Sean Pendergast

Tale of the Tape: J.J. Watt's 2011 Pick Six vs J.J. Watt's 2019 Playoff Sack

Watt returned and made an iconic play on Saturday night.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
Watt returned and made an iconic play on Saturday night.
When the Hall of Fame tribute to J.J. Watt is eventually written, and his list of primary accomplishments is compiled for his bust in Canton, it will include all of the big picture stuff — the three Defensive Player of the Year awards, the five first team All Pro nods, the two 20 sack seasons, and off the field accomplishments and endeavors like the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and his raising over $40 million for Hurricane Harvey victims.

However, the bigger, more definitive anthology of J.J. Watt will include the nooks and crannies that are perhaps more greatly appreciated by his local fans, and Saturday night's performance, in which Watt came in and made a big impact just two months removed from a torn pectoral muscle, is one of those small subchapters of the J.J. Watt Epic Story that Houstonians will remember forever.

Watt's afternoon on Saturday was punctuated by his third quarter stat that stoked what minimal embers were left in the Texans' collective fire, a fire onto which Deshaun Watson dumped a truckload of gasoline in the fourth quarter and overtime.

To this point, Watt's career playoff performances have been bookended by two of the most iconic plays in franchise history, two definitive plays in the Watt portfolio. The aforementioned sack in his most recent playoff game, and the pick six right before halftime of the first playoff game in franchise history. See below (and ignore the annoying tweet attached above that I can't seem to get detached from the Watt pick tweet, no disrespect to Andre Johnson) ....
As you all know, in sports, we can never just enjoy individual works of art like these Watt gems for what they are each worth invidiually. We must compare, contrast, and then decide which one is better. It's what the fuel that runs the engine of the content world. So, in the spirit, let's run a Tale of the Tape on these two plays to decide which one is better. I'll compare them in five different categories.

Here we go...

The game in 2011 was the first playoff game in the history of the franchise, after a decade of blood, sweat, tears, and losses. Lots and lots of losses. So it was a REALLY big deal. The city was on fire for that 2011 Texans team. The game on Saturday was happening in the midst of this weird O'Brien Era in which the team has never been more successful, and yet the fans have never been more cynical. 2019 is more the next chapter in Bill O'Brien's proving ground than a rallying point for the city. The 2011 game, for me, carries more collective significance.

The pick six in 2011 put the Texans up 10-3 right before halftime, in a game where the offense was struggling mightily. The sack on Saturday was a spark that kept the possibility of winning the game ever so slightly ajar. It held the Bills to a field goal and kept the score at 16-0. Going into the half did at 3-3 wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world in 2011. Watt's sack on Saturday changed the atmosphere in the stadium, and helped the Texans rise from the dead.

On the sack, Watt did what he'd done dozens of times through the years — smoked an overmatched offensive lineman off the edge. Granted, he did it with a pectoral muscle that was torn off the bone a couple months ago, but I'm not talking about the difficulty of rehab, just the difficulty of the play in the moment. A guy Watt's size catching a short pass thrown by an NFL quarterback, gathering himself, and running to the end zone. NOT EASY.

In the end, the Texans wound up destroying the Bengals 31-10 in that 2011 playoff game. The Watt pick six got them going, but the Texans, with home field and Arian Foster running the rock, would have ultimately won that game. (Also, we should mention that the Bengals never win playoff games.) Watt's sack on Saturday night kept the game within two scores, and in a game where the Texans needed about ten things to go their way in the final quarter and a half, that play was the first of those things.

So now we have to break the tie — a pick six by a burgeoning rookie and future Hall of Famer, or a sack in the third quarter by a superstar defying biology with his injury? Which is the most iconic. Well, the Watt pick six has been played over and over and over again for nearly a decade on any general Texans highlight reel or advertisement. It's been widely accepted as the greatest play in franchise history during that time, and it resulted in a touchdown. The sack is probably one of those more nuanced, crucial in-game plays that are buried in the tapestry of the other big plays in the game. It's not a scoring play, it's merely a great third down stop that helped hold a team to a field goal. While Watt's injury comeback is most assuredly iconic, of the two plays itself. the sack fits that description more than the sack.

Picking between these two plays is like picking which of your kids you love more. It's not advisable even if you have an actual winner! However, we must do this, and the pick six was challenged greatly by the Watt sack. Nevertheless, Watt's pick six is still secure as the most iconic play in franchise history. Honestly, it's just nice that Watt is back to help generate this kind of debate. Here's to hoping there is more relevant discussion following a Texans' upset of the Chiefs this weekend!

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