Texans place J.J. Watt (back) on injured reserve

J.J. Watt will have to wait until next season to make a serious run at an unprecedented fourth NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

The league's dominant defensive force re-injured his back during Houston's Week 3 loss to the New England Patriots, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation.

The Texans re-signed veteran defensive end Antonio Smith for depth, the team announced.

There's a chance Watt could miss the rest of the season, per Rapoport. The Texans announced Wednesday they placed him on injured reserve. The hope is that he can return for a late-season playoff run. Texans coach Bill O'Brien told reporters he has no idea if Watt will need to undergo surgery.

The 27-year-old star missed the entire preseason after having surgery to repair a herniated disk in late July.

"We're looking forward to the challenge ahead," O'Brien said. "Obviously, we all feel bad for him."

Although Watt has yet to miss a game in his six-year career, he has suffered major injuries two of the last four times he has suited up.

Watt recently revealed that he questioned whether he would play again after tearing several abdominal muscles off the bone in the Texans' playoff loss to the Chiefs last January. Aggravating his back injury last week, Watt managed fewer than three tackles and zero quarterback hits for the first time since his rookie year in 2011.

He simply hasn't been the same disruptive wrecking ball since rushing back from July's surgery. That's hardly unusual for players returning from similar procedures.

Even with a diminished Watt, the Texans had emerged as the heavy favorites in an underwhelming AFC South. Buoyed by the linebacking quartet of Jadeveon Clowney, John Simon, Whitney Mercilus and Benardrick McKinney, Houston's pass rush was the league's most ferocious in Weeks 1 and 2.

Minus the NFL's lone player to be selected as a first-team All-Pro in each of the past four seasons, though, the ceiling is lower. After laying an egg at New England, the Texans were already generating skepticism as a weak-division pretender unable to compete with perennial AFC superpowers such as the Patriots and Broncos.

The greater concern, however, is for the long-term outlook of a once-in-a-generation talent.

Back injuries have been known to waylay the careers of superstars in every major sport. After just five NFL seasons, Watt was already slated to join Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White in the pantheon of defensive legends. He has recorded more sacks per game (0.92) than any player since the statistic was first instituted in 1982.

Will he regain that same game-wrecking, pre-injury form the next time he stalks the gridiron? It's a fair question, but we wouldn't bet against him.

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