HOUSTON (AP) — Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson isn't overthinking things as he prepares for his first game on Sunday at New England since a season-ending knee injury last November.
The key to being successful this year is simple.
"Really just one thing," he said. "Be me. That's it."
That approach helped Watson excel immediately as a rookie last season when he took over for Tom Savage at halftime of Houston's season opener.
He made six starts after that and finished with 1,699 yards passing and 19 touchdowns before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in practice in early November.
His performance was a revelation for a team that has dealt with years of disappointment and inconsistency at quarterback, with the lowlight coming when the team signed Brock Osweiler to a $72 million contract in 2016 and traded him after just one tough season.
This will be Watson's second trip to New England after he and the Texans came up just short in a 36-33 loss there last year. Watson, who was the 12th overall pick in last year's draft, threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns, but what he remembers most about that game are the two interceptions he threw.
"We had the opportunity to put the game away and we didn't," he said. "Left too much time for Tom Brady. The interception I threw early on in the game. That was pretty much it."
Coach Bill O'Brien wasn't surprised that Watson handled himself well in the tough environment in New England after he starred for Clemson while leading the Tigers to a national championship in the 2016 season.
"From the time that he arrived here ... he had really good poise, very smart guy," O'Brien said. "This guy had beaten Alabama in the national championship game in front of 100,000 people on national television and almost did it the year before. I don't think there was ever going to be any stage too big for him."
Though Watson's rookie season was cut sh ort, his injury didn't end his learning and development. He was at the stadium almost every day, watching film and talking to coaches and players to try and get better.
"When you get injured as a rookie, that's a tough deal," O'Brien said. "He approached it in a very professional manner. He got his rehab done. He would study tape. He's been with us out on the field ever since the offseason program started on April 18. He's worked diligently to get back to where he is right now."
Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins has dealt with a revolving door at quarterback, including playing with four different ones last season, since he was drafted in 2013. After what Watson did in limited work last year, Hopkins can't wait to see what's next for the 22-year-old.
"I'm very excited," Hopkins said. "I think everybody is, not just myself. He's shown improvement, he's matured a lot since last year."
Watson isn't concerned about his surgically repaired knee holding up after perform ing well after having the same surgery on the other knee in 2014.
He looked good in limited action in the preseason, but questions about his health will remain until Sunday when he plays a full game for the first time in more than 10 months.
"(I) don't worry about it," he said. "I trust my preparation that I've put in, trust the rehab and the things I did over the summer to get back to this point and just go out there and cut it loose."