I thought of three things watching a lot of Raiders-Texans:
1. How sick must the Bears be, as their season goes down the tubes, watching Deshaun Watson and—soon, again—Patrick Mahomes make beautiful football happen for the Texans and Chiefs, two-and-a-half years after they passed on both in the 2017 draft?
2. This was the kind of game, Raiders-Texans, that you felt Oakland was always going to make one more play. The Raiders never trailed for the first 53 minutes, and they just kept trumping every move Houston made. I thought: If Houston’s got any chance, Watson’s going to have to win it. He’s slithery and reliable and so on-point, even when he’s being chased all over creation. And he is ridiculously determined. You cannot teach desire. Watson has Russell Wilson/Tom Brady desire, and if Houston was going to win this game they probably didn’t deserve to win, Watson was going to have to steal it.
3. Some of his plays are so improbable, so rabbit-out-of-a-hat, that he looks like another southern kid at a young age, Brett Favre. Both Watson and Mahomes have some Favre in them.
“I wear 4 for a reason,” Watson told me from Houston. “That last big play, that was definitely a Favre-type play.”
It’s an overreaction to say Watson’s nine-yard TD pass to tight end Darren Fells saved Houston’s season. The 27-24 win over the Raiders advanced them to 5-3 and kept them a half-game behind Indianapolis in the AFC South, which is deceivingly good. The division went 4-0 Sunday.
I would argue, though, that it was the play of the year. Raiders up 24-20 with 6:30 left. At the Oakland 9-yard line, Watson took the shotgun snap. Surprise! Pocket caved. Watson knew he was in trouble right away. “I was trying to buy some time, and the first guy [defensive end Arden Key] kinda grabbed me when I stepped up. I just tried to swing him out.”
Kinda grabbed me. Truth is, Key had both arms around Watson’s waist. This should have been a sack. But Watson wriggled semi-violently to escape Key at the 17-yard line, and as Key fell to the ground, the top of his right shoe found the gap between the bars on Watson facemask. “Not sure if it caught me in the eyeball, but it went through the [mask] and got me,” Watson said. “My whole left eye just shut—went blank, went blind.”
As Watson regained his balance, he pushed the helmet up almost imperceptibly so he could have a view of the field with his right eye. “That one was starting to go shut too,” he said. “I felt it. All I remember is my tight end rolling right with me, and then the second guy [defensive end Maxx Crosby] started to tackle me. I saw the tight end, and I threw, and I went down. I didn’t see anything when I was down. I just heard the crowd go crazy. Figured we scored. Then I just laid there hoping my eyeball was good.”
Almost sacked twice. Kicked in the face. Left eye reflexively closed. Vaguely sees tight end 19 yards away. Throws while looking out of one eye.
Touchdown. Texans win.
“What am I gonna say?” a crushed Jon Gruden said in the other locker room. “You see Michael Jordan, some of the great athletic plays, you gotta tip your hat to the guy.”
I asked Watson if he knew he was nearly sacked twice on the play by different guys.
“I felt even when they did grab me, I’d have the athleticism to get it out, somewhere,” he said. “I didn’t care what was behind me. I didn’t care what was in front of me. I was gonna make something happen.”
Read those last three sentences from Watson. Isn’t that what you want from your quarterback?
While I spoke to Watson, I looked down at a text that might have been sent just prior to the call, or during it, from a Texans PR staffer. He has to see the doctor again. Please be quick. Watson said the eye is fine, but to be sure, the team will have him checked out today after a night of rest. Expect him to be okay. And it’s not just the Texans who need him. If there is a Game 7 in the World Series on Wednesday night, Watson is due on the field before the game to do something to fire up the Astros crowd. My guess: It’ll be effective.