Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 1/7/12
HOUSTON -- First, let's eliminate one prevailing narrative: While Texans rookie defensive end J.J. Watt shifted momentum with his seismic pick-six late in the first half on Saturday, those familiar with his athleticism, hands and practice habits weren't stunned by the play Watt delivered. "He's always got a knack for (deflections and interceptions)," Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing said of Watt. "He practices it and it just carries over right into the game. He's a real fanatic about it. He's always getting his hands up on a pass rush during practice. It you just continue to do it all the time it's going to happen in the game." Said Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson: "I was impressed by it, but J.J. does that all the time in practice. It really wasn't a big surprise, it just never happened in a game. And for it to happen in this game at the time that it happened was pretty awesome, but if you sit out and watch practice anytime, J.J. does that on the regular." A play that appeared irregular to the unfamiliar influenced the Bengals into opting for a one-dimensional offense, which in turn ignited the Texans' ferocious pass rush. Once the pursuit of Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton was initiated, the Texans refused to relent, rolling to a 31-10 victory in an AFC wild-card game at Reliant Stadium. With 52 seconds left in the second quarter and the score deadlocked at 10, Watt slowed his pass rush, showcased a modest amount of his 37-inch vertical, and snagged a pass intended for Bengals receiver A.J. Green. Moments later he was in the end zone, feeding an already raucous crowd with an individual effort that bordered on surreal. To that point Dalton had been precise and, of greater significance, the Bengals had been balanced. They closed the half with a 13-to-18 run-pass ratio, but once the Texans took the lead the Bengals lost symmetry. Dalton attempted 24 passes in the second half compared to six rush attempts. Watt recorded the first of three Dalton interceptions and the second of four sacks of Dalton three snaps later on the final play prior to the intermission. As the Texans' lead swelled, the Bengals drifted from the offensive scheme that kept them in the game until the final seconds of the Texans' 20-19 victory in Cincinnati on Dec. 11. On that afternoon the Bengals ran the football 29 times and had Dalton attempt 28 passes. "Once we got a score up on them they had to open up, and that's when we get to let loose and rush," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith said. "Third downs and opening up your offense causes you to have to block, and that's when we get a pass rush. Before that it was run the ball, play action, throw the ball quick; there weren't really any elongated plays. "They started trying to pass the ball more and taking more time to make big plays." That shift in approach favored the Texans. Smith and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell recorded sacks in the second half. When Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph picked off Dalton on the fourth play of the fourth quarter, he benefitted from the pass rush generated by Watt and outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. Dalton threw his third interception on the ensuing possession, flinging the ball to free safety Danieal Manning after Reed got a free run up the middle. In retrospect, Watt was the linchpin. He joked afterward about his penchant for pass deflections, recalling his torturing of backup quarterback Jake Delhomme during a routine walk-through in the days after Delhomme was signed off the street. Everyone chuckled at the anecdote, but it revealed something about Watt unknown to outsiders. Watt was bound to cash in on his rabid dedication to enhancing a unique skill. While outsiders marveled at the result, his teammates celebrated those habits coming to fruition in a critical game situation. "He's an athletic guy," Manning said. "But that play the ball was thrown right at him and he blocked it and caught it. I probably wouldn't have ever done that to be honest. And broke tackles. Maybe he should go back there on kick returns." Said Texans quarterback T.J. Yates: "We could put him in our goal-line package as a tight end or something. That was an amazing catch. I don't know how he came down with it, and for him to break a tackle and run for a touchdown was huge as far as momentum going into the half. You know, that really turned the game around for us. That was amazing." Follow me on Twitter @moisekapenda
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