Out of necessity, the Texans adapted. Their 20-13 victory against Buffalo on Oct. 14 heralded a philosophical shift. Since then, Houston has attempted the fewest passes in the N.F.L. From studying the Texans, Orlovsky has detected more presnap motions and dual play-action to slow defensive linemen. The Texans’ rushing success has amplified their commitment to play-action passing, and in those circumstances over their last seven games Watson ranks among the league’s best in passer rating, yards per attempt and touchdown passes, according to PFF.
Now and beyond, the Texans accept their responsibility to optimize Watson without exposing him to unnecessary danger, a task quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan described as “a happy challenge.” In their parlance, they remind him to recognize when the journey’s over — to duck, slide, fling the ball away, do whatever necessary to evade contact instead of initiate it, as he did in a Week 5 win against Dallas that battered him with a broken rib and a partly collapsed lung.
Rather than rest, Watson started the next game against the Bills. Rather than stay back when doctors advised him against flying to Jacksonville, Watson traveled there in a luxury bus, 12 hours each way.
“He could have protected his future,” cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. “We all have a career and agents in your ear, financial people, family members. He made the decision to play, and that will always just stick with me.”
For Weeden, the takeaway from that afternoon materialized midway through the first quarter. On 1st-and-10 from the Houston 20, the Jaguars’ pass rush collapsed the pocket, and Watson escaped, staggering backward. Steadying himself, he bolted toward the Texans’ sideline, beating two defenders there to avoid a hit.
The evidence had been mounting for weeks, but for Weeden it crystallized right then and there. With that scramble, Watson had ceased being a quarterback returning from a severe injury. He was just Deshaun Watson, the Texans’ quarterback savior, capable of anything and everything yet again.