By Flint Wheeler
J.J. Watt hadn’t gotten off to the best start this season: As NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast noted before Houston’s Week 5 matchup with Kansas City, he entered the contest without a sack in five straight games, dating back to 2016, the worst such stretch of his career. Now, his season is over before he even got the chance to right the ship. Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture—essentially a break in the bone directly below the knee—while rushing the quarterback in the first quarter and will reportedly miss the rest of the 2017 season.
After the play, Watt limped off the field with a grimace on his face. He was taken to a medical tent on the sideline, checked out briefly by the Texans staff, and then carted to the locker room.
On the play, you can see Watt clip his right ankle with his left foot before immediately falling to a knee. There was little contact on the play, but Watt was visibly emotional, and NBC’s Michelle Tafoya reported from the sideline that Watt was holding back tears before being carted off. In the second quarter, Watt came out of the team’s X-ray room and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
This will be the second consecutive year in which an injury has derailed Watt’s season. Last season Watt played in the Texans’ first three games before undergoing back surgery and ending up on the injured reserve list with a re-aggravation of a herniated disk that he’d received surgery on that offseason. Watt has no known history with knee injuries.
Watt is one of the most popular players in the NFL; he helped raise more than $37 million for Houston after Hurricane Harvey devastated the city. On a side of the ball where players often live in anonymity, Watt is one of the NFL’s true defensive A-listers. Since 2011, he has led the NFL in combined QB sacks and hits, tackles for no gain or a loss, and average gain allowed per tackle, according to the broadcast, and is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
The Texans have skated into the playoffs at 9-7 in each of the past two seasons but have been searching for the piece to take their team over the top. This season the hope was that Deshaun Watson would be that piece, and so far, he has looked the part. But without Watt—still one of the team’s most important players and its de facto leader—Houston’s playoff hopes take a huge blow. Even if the Texans can punch their ticket to the playoffs again thanks to a weak AFC South, they may prove just as tragically flawed come January as in the past two seasons.
Based on his start to the season, Watt’s days as one of the NFL’s best players may be behind him, but he’s still the unquestioned defensive star of his generation, making this injury a brutal one not just for the Texans, but for NFL fans as a whole.