JJ Watt personifies everything that is physically wonderful about the NFL: his athleticism, strength, speed, and coordination bring to mind nothing short of Batman, if Batman had the face of Kevin’s bullying older brother Buzz from the Home Alone movies. He is, arguably, the best player in the NFL.
On the flip side, JJ Watt manages to embody much that is awful about the NFL, with his grim (and hypocritical) fixation on the seriousness of the sport; that same unwavering devotion to the game that has honed his body into a quarterback-killing machine is the same pig-headed lack of perspective, joy, or basic human emotion that leads him to attack a rookie QB who took a photo in the locker room before his debut for not taking the game “seriously” enough: “It’s the National Football League, not high school.”
This is hilariously hypocritical for three reasons. First, Watt and teammates famously wore matching letterman jackets before playing (and getting destroyed by) the Patriots two years ago, so you’d think he’d have some understanding of how easy it is to confuse the NFL (sorry, the National. Football. League.) with high school. Second, anyone who’s been forced to watch Watt attempting to sell you a national telephone service provider every five minutes during any TV show you care to watch knows that even the greats must spend the occasional moment with their nose out of a playbook. Watt has admitted that when his playing days are over he wants to become an actor, and what a treat that will be, as anyone who has seen him show up to that high school dance can attest to—the conviction with which he implores you to change your cell service is undoubtedly the same intensely privileged rush people got watching Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire back in 1951. And third, because—with his team losing, no less—when Watt batted down an Andy Dalton pass, he then jogged around waving his finger in Dalton’s face, using the international sign language for “no, no, no, naughty boy, I’m not allowing that,” a fire-breathing dragon in human form acting like a 1950s school teacher over a routine play.
The third is particularly special because, thanks to the sterling efforts of backup tackle Marshall Newhouse, that was one of the few splash plays Watt made all day. Jeremy Hill, much to our delight, settled the debate among my friends as to how much he choreographs his celebratory dances in advance, by incorporating Watt’s finger wag into his post-score routine, and the Bengals went on to vanquish the Texans in a game with a score that was far closer than it should have been.
Andy Dalton gave those on both sides of his fence fodder, playing pretty much perfect football in the first half, only to throw an appalling pick-six to old Bengal Jonathan Joseph that suddenly put a Cincinnati-dominated game at risk. Both Bengals receivers were superb, AJ Green all grace and control, Mo Sanu a human steam engine plowing through defensive backs. The running backs matched them, Gio Bernard pirouetting gracefully, Hill storming through the middle, and the offensive line was so dominant that I didn’t realize top draft-pick Jadeveon Clowney had even played until I read that he was interviewed afterward.
The defense was imperious, not allowing a single offensive touchdown, Ryan “Yes, my face always looks like a mug shot” Mallett was miserable all day long, and we again saw a little bit of old Geno, scampering around the QB, chasing down running backs, and helping to force a safety early on. Now, I’m not suggesting that the entire credit for this defensive turn-around should go to me; I’m just saying that since I spent my entire previous column (unfairly?) eviscerating defensive coordinator Paulie G, the defense has looked like Jim Carrey after he found the mask. In, you know, The Mask. Obviously.
Let’s also not forget special teams: Kevin Huber and Adam Jones have both had Pro Bowl-level seasons, and there’s an audible groan every time poor Brandon Tate is receiving a punt instead of the artist formerly known as Pacman. In other words, top-to-toe an excellent team showing.
So, there we go. The Bengals are still tops of their insane division with an important win under their belt in advance of an incredibly tough stretch of games to end the season. Plus, that’ll teach JJ Watt to go wagging his finger after a routine play when his team is getting beaten up. Come on, JJ. Take it seriously. This is the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE. It’s not high school any more.
Final Score: Bengals 22, Texans 13
Man Of The Match: Honestly, this was a thorough team performance, which is what made it so pleasurable. The offensive line was splendid, as were the skill players, and the whole of the defense was in top form. However, in a choice I never thought I’d make, I’m giving it to Rey Maualuga. His interception was the cherry on the cake (and, by the way, has any linebacker ever had fewer interceptions than he has in more starts? I’d be amazed.) and Maualuga has generally been much-maligned since drafted. To be fair though, you can’t argue with the turn-around. Without him the team had the worst run defense (and one of the worst defenses period) in football. Since he’s come back, they’ve stifled the Saints and tormented the Texans. Credit where it’s due. Bravo, Rey-Rey.