a loss of 15 yards, knocking the Colts out of field goal range and leading to a punt two plays later.
The Colts started their next drive at the Houston 38 following a 29-yard punt by Donnie Jones. On second-and-four from the 13, Watt tackled running back Mewelde Moore for a loss of two. Two plays later, on second-and-goal at the one, Watt stripped the ball from Moore at the goal line. Tim Dobbins recovered to keep the Colts off the scoreboard.
The Colts got the ball back at the Houston 34 on their next drive. On first-and-goal at the 5, Watt stuffed running back Vick Ballard for a loss of three. The Colts ended up with a 26-yard field goal.
"Every game, when we need a big play on that side of the football, he seems to be right in the mix of that play," Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said. "It's inspiring for the whole team. He gives everyone energy."
Watt also had a sack late in the second quarter three plays before the punt that Bryan Braman blocked and returned for a touchdown. He tackled Ballard for a five-yard loss deep in Colts territory early in the fourth quarter with the Texans clinging to a 23-17 lead. He sacked Luck a third time on the Colts' next drive, dropping him for a loss of four with 6:46 remaining.
Unsatisfied, Watt said he missed two sacks on Sunday that "really irked" him. Asked about his penchant for big plays in big moments, he said it's the stuff of which dreams are made.
"You want to be that guy," Watt said. "When you're lying in bed at night as a kid, when I'm lying in bed at night the night before a game, you don't dream about first-and-10 and going to make a three-yard tackle. You dream about making a sack to end the game, about forcing a fumble on the goal line. You dream about tipping a pass that gets returned for a touchdown.
"I've been preparing my whole life for this stuff, and it's just starting to come to fruition. One thing I'm excited about and happy about is that it's not over. I have a lot of football left and there's so much better I can get; I can get those two sacks. I can go out there and play better, and the fun is just beginning."
Texans left tackle Duane Brown said he's "at a loss for words" over how Watt is playing. Defensive end Antonio Smith said he has "never seen anything like it" and that a huddle of defensive players were talking about Watt on the sideline during the game, "in awe of the job he's doing." Outside linebacker Connor Barwin said between all the sacks and tackles for loss on Sunday, he wondered if Watt had broken some kind of record.
"He was absolutely incredible today in big moments," Barwin said. "He made plays all day that were extremely important for us. If he doesn't win the defensive MVP, it's a scam."
That's Watt's up.