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Remembering Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s crazy game-planning for J.J. Watt

Related: J.J. Watt announces retirement after the season

Houston Texans Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Because we are a professional, prestigious, Big-J journalism publication here at Pats Pulpit dot com, we would never use the retirement announcement of one of the greatest defensive players in the history of football to bring up one of the most unintentionally funny games in the last 15 years.

Let’s be real though, at least some of us were thinking it: Remember the letterman jackets?

Oh, the jackets. 42 Patriots points later on Monday night football, the rest is enshrined in our memories and Freezing Cold Takes history.

Jokes aside, J.J. Watt remains an all-time baller and one of the few defenders that no matter how good your offensive line was, he’d still strike fear into our hearts every time we saw him lined up anywhere and everywhere on the D-line. Even in the games where he didn’t end up with a sack or three on the stat sheet, Watt was such an agent of chaos that he was just as much of a threat to deliver a pass breakup that’d make Dikembe Mutombo proud as he was to pancake your running back and knock the ball 15 yards backwards.

He was a game-wrecker in just about every sense of the word, and that’s not even counting him doing his best Mike Vrabel impression as a goal-line tight end in 2014. For as godlike as Aaron Rodgers was that season, the fact that Watt made the de facto best-QB award of NFL MVP into a legitimate argument between him and Aaron should tell you how insane his prime was.

And while Bill Belichick is well-known for gassing up every opponent the New England Patriots face, whether it’s Jason Taylor or Blake Bortles, Belichick used to talk about J.J. Watt in terms that spelled out exactly how terrifying he knew Watt was.

From 2012:

“He’s the most disruptive player in the league certainly that we’ve seen. He’s really pretty good at everything,” Belichick said during a conference call on Wednesday. “It’s not just the pass rush. It’s batted balls.”

And 2015:

“Watt’s a major force, there are very few players I would put in same conversation with Lawrence Taylor, I would put J.J. in there,” Belichick said. “He’s a dynamic player. He can ruin a game. He’s a special player. He was the defensive MVP last year. He’s already earned that award this year even if he didn’t play the last four games.”

And 2017:

“Motor, effort, strength, quickness, instincts (and) the ability to make game-changing plays at critical times in the game,” Belichick said about Watt and Taylor. “Knowing when the big play – critical third-down or fourth-quarter play or red-area play – knowing those critical plays in the game. As good as Taylor would play all game, that was the time when he would play at his best.

“You just don’t see those plays from hardly anybody, but especially guys that are his size and that play as much as he does. He plays everywhere across the board – plays outside, plays inside. He’s effective everywhere. He’s a tough matchup on everybody.”

And 2018:

“J.J’s a great player,” Belichick said. “He’s very talented. He’s got great motor and is very instinctive. He’s a very smart player, as well as one that has outstanding physical skill. So, we always expect their best and prepare for it.”

“One of the things the Texans do a good job of is they don’t always line up in the same place,” he continued. “So, sometimes finding them or identifying where they are is a little bit of a problem — not that you can’t find a guy, but depending on what you have called and where he’s located, then that might change what your anticipated matchup on the play is and then what it really is could be two different things. They do a good job of creating problems on that.”

You get the idea. Belichick putting anyone in the same convo as Lawrence Taylor is perhaps only matched by when he deems a tight end worthy of being mentioned alongside Mark Bavaro.

To game-plan for a waking nightmare like Watt, sometimes unorthodox measures have to be taken. Like, in the Patriots’ case, making at least one part of practice seem like a game that your gym teacher made up in June when everyone’s phoning it in until summer vacation anyway:

Making the offense practice against defenders with racquetball racquets.

From NESN, here’s Tom Brady talking about game-planning for Watt in 2012:

“He’s impressive as a player, as you can see on film with his agility, his quickness, his length, his instinctiveness in getting his hands up in the air and getting ready to jump and bat balls down,” Brady said. “I know coach [Bill] Belichick likes to bring guys with racquetball paddles and stick those up in the air. I’m sure there will be a whole bunch of those there this week, which doesn’t always make me very happy, but that’s probably a good way to prepare for it.”

But wait, there’s more. Not only did Belichick employ the racquets, but he stuck his thumb on the scale to make sure the guys weren’t giving Brady any freebies. Here’s Patriots legend Zoltan Mesko remembering the same practices:

Mesko: It was 2012, the year J.J. Watt was just swatting people’s passes. He had so many batted balls. We’re playing them and he?s like, “Alright, Zoltan, come over here after special teams.” I get in the defensive huddle. It?s 7-on-7 so there’s no linemen there. He’s like, “Here, take these two tennis rackets and I want you to hit Brady’s ball into the stands if you can. I don’t care.” So I’m jumping up and touching like 12 feet and swatting Brady like 10 yards when I could.

Linebacker Dane Fletcher: It was really pissing Brady off.

Mesko: Man, when I got him, Belichick was crying on the inside, like tears of joy. Brady would be like, “Zoltan, please don’t knock this one down.” Belichick was like, “No, no, I’m going to pay you 100 bucks every time you swat that ball.”

Fletcher: It got to the point where Brady would pay $150 not to do it because Brady was getting so pissed.

Mesko: And Belichick paid up after every practice. He came with the cash.

Belichick is a man of his word, and the Patriots racked up an 8-2 record against the Texans between 2012 and 2020. Everybody wins. Except the Texans, I guess.

Salute to an all-time great, J.J. Watt. It’ll be great to never have to worry about you coming up on the schedule ever again.