The news of Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller's six-game suspension for violating the NFL's PED laws was a shock to everyone, including Deshaun Watson.
"I just found out just like how everyone else found out," said Watson on Wednesday.
But now comes the next step: Trying to forge forward ... to keep, as the QB said, "going north.''
From Watson: "We're going to miss those guys (Fuller and cornerback Bradley Roby) and those guys are going to be back and be ready to go whenever that time is next season. But, that's a tough situation."
How to do it?
"For the passing game, we're going to continue to do what we do," said Watson. "The next man's got to step up. So if it's a couple of guys coming from the practice squad or if it's a couple of guys that are getting more reps in practice for this upcoming game, the standard and the mentality is going to stay the same. So, for me just find the open guy and keep pushing."
Chances are one of those 'guys' will be wide receiver Keke Coutee who has re-established himself as a contributor these past two games. And while he is keen to get Coutee involved, Watson won't force anything and it won't just be one guy's job to replace Fuller's production.
"It depends on how the game plan is and how Indy (the Colts on Sunday) is going to play us," said Watson. "He knows his role, like I said, even earlier this year there's not that one guy that I was trying to target it's all the guys. So, I'm just being that quarterback, that surgeon back there ... What the defense is trying to give, just taking that and trying to keep the chains moving."
With Fuller now out of the picture for the foreseeable future, fellow veteran receiver Brandin Cooks is another who will likely see his targets increased in the coming weeks, but again, Watson doesn't want to be overly reliant on one guy.
"Brandin's going to be the same guy, we don't want him to change and try to do too much, just be the same guy and just control what he can control," said Watson. "He's just going to do what he does, and as long as he's healthy and he's out on the field he's going to produce. He's going to make the strong catches and those balls, and be able to make big-time plays for us."
Being the most experienced receiver currently in that room, it will be down to the likes of Cooks to lead any new guys they bring in, should they opt to do so.
"He's going to have a big role, an opportunity to lead those guys in that room and keep this offense going north and keep getting better each and every week," said Watson. "That's all we ask of him and he's going to continue to do his job."
Without Fuller, the 4-7 Texans are left with Cooks, Coutee, and rookie Isaiah Coulter on the active roster, and Randall Cobb on injured reserve. Chances are, at least one of the four receivers now on the practice squad will be promoted to the active roster, with Steven Mitchell Jr. the most likely candidate given his experience in the system.
This will also clear the path for the tight ends to get more involved in the passing game. Jordan Akins has been excellent all season at gaining yardage after the catch, while Darren Fells is a reliable red-zone receiver. Another to watch will be the somewhat unknown Kahale Warring, an extremely athletic and agile target who has yet to catch a pass in the NFL.
The Texans also activated the practice window for running back David Johnson to return from injured reserve on Wednesday, a dual-threat back who would be a great addition given his receiving abilities.
Regardless of who takes Fuller's place for the remainder of the season, the key will be keeping the rhythm of the past two weeks going. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly had put more emphasis on letting Deshaun Watson take the reigns of the offense as opposed to establishing the stagnant run game, and it has paid off enormously.
Hopefully, Kelly continues to trust in Watson and whoever is on the receiving end and doesn't resort to playing it safe and pounding the rock.
That, we believe, is the only way this offense will keep "going north."