The Texans reached the 2020 NFL playoffs despite being down one of their best players for the second half of the season. Yet a few days before Houston was scheduled to host Buffalo in the wild-card round of the postseason, J.J. Watt was activated off injured reserve.
A five-time Pro Bowler and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Watt went down with a pectoral injury after making a tackle on Oct. 27 against the Raiders. Watt has been injured multiple times before, missing the final 13 games of the 2016 season when he rushed back from a herniated disk and losing his 2017 year to a Week 5 knee injury that required surgery.
Below is all you need to know about Watt’s latest injury, including what was considered his timeline for recovery.
MORE: How will the Texans handle Watt’s contract?
How long was J.J. Watt out?
Watt was expected to be out for the rest of 2019, but the Texans’ playoff berth prompted his return.
After bringing down Raiders running back Josh Jacobs behind the line of scrimmage in the second quarter of Houston’s 27-24 win over Oakland in Week 8, Watt showed discomfort in his left shoulder and eventually ran to the locker room. He was initially considered questionable to return to the game but was later downgraded to out.
Watt tweeted about the news that night, and two days later, he received what was said to be season-ending surgery.
This game can be beautiful and it can also be brutal. Absolutely gutted that I won’t be able to finish the season with my guys and give the fans what they deserve. I truly love this game and can’t stand letting you guys down. Thank you for all of the thoughts & well-wishes.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) October 28, 2019
Watt, though, has expedited his recovery so he can play with his team in the postseason.
“With the talent that we have in that locker room and the guys that we have, you have to take advantage of your opportunities,” Watt said, via the Houston Chronicle. “I think that throughout practice, throughout this week and then taking it over to game day on Saturday, that’s our mentality, and that’s our goal: Take every single day, every meeting, every practice, every rep as serious and as focused as you can, because it’s that important. It’s the playoffs.”
Texans coach Bill O’Brien told reporters Watt would be a factor in their wild-card game against the Bills, but defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said the team would proceed with caution.
“I think that we’ll have to kind of measure to see where he is and how he’s doing, because he hasn’t played in eight games,” Crennel said, via ESPN. “Even though he’s been working with the strength and conditioning people, the football condition when you’re playing a big game, your adrenaline gets picked up and you get winded a little bit faster.
“We’ll have to measure that to see how that goes, and then I think that will impact how much he plays. But I don’t think that we want to expose him too much if he’s not able to go at a good level.”
What was J.J. Watt’s injury?
Watt tore his left pectoral against the Raiders in Week 8. He had it surgically repaired two days later.
The tackle itself looked quite routine. Watt wrapped up with both hands and landed on his right side, but his left arm was still around Jacobs’ ankles.
Jacobs’ foot did seem to land on his right side, but his left arm was still wrapped around the legs of Jacobs, which apparently jarred Watt’s pectoral.
J.J. Watt injury history and timeline
When he’s on the field, Watt is one of the most ferocious players in the league. But in recent years, he has struggled mightily to stay healthy.
2015 season: Watt didn’t miss a game in 2015, so it’s unclear what exact injuries he picked up and when, but by the end of the year he required surgery due to “five partially or fully torn muscles in his torso, groin and upper legs.” He had also played through a herniated disk and a broken hand. Watt did leave the Texans’ playoff loss in the second half.
July 2016: Watt undergoes surgery for the herniated disk in his back.
September 2016: After playing in the first three games of the season, Watt re-aggravates the herniated disk and goes under the knife again, ending his season. He later says he should have taken the initial recovery process slower, but that the second injury could end up prolonging his career.
Watt: “You can work hard, but you have to work smart. That was probably the biggest thing I’ve learned.”
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) February 1, 2017
J.J. Watt said he actually thinks he’s ‘elongated’ his career by missing most of last season with back surgery ‘There’s a whole new energy’
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) February 1, 2017
Oct. 8, 2017: Watt suffers a season-ending leg injury, eventually diagnosed as a tibial plateau fracture. He undergoes surgery the following day.
Oct. 27, 2019: Watt tears his left pectoral tackling Jacobs. An Oct. 28 surgery ends his regular season.
Dec. 31, 2019: The Texans activate Watt off injured reserve so he can return for the playoffs.
Contributing: Tadd Haislop