Only twice in the history of the Associated Press NFL MVP voting has a defensive player walked away with the award: Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971, and Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986.
But this season, some are backing the candidacy of J.J. Watt, a defensive end for the Houston Texans who has 15½ sacks, two behind Aldon Smith of the 49ers for the league lead. Watt also has a team-high 83 tackles, and has knocked down 15 passes — one of the more impressive statistics on his impressive résumé.
With apologies to Vince Wilfork, Watt might be the best defensive player on the field Monday night when the Texans visit Gillette Stadium. Watt’s output through 12 games is almost impossible to ignore.
“He certainly makes a lot of plays in the 3-4 defense, he has excellent quickness, and he’s long, so he does a good job rushing against everybody,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick in a teleconference Tuesday. “He’s very effective because of his speed and quickness and his length and his instincts. He’s really a complete player, he does everything well.”
It’s the number of passes that Watt is knocking down, most at the line of scrimmage, that jump out at Belichick.
“That’s a career number for a lot of defensive linemen — 15 in one season is remarkable, really,” Belichick said. “If he’s getting to the quarterback and knocking him down, that’s one thing. If he’s not, if he’s getting double-teamed . . . he’s also been very disruptive in not only knocking down balls, but some of those have resulted in interceptions. That number of batted balls is, I’d say, an extremely high number.”
Picture in focus
The Patriots will likely be competing with Houston, Baltimore, and Denver for a first-round playoff bye, which go to the AFC’s top two seeds. The Texans lead the way at 11-1, with the Patriots, Broncos, and Ravens all 9-3.
Houston comes to Gillette Stadium Monday, so the Patriots will have a chance to cut into the Texans’ lead. But Belichick said he won’t be doing any scoreboard-watching when it comes to the other AFC contenders, this or any other week.
“We’re just trying to get ready for Houston,” Belichick said. “We can’t do anything about anybody else. All we can do anything about is the New England Patriots.
“We just try to concentrate on what we have to do and it will all get sorted out in the end. We still have a quarter of the season left to play. We have a lot of football left, we have to keep working on the things we need to work on and not worry about anybody else.”
Houston is the only team in the NFL with an unbeaten record on the road this season, winning all six of its games, by an average score of 25-16. The Texans own road wins over the Jaguars, Broncos, Jets, Bears, Lions, and Titans.
The only team to beat Houston is Green Bay, which knocked off the Texans Oct. 14 at Reliant Stadium, 42-24.
Houston’s only other appearance to Gillette Stadium came on Dec. 17, 2006, when the Patriots won, 40-7. The Patriots are 4-1 at home, losing to Arizona, then beating Denver, the Jets, Buffalo, and Indianapolis.
“Winning games has a lot more to do with how well you play than where you play them — not that it isn’t nice to be at home and all that, but it’s a lot better to play well,” Belichick said. “I don’t think the home field helped us too much against Arizona because we didn’t play well.”
In addition to signing Donté Stallworth, the Patriots announced three moves involving offensive linemen: the release of Mitch Petrus, and the addition of Tommie Draheim and Colin Miller to the practice squad. Petrus was signed Nov. 12 and played in two games for the Patriots. Draheim, an undrafted rookie from San Diego State, spent time this season with Green Bay and Seattle, not appearing in a game. Miller, who played at Central Michigan, was released by the Raiders’ practice squad Oct. 23 . . . The Patriots will honor longtime left tackle Matt Light during halftime of Monday’s game, the fifth player to be so honored since 2005, following Ted Johnson, Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, and Kevin Faulk (earlier this season). Light was picked by the Patriots in the second round of the 2001 draft, and spent his entire 11-year professional career with New England, winning three Super Bowls and being named to three Pro Bowl teams. Light announced his retirement last May . . . Gillette Stadium, which had all 38 of its concession stands revamped this season with new menu items, was ranked second on PETA’s annual list of vegetarian-friendly stadiums . . . Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins telecast produced the highest local household share (66) this season, and generated a 36.21 rating, the best this year for a 1 p.m. game.