GLENDALE, Ariz. – DeAndre Hopkins performed his trademark touchdown celebration, a familiar yoga poses and bow inside the Arizona Cardinals’ end zone after exploiting the Houston Texans’ confused defense.
Although the All-Pro wide receiver certainly could have gloated about getting the final word and the victory against his old team, the one that executed a controversial trade that sent him to the Valley of the Sun engineered by former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien due to a relationship fractured beyond repair and a nasty contract dispute, Hopkins chose to take an all-business, high-road approach.
Hopkins, almost casually in his polished style, caught seven passes for 53 yards and one touchdown on nine targets during a 31-5 victory that upgraded the undefeated Cardinals’ record to 7-0 as the 1-6 Texans lost their sixth consecutive game. It was O’Brien, fired after an 0-4 start last season and now the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama, who infamously traded Hopkins to the Cardinals in exchange for former All-Pro running back David Johnson, a second-round draft pick used to pick TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and a swap of fourth-round selections.
“No, not really,” Hopkins said when asked if it was an emotionally significantly game for him. “It was just another game to me. I know some of those guys over there. This team, we got bigger goals. We knew we had to handle business today.
“We know what kind of team that we have in this locker room, so I didn't want to make it a thing. It's just another game to me go out and play my game.”
Afterward, Hopkins and former Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt celebrated by receiving game balls awarded by COVID-cleared Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury inside the locker room.
“For the two best players in Houston Texans history, we got J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins,” Kingsbury said.
Watt dominated right offensive guard Max Scharping so thoroughly on a quarterback pressure against rookie quarterback Davis Mills that he was benched and replaced by Justin McCray. Watt also crushed running back David Johnson on a tackle for a loss, discarding offensive tackle Geron Christian Sr.
Watt didn’t conduct interviews after the game, hustling off to see his family and his wife, Chicago Red Stars soccer player Kealia Watt, in a club level suite afterward.
“He’s a game-wrecker,” Mills said. “You always kind of need to know where he’s at on the field. We had stuff, just making sure we knew where he was at, and he’s one of those guys that has chances to flash and take over the game in certain situations.”
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Hopkins’ touchdown in the second quarter erased the Texans’ 5-0 lead and began the Cardinals’ rout as they scored 31 unanswered points.
Hopkins is thriving with his new team. Signed to a two-year, $54.5 million contract extension after the trade that includes $42.75 million guaranteed at signing with a $27.5 million signing bonus, Hopkins is earning the big money he unsuccessfully sought from the Texans and O’Brien.
With the Cardinals, Hopkins is part of a diverse offense headlined by MVP candidate quarterback Kyler Murray.
Hopkins doesn’t have to carry the Cardinals’ offense by himself. Hopkins caught 115 passes for 1,407 yards and six scores during his first season with Arizona last year.
Hopkins hasn’t conducted any interviews or weighed in on social media this week, but obviously this game carries some significance for him.
There are plenty of weapons in Arizona, including new tight end Zach Ertz (three catches, 66 yards, one touchdown), wide receiver A.J. Green (three catches for 66 yards) and wide receiver Christian Kirk (four catches, 50 yards, one touchdown).
Before kickoff, Hopkins hugged former teammates and senior personnel advisor Romeo Crennel along with injured Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Hopkins, perhaps intentionally, said he was happy to see the training staff, not referencing the coaching staff.
“A lot of those guys are still there,” Hopkins said. “Those guys, you know I only missed two games my whole career while I was there. You got to give those guys a lot of credit for allowing that to happen and just talking to those guys every morning, waking up going to see those guys. I spent a lot of time with the training staff, probably more than the coaches in Houston. So, I was excited to see those guys.”