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Watt has Great Appreciation for Houston, but Focused on Task at Hand

The Cardinals defensive end spent a decade with the Houston Texans, Arizona's Sunday opponent, but he is focused on winning over sentiment.

Defensive end J.J. Watt is the Houston Texans all-time leader in sacks, forced fumbles, tackles for loss and quarterback hits. 

Houston is where he became a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and an all-time great defender. 

For the first time in his now 11-year career, Watt will suit up against the Texans Sunday as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.

"There's so many moments on the field and off the field, winning our first ever playoff game as an organization, winning our first ever division as an organization, all those things you cherish and you remember the great times," Watt said. 

Watt signed with Arizona in March largely because he saw an opportunity to win with the talent the Cardinals had. 

With further additions and the maturity of several cornerstone players, the Cardinals have jumped out to a 6-0 record, the best in the NFL through six weeks.

Watt has said he’s very happy with that decision, but he still has lots of love for the city and the fans he played for in Houston.

"There's such a massive amount of love and respect for the city, for the fans, for everybody that was involved with making the memories that happened there," Watt said. "But at the same time, sometimes things happen and a new opportunity has to arise and I'm very thankful and happy for where I am right now."

Lining up against players in Texans uniforms may be odd at first. Watt said it was weird to watch tape of NRG Stadium as an opponent. 

But he expects Sunday’s game to feel like any other once the ball is kicked off. 

The Texans have had a lot of turnover over the last couple of seasons, and 31 current members of the active roster were not on the team last year. Watt noted that Sunday won’t be much of a reunion considering so many of his Texans teammates have moved on as well.

Edge rusher Whitney Mercilus, who was Watt's teammate for nine years in Houston and has the second-most sacks in team history, was cut this week.  

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"There's only a handful of guys that are even there from last year that I played with," Watt said. "It's not like I'm like, 'Oh I want to go and beat my old team,' or 'Oh, I can't wait to face this guy' because it's not the same team."

The Cardinals have several ties to the Texans. 

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was acquired from Houston in a trade that sent former All-Pro running back David Johnson to the Texans in March 2020. 

Hopkins, like Watt, became a superstar in Houston, making three All-Pro first teams. 

Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who will act as co-head coach this week if Kliff Kingsbury does not return from COVID-19, coached with Houston from 2011-2013. 

He said he would hope his players focus on this game just like any other.

"They’re human, and they were both drafted there, so there should be some emotion," Joseph said. "But hopefully, it’s about the team first. It’s about the Cardinals.”

The Cardinals have a group of recently acquired veterans without Super Bowl rings. 

Watt and Hopkins both fall in that category, as does wide receiver A.J. Green. 

Green spent a decade with the Cincinnati Bengals where he found great success, but did not get a chance to play in the big game. 

He said he will always be a Bengal, but his sole focus now is to win the Super Bowl.

Watt shares that sentiment.