HOUSTON — J.J. Watt had one of the best games of his stellar career in Houston's win over Washington in the season opener.
With No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney out for 4-6 weeks after knee surgery, the Texans will need the defensive end to build on his great 2014 debut this week against the Raiders.
Watt had two tackles for losses including a sack, blocked an extra point, recovered a fumble and swatted down a pass. He also was credited with five hurries of Robert Griffin III in a 17-6 win that snapped a 14-game skid by Houston.
Of course, the overachieving Watt wasn't ready to pat himself on the back for his performance in his first game since signing a six-year, $100 million contract.
"There's still a lot of things I can do better," Watt said. "It was the first game of the season so I'm still working through some things ... I had a lot of fun out there but there's still things to correct."
That doesn't mean he wasn't delighted to fill in so many different categories on the stat sheet.
"In that way I think it was one of the better games," he said. "Whether it was the extra point or the knockdown or the TFL and those types of things, that's pretty neat when you can contribute in more ways than one. That's the type of game that's fun to play in."
The expectations were high for this defense featuring Watt and with the addition of Clowney, who moved from defensive end to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's scheme. The loss of Clowey is a blow for the unit, but the team is confident that Whitney Mercilus will fill in nicely while he recovers.
Mercilus was a late first-round pick in 2012 who started each game for the Texans last season and said that Watt's work encourages the rest of the defense to play better.
"It's great to have somebody on the defense like that who can make plays and it actually motivates the whole defense to go out there and try to keep doing that over and over," Mercilus said.
Houston's defense got a boost in Week 1 with the return of middle linebacker Brian Cushing, who had 114 tackles in 2011, but has played just 12 games combined in the past two seasons because of injuries. Cushing had five tackles in his return and the Texans were also impressed by the work of Brooks Reed. Reed is Houston's other starting outside linebacker, who had five tackles and a sack on Sunday.
Watt likes that the defense has so many guys who can make an impact.
"You never know where the next hit is going to come from, you never know where the next big play is going to come from and that's when your defense is really successful," he said. "When you can't really prepare for one thing or another and every guy is doing their part and playing their role the defense as a whole really fits together."
This week the Texans will face rookie quarterback Derek Carr, whose brother David was the first overall pick of the Texans in the franchise's first season in 2002. Watt was very complimentary of Carr and knows that he and the Oakland offense will be a challenge.
"Anytime a rookie quarterback is named a starter in the NFL it shows that his coaches and his teammates have confidence in him," Watt said. "And for you to be able to earn their confidence and trust in such a short amount of time says a lot about you."
Sunday will also be a reunion of sorts for Watt now that former teammate Antonio Smith plays for the Raiders. Smith spent the last five seasons in Houston, starting on the line with Watt since his rookie season in 2011.
"I learned a good deal. He's a very good guy," Watt said of Smith. "He taught me some things and also taught me the ropes about the NFL."
Watt was a first-round draft pick, but appreciated hearing about the ups and downs at the start of Smith's NFL career. Smith was released by the Cardinals twice and had a stint in NFL Europe before re-signing and becoming a starter in Arizona.
"Even though my path was different I still learned from it and it was a great story," Watt said. "He found a way to persevere through it all ... so I learned from him that way, too." ___