|Mariota status unclear as Titans visit Watson, Texans|
Deshaun Watson was in the midst of a magical first year before suffering a torn ACL that torpedoed both his season and that of the Houston Texans in 2017.
Watson's breakout moment came in his third NFL start, when he shredded the Tennessee Titans in a 57-14 blowout win -- a victory that ignited a four-game stretch in which the Texans averaged a staggering 40.5 points before the devastating injury to the rookie quarterback.
In his first game back since getting hurt, Watson found the sledding considerably tougher a week ago, but he hopes to get back on track when Houston hosts the Titans in an AFC South matchup on Sunday afternoon.
A year ago against Tennessee, Watson completed 25 of 34 passes for 283 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for a touchdown as Houston rolled up a franchise record for points.
"We were just all on the same page, just clicking, doing what coach (Bill) O'Brien and the staff put together a great game plan and we just went out there and had fun," Watson recalled. "We did everything that we prepared throughout for and we just followed what the coaching staff -- seeing the film, we followed what we saw in the film and trusted our instincts and trusted our preparation. We just went out there and left it all on the field. It was a fun game."
That was not a case the week ago for Watson and the Texans in a 27-20 loss at the New England Patriots. Watson completed just 17 of 34 passes for 176 yards, one touchdown, one interception, one fumble and an ugly 62.9 passer rating.
Watson was sacked three times and hit a dozen times overall against New England, but his teammates were quick to point out there was plenty of blame to go around.
"I think there's a lot of things that we all could have done a lot better in the game," said Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, playing in his first game since fracturing his leg 11 months ago. "There's no one person in any football game that can take all of the blame or all the credit for winning. It's the ultimate team game.
"There's 11 guys on both sides of the ball. We know who Deshaun is and we know what he can be and what he's capable of. I'm very excited to have him as my quarterback."
The Titans are hoping to have their quarterback in the lineup as they look to rebound from a marathon loss in Miami that dragged out more than seven hours due to weather delays.
Marcus Mariota suffered an elbow injury in the 27-20 loss to the Dolphins but appeared on track to start against Houston after practicing fully on Wednesday practice. However, Mariota was a limited participant Thursday, although coach Mike Vrabel expressed optimism his quarterback will play.
"He's about the same, and so we felt like we needed to probably get (backup) Blaine (Gabbert) some reps just to be able to evaluate the quarterback situation as we got closer to the end of the week," Vrabel said. "So that was why he was limited, just because he didn't get the normal reps that he would normally get."
Tennessee absorbed a huge loss when tight end Delanie Walker, a mainstay in the offense for the past five seasons, underwent season-ending surgery on his right ankle Wednesday. The 34-year-old tight end had caught at least 60 passes every year since signing with Tennessee in 2013.
The Texans were unable to handle Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who burned them for seven receptions for 123 yards in the season opener.
The Titans also could be without both starting tackles. Right tackle Jack Conklin is rehabbing from offseason knee surgery and left tackle Taylor Lewan sustained a concussion from a crack back block by Miami's Andre Branch. Lewan was knocked out of the game, and is currently in the league's concussion protocol.
"We haven't ruled him out, but he wasn't here today," Vrabel said Wednesday of Lewan, who also did not practice Thursday. "We sent him home. He rested. He's trying to get back mentally right so we can evaluate him."
The injuries could force Tennessee to play a pair of backups against Houston pass rushers Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Offensive, Watson will target wide receiver DeAnde Hopkins, who had eight receptions for 78 yards at New England and hauled in 18 catches for 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the two meetings versus the Titans in 2017.
Running back Lamar Miller also had a strong season opener with 98 yards rushing on 20 carries.