After the play, Watson stayed down on the turf for an uncomfortably long time, but after several minutes, the cameras caught him smiling while resting on all fours. Soon after, he walked off the field.
One eye, no problem. Watson already had MVP statistics. He is on pace to throw for almost 4,500 yards and 32 touchdowns and rush for almost 500 yards and an additional 10 scores. The Texans are 5-3 and a half-game behind Indianapolis in the AFC South. If not for Watson, they probably would be thinking about a high first-round draft pick (to which they wouldn’t have the rights anyway).
Watson is being compared to Michael Jordan again, and this time the praise isn’t coming from his old college coach, Dabo Swinney. After what he witnessed Sunday, Oakland Coach Jon Gruden invoked MJ’s name while trying to describe Watson’s mix of athletic grace and competitiveness.
“He wills it out of his team,” Gruden told reporters after Houston’s 27-24 victory. “He makes something out of nothing. . . . It’s like going against Michael Jordan.”
The praise is nice, but Watson doesn’t need a hyperbolic comparison to make his game more credible. He is a transcendent, generational talent on his own. That should be enough. If it isn’t, perhaps winning the MVP award will make him easier to brand.
At halftime of this NFL season, there is no overwhelming MVP favorite, and that’s a big part of why the 2019 campaign has been fascinating. A good number of top-flight candidates have emerged — some old, some new, all intriguing. Even better, it feels as though they’re trying to outdo one another.
Watson, the one-eyed wonder, just made a play that illustrates his determination and the belief that, as long as he is on the field, the Texans always have a chance. On Sunday night, Aaron Rodgers went Houdini as well with an incredible twisting throw.
Just a few weeks ago, it was Russell Wilson who threw dime after dime in a Thursday night victory over the Los Angeles Rams, with his finest pass being an improbable, scrambling, back-of-the-end-zone laser to Tyler Lockett, who stayed in bounds with an epic toe-tap.
This is a season in which elusive quarterbacks have taken their unconventional styles to mesmerizing levels. If you want to be the MVP, it seems you better have one helluva sizzle reel, too.
In reality, this is an unintentional game of one-upmanship. The greatest players are simply being great. But every week or two, they make you reconsider the MVP race, and more than that, you must wonder whether their singular excellence could eventually disrupt the order of a season in which New England and San Francisco stand undefeated in each conference and boast preposterous point differentials.
This often looks like Wilson’s alpha season, unless the younger Watson skips the line. Or maybe Rodgers will get No. 3 for how he is leading the balanced Green Bay Packers.
Christian McCaffrey is here to represent the new-age, do-it-all running back, and he will remain in the conversation as long as he keeps producing unprecedented rushing and receiving stats and the Carolina Panthers keep contending for a postseason spot. Before his kneecap injury, Patrick Mahomes was primed to win a second consecutive MVP. And even though stellar defense has helped the New England Patriots reinvent their dominance, it’s still possible Tom Brady could win the award for a fourth time — unless Lamar Jackson makes another leap and runs away from the field in the second half.
It’s a strong list, and we have yet to acknowledge the stability that league-leading rusher Dalvin Cook provides the Minnesota Vikings or the unstoppable talent of New Orleans wide receiver Michael Thomas, who is on pace for 146 receptions, 1,750 yards and eight touchdowns despite Drew Brees missing five games with a thumb injury.
But to be the 2019 MVP, do you have to pull off the amazing after getting kicked in the eye? Well, maybe it’s better to wonder which of these teams will evolve and take a little pressure off their star as the season advances.
That will be difficult for Watson unless the Texans, who already made one blockbuster trade before the season, can pull off a trade-deadline stunner. As usual, Houston is a good team, not a great one. And with defensive lineman J.J. Watt exiting Sunday with a season-ending pectoral injury, the Texans are about to be down a superstar. It’s realistic for the 6-2 Seahawks to improve around Wilson. The Baltimore Ravens are becoming a little less reliant on Jackson. But it is highly unlikely Watson will be able to carry a lighter load.
If he can handle it, he will be the MVP. But there’s a strong chance that one of his high-impact peers could trump his candidacy by virtue of being a dominant player on a team with a more impressive record. That’s why I think Wilson has an edge. And Rodgers is rolling right now. He has thrown for 734 yards and eight touchdowns over the past two weeks for the 7-1 Packers.
But Watson will not quit. Not on this season, and by extension not on this MVP race. Even when you kick him, even when he is down, he is smiling and plotting his next miracle.