INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Exhibits A and B will be on display Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
Which rebounding player do you prefer in the chase for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year?
The quarterback, who missed last season and, at one point, wondered if he ever would play again?
Or the quarterback chaser, who missed the final 11 games last year, and has dealt with two catastrophic injuries the past two seasons?
Andrew Luck, whose career was threatened by a torn labrum in his right shoulder?
Or J.J. Watt, who saw his 2016 season shortened to three games by a back injury, returned, but then saw last season curtailed in week 5 by a tibial plateau fracture?
Luck, who’s on pace for 43 touchdowns and 4,480 yards? Only Patrick Mahomes has more TD passes, by the way.
Or Watt, whose 11.5 sacks are tied for fourth-most in the NFL?
There are other candidates: Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr., David Johnson, Deshaun Watson.
All should fall in behind Luck and Watt.
“The level of respect that I have for both players, it’s hard to put into words,’’ Houston coach Bill O’Brien said. “Obviously I am very fortunate to have been able to be around J.J. for five years now. A great football player, a great person and works very, very hard. He has been through a lot from an injury standpoint and has worked very hard to get back to where he is at.
“We have competed against Andrew Luck for years now. Andrew Luck is the ultimate competitor, a very tough individual. I don’t know him real well, but I can tell that sitting out was probably not his favorite thing. I am sure it was killing him to have to miss those games.’’
Watt has been a throbbing thorn in the side of the Colts since the Texans selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft. His stat line in 11 meetings with the Indy: 11 sacks, an additional 15 quarterback hits, 19 tackles for loss, nine defended passes, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a 45-yard TD with a fumble.
In Houston’s 37-34 overtime win in Indy in September, Watt was in typical wrecking-ball mode with two sacks, a tackle for loss and two forced fumbles.
“Yeah, he is definitely all the way back,’’ Frank Reich said. “He’s disruptive, he’s consistent. All the things that are indicative of his play are there on tape.
“He’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.’’
“He’s certainly an elite player and he’s playing like an elite player,’’ he said.
Luck started the first 57 games of his career, including the postseason, before injuries began taking a toll. From 2015-17, he would miss 26 of 48 games.
Watt can relate. The NFL’s only three-time Defensive Player of the Year started his first 83 games – he had 76 sacks in those games – but injuries kept him off the field in 24 games the last two seasons.
“I think I have an appreciation for anybody who has sat out significant time or missed a year,’’ Luck said.
Luck will be making his 10th career start against the Texans, and has had adequate success in the previous nine with a 5-4 record, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“I mean, he’s a great quarterback,’’ Watt said. “He’s the guy that we have always known. He can run, the can throw, he’s smart, he can make quick decisions, he’s tough.
“He’s a great player. He’s a great competitor and it’s always a fun challenge to play against him.’’
Neither Luck nor Watt seemed overly concerned with the Comeback Player of the Year possibilities.
“I honestly haven’t thought about it,’’ Luck said last month. “It’s just fun to play football. I think anybody who has gone through a significant injury and missed time or missed a season and comes back, I think your perspective certainly changes.
“If at the end of the year there are guys getting recognized, then that’s probably indicative of us being a good team.’’
Watt also shrugged off the subject. Remember, three times he’s been recognized as the best defensive player in the league.
“It doesn’t matter a whole lot to me,’’ he said. “There are a lot of deserving guys out there. It doesn’t really matter to me. I am just focused on winning games.’’