Sports Illustrated deemed J.J. Watt unworthy, essentially declared the Houston Texans defensive end is no longer elite. When the sports bible came out with its 2013 Midseason All-Pro Team, the name of the NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year was nowhere to be found.
And you can be sure Watt noticed.
And Watt's certainly raised his game yet again after the SI slight. Oh, he's been playing at a high level despite the Texans woes all season. He should have been on that Midseason All-Pro Team. But in the last two games, post national magazine snub, he's gone bonkers. Try two forced fumbles, two recovered fumbles and a sack in a 27-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. And another two sacks — and three other hurries when he came close — in Sunday's 28-23 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
Watt's playing like the comic book character he's become as part of his Gatorade deal.
This isn't the NBA where one player can change the fortune of an entire franchise. The fact that the Texans cannot get out of their own way — and are mired in a franchise record eight-game losing streak — should not diminish the force of Watt's run. Any notion that this isn't one of the 11 best defensive players in football is absurd.
Watt's playing like the comic book character he's become as part of his Gatorade deal. Forget that busted-up nose in the Seattle game that provided such an iconic, Dick Butkus-style old school football image earlier this season. Watt's fight against pain in the Raiders game is even more impressive — if not nearly as photo friendly.
For there's Watt getting driven to the sideline by injury and talking himself back into the game.
"Just a little rib or back or something," Watt says dismissively when asked about the injury. "I don’t know. It’s football. You get hurt and you keep playing.”
What me hurt?!
Yes, J.J. Watt can come across as something of a cartoon character in postgame interviews as well. He's the hulking stereotype of the hurting, fuming athlete crushed by a loss. That's all part of what makes him the most beloved sports figure in Houston since Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell's glory days though.
“It doesn’t matter what people throw at me," Watt practically spits out in his high-intensity, eyes-blazing way. "It doesn’t matter how they try and block me, how many people they try to put on me. I have to do what I have to do to help this team win football games.
"Like I’ve said, the only thing that I can focus on is going out there making sure I do as much as I possibly can to help us win and make sure our defense does as much as we possibly can to help us win."
This has been a Watt mantra throughout this would-be Super Bowl contender's unfathomable slide: No. 99 only looks at himself, only demands more of himself the worse things get.
"I worry about myself," Watt says. "That’s what I’ve always said. You have to look in the mirror and you have to analyze yourself and make sure you’re doing the right things. So that’s what I do."
When first hearing this, I'll admit my thoughts flashed back to last season when I argued Watt needed to show more leadership after that Monday Night meltdown in New England. After all, the very best players on any team need to be responsible for more than themselves. One of the things Texans coach Gary Kubiak brought up with Watt in the traditional end-season exit interview is how he wanted the third-year star to become even more of a leader, to take more ownership of the team this season too.
Then again, maybe the leadership issue isn't with Watt.
Maybe the Texans simply don't have the right players for him to lead. If the Texans don't have the type of guys eager to follow J.J. Watt, they don't have the right type of guys.
Watt's been trying to lift the Texans out of the muck for weeks. The week before this spree, he went in on special teams and used his famous reach (and black elbow-braced arm) to block a field goal in the Sunday Night Football showcase against the Indianapolis Colts.
If the Texans don't have the type of guys eager to follow J.J. Watt, they don't have the right type of guys.
Some of Watt's efforts have been lost in Case Keenum's emergence, the rightful excitement over the prospect of a quarterback for the future and the senseless, baffling drama Kubiak created when he benched Keenum in the midst of his fourth career start to turn back to Matt Schaub. Kubiak's confirmed that Keenum will be starting for the fifth straight game this Sunday against Jacksonville though.
The controversy is passing. And Watt's still making plays, still dragging himself out there for a 2-8 team. He's averaging nearly a sack a game (up to 8.5 sacks on the season now) and don't be surprised if he gets there by the time Houston's season ends Dec. 29 in Nashville,
It's not the historic 20 and a half sack, 20 passes defensed season Watt put up in 2012, but it's anything but a questionable follow up.
"Watt can still blow up your game plan by himself," Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer says.
Even when the season has blown up around him.