J.J. Watt’s ascent to defensive dominance found an accelerant against the Bengals in the playoffs last year.
His interception of Andy Dalton from point-blank range and the return for a 29-yard touchdown tipped the game in Houston’s favor. It showed just what sort of stuff was possible for Watt.
And a year later, the teams are preparing for the same game in the same round at the same location.
Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle spoke to Watt and just about every member of the Texans who had a vantage point of the play in a thorough recreation.
Outside linebacker Connor Barwin: "I remember the crowd going nuts -- definitely the turning point in the game -- and then just thinking, 'God, I wish that play happened for me (laughs).'"
Dalton: "When you see him making plays like that, your offensive linemen try to get his hands down as much as they can. I have to find ways to get the ball over him and different things like that."
Watt: "I think a lot of people look at that play and say that's when I became whatever I am. I think people point to that play. The whole offseason, everywhere I went, whether it was the ESPYs in California, whether it was in New York, whether I was back home in Wisconsin, everyone associated me with the interception. Everybody would come up to me and say, 'That play.' … It was a big moment for me; it was a huge moment for this franchise. It was so cool to me being such a young guy to have such an impactful moment in this franchise's history."
Defensive end Antonio Smith said the more the franchise accomplishes, the more that play will lose its luster. Watt agreed.
The Texans' defense will hardly be thinking about minimizing the significance last year’s game-turning interception during this year’s playoff opener. But it’s sort of funny that such a thing could be a side-effect in their eyes.
I think it’s true for the players involved.
While bigger wins will carry more weight and give the team a lot more to talk about and remember, the odds of another moment, another eight seconds like those, are rare.
In the NFL, plays like that are indelible. It's a tattoo Watt will never scrub off.