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Year of the Black QB

Deshaun Watson’s text from Warren Moon: ‘Be big when you need to be’

The Texans’ star quarterback dazzled in come-from-behind playoff victory

HOUSTON – The text message was succinct, because Warren Moon and Deshaun Watson speak the same language. Just another quick reminder from a Hall of Fame quarterback to a fast-riser at the position, who always welcomes Moon’s advice.

The night before the AFC wild-card game, “I just [wrote], ‘Be big when you need to be,’ ” Moon, 63, said on the phone. “He definitely was great when he needed to be.”

In a thrilling start to the NFL postseason, Watson rallied the Houston Texans to a 22-19 victory in overtime over the visiting Buffalo Bills during the AFC wild-card round on Saturday. Largely because of Watson’s big-play ability – especially his escapability – the Texans overcame a 16-0 deficit late in the third quarter and advanced in the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

No one was happier for Watson than Moon, who is proud that the Texans star counts Moon among his mentors. Two black quarterbacks at different stages of their lives, one who has already completed a path that the other started not too long ago.

Moon spent most of his NFL career with the Houston Oilers and is the only black quarterback enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After Watson entered the NFL in the 2017 draft, Moon, as he has done with other young African American passers, reached out and offered his counsel.

“For him to take time out of his day,” the 24-year-old Watson said after the game, “to take time out of his life and his career and his family to be able to just give me advice, and hit me up randomly, and whenever we see each other in the offseason, he always comes up to me and talks to me … it’s special.”

En route to his first career postseason win in his second start, Watson displayed the heart, smarts, leadership, toughness and athleticism that has defined his performance and that of other African American superstars throughout the Year of the Black Quarterback. Watson’s clutch moves in the second half and overtime — capped by him somehow spinning out of a sack to complete a pass that led to the game-winning field goal — enabled Houston to circumvent suffering an embarrassing loss on their home field.

Former Seattle Seahawks and Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon (left) gives a thumbs-up to Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (right) before an NFL football game Oct. 29, 2017, in Seattle.

AP Photo/Stephen Brashear

“You’re never out of the game when you have Deshaun Watson as your quarterback. The guy is incredible,” All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt said. “We were down, 16-0, and we didn’t believe we were out of the game. All we needed was a spark. You add Deshaun Watson to a spark, and you’re going to have one hell of a fire.”

For most of the game, it appeared that Bills head coach Sean McDermott was outcoaching his Texans counterpart, Bill O’Brien. With Watson’s help, however, O’Brien wound up victorious.

“He’s got a huge heart. He’s been winning his whole life,” O’Brien said. “He’s the same guy whether you’re up by 20 points or you’re down by 16. He’s the same guy. He sees the field very well, so he’s able to talk to you between series.

“He never has an issue with anything. He just says, ‘Coach, we’ve just got to execute better.’ He’s got great poise. I just can’t say enough about how he operates throughout the whole game.”

While the Texans took turns praising Watson, and deservedly so, at NRG Stadium, Moon was watching the game nearby with family in Houston.

Throughout the season and offseason, Moon and Watson send text messages and talk on the phone about the league, being a leader at the most important position in team sports and life in general. While Watson engineered his signature comeback, Moon relaxed and enjoyed the show.

Knowing Watson has been at his best late in games (during the regular season, Watson had five game-winning drives in fourth quarter and overtime, tying Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Buffalo’s Josh Allen for the most in the NFL), Moon never wavered in his belief that Watson would deliver again.

“I’m overwhelmingly proud of him,” Moon said. “You see that in his postgame comments he said he told the team to be great today? He told them what he needed to tell them to have them keep believing, even when things didn’t start out so well. He understands what it takes. He really does.”

For Watson, Moon’s guidance and support has been humbling.

“It’s big,” said Watson, who misfired on only five of 25 pass attempts, passed for 247 yards and one touchdown and rushed for another. “For him to pave the way for a lot of us young quarterbacks coming up, it’s special. I definitely don’t take that for granted.”

The relationship is no less important to Moon.

“It’s definitely flattering to hear him say those things,” Moon said. “I’m glad I’m around and can do those things for him when he needs it, because I didn’t have those type of guys, when I was coming up, to fall back on or get advice from.”

From the look of things, Watson has benefited from Moon’s mentorship. The Bills would probably attest to that.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.