J.J. Watt ends 'long drought' with first sacks since 2016

J.J. Watt on his big game against the Giants: "I said I've been knocking the rust off since the first half of the first game, and it's been going little by little." Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

HOUSTON -- Tyrann Mathieu hasn't been in Houston for that long, but the Houston Texans safety is well aware of how good teammate J.J. Watt was before he spent the majority of the past two seasons on injured reserve.

And Mathieu was excited to see that high level of play return in Sunday's 27-22 loss to the New York Giants.

"I was in the back and I was just like, 'Go J.J.!,'" Mathieu said. "It was fun to see him flying around and getting back to it."

On Sunday, Watt had three sacks of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. They were his first sacks in more than two years -- he had 1.5 sacks against the Chiefs on Sept. 18, 2016 -- and stopped a streak of eight games without a sack.

"I said I've been knocking the rust off since the first half of the first game, and it's been going little by little," Watt said. "Obviously, hopefully it continues that way. It's good to finally end such a long drought and do it in that type of way."

Sunday was Watt's sixth career game with three sacks, which is the second-most in the NFL since his rookie season in 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Watt also finished the game with eight tackles, three tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

When Watt was on the field consistently during training camp, coach Bill O'Brien said he thought the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year was back to playing at a high level and that the team would see that on the field this season.

That has come to fruition three games into the season. According to Pro Football Focus data, Watt is the top-ranked edge rusher through three games. Although his first sacks came against the Giants, since halftime of Houston's Week 1 loss to the Patriots, Watt has been a consistent force.

After three games, Watt is now is tied for sixth in the NFL with his three sacks and is one away from the league lead. One of the players he's tied with is his brother, Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt.

Though veterans in Houston's locker room are recognizing that Watt is starting to play as well as he has in the past, there was a new NFL star who got a firsthand look on Sunday afternoon.

"Ninety-nine [Watt] is by far the best player I've ever seen," Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley said.

Watt said before his breakout performance that "it's a continued grind to get it back to where I want to be, and I think it's going in that direction."

It certainly did on Sunday.

"That's the beauty of this league, is that it's week to week and it's who can improve the fastest and who can get better the fastest," Watt said. "Obviously, with myself coming off the last two years I had, I need to improve more and more and quicker and quicker to try and get myself back where I want to be."