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NFL panic index, Week 4: Will we ever see dominant J.J. Watt again?

Elsewhere, you — yes YOU — picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Palmer. Is it time for Jets and Cardinals fans to freak out?

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NFL: Houston Texans at New England Patriots Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the offseason, J.J. Watt gave Houston Texans fans heart palpitations when he said that he wasn’t planning on playing in the NFL "terribly longer." Although he later backtracked, the seeds of doubt about his future were already planted. When Watt later underwent surgery for a herniated disk, the expectation was that he’d bounce back — but what if he wasn’t quite the same player? Would the 27-year-old decide that he’d rather hang it up than not play at the three-time Defensive Player of the Year level that he was used to?

Watt was on the field in Week 1, and even if he didn’t look 100 percent, it wasn’t hard to cast aside any lingering fears. Of course Watt, the closest thing we have to a superhuman in the NFL (except for maybe Wolverine-like healer Russell Wilson), wouldn’t miss a game. His life is nothing but football, working out, occasional award show appearance, and more working out. There is no stopping him.

Except now, he re-injured his back and has been placed on injured reserve. The Texans announced Friday that he was done for the season.

Should we worry that this is the beginning of the end of Watt’s career? After all, this wasn’t his first major surgery this year. He also had extensive groin surgery in January.

"There were some days there where I really, really questioned whether or not I would ever be able to play again," Watt said earlier this month.

If he called it quits now, he’d still go down as one of the most dominant players of his generation. But, let’s be clear about one thing: For all his Midwestern modesty pretense, Watt is a fierce competitor with a healthy ego. He doesn’t want to be mentioned in the same conversation with Lawrence Taylor. He wants to be the guy who was better than Lawrence Taylor. Injuries derail careers all the time in sports, and there’s no guarantee that he can regain his form, but Watt will do everything he can to work his way back to terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, even if it’s not this season.

There’s a good chance that Watt rushed back before he was ready, and he’ll be more cautious after the latest setback.

So Texans fans shouldn’t panic that they’ve seen the last of Watt, or the last of sack master Watt.

They, along with fans of a few other teams in the league, have more pressing matters to sweat about this week anyway.

The Texans can never beat a great team

In Week 2, the Texans got a bit of revenge against the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that embarrassed them in a 30-0 rout in the playoffs. It seemed like that could be the turning point for the Texans, who have feasted on mediocre teams in recent years and faltered against the NFL’s top teams.

The New England Patriots are nearly impossible to beat at home, but if there was a perfect time to do it, it was last Thursday night. No Tom Brady and no Jimmy Garoppolo meant that rookie Jacoby Brissett was thrust into the starting job early in a season when he was just supposed to sit back and learn from the best.

Yet, as we were reminded, the Patriots are a ruthless killing machine, and the Texans were out of their element against Bill Belichick’s game plan. They fumbled two kickoffs and it took until nearly the fourth quarter before they reached the 50-yard line. And once again, with the eyes of the NFL world watching, the Texans laid a big old goose egg.

Making matters even worse? Watt hurt his back in this game. Losing him is a massive blow to the defense, but with a front seven that includes Whitney Mercilus and a healthy (knock on wood) Jadeveon Clowney, they can survive. The pressure is on the offense, especially $72 million quarterback Brock Osweiler, to show a little life.

The Texans have a few more chances this season to prove they can take down an elite team, with road games against the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos, and Green Bay Packers on the horizon. If not, well, the Texans still have six games left against their fellow AFC South teams.

Panic Index: One team has to win the AFC South. We checked. So congrats on that, Texans, we suppose.

The Saints offense can’t overcome the terrible defense

The Saints used to be unbeatable at home, and the Week 3 Monday Night Football loss to the Falcons was New Orleans’ 11th loss in its last 15 games in the Superdome. Before that, the Saints had an 11-game winning streak at home. Part of the reason for that nosedive is the Saints defense, which has been legitimately terrible for several seasons in a row.

Drew Brees has averaged 354 passing yards per game this season. He’s played well. It’s just that the Saints offense can’t do enough to make up for a porous defense that gave up an obscene number of yards on the ground and through the air to the Falcons in Week 3.

The defense ranks 31st in the league for offensive yards allowed and points allowed, and it’s likely to be a tough road for the rest of the season.

Panic index: Since 1990, three teams that started 0-3 have made the playoffs, so ... yeah.

Carson Palmer’s clutch quarterback skills are in decline

The Cardinals had the fourth-best odds to win Super Bowl 51 during the preseason. After three weeks, Arizona is tied for last place in the NFC West with San Francisco — the team with the third-worst odds to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

Bruce Arians’ team is 1-2 with losses to the AFC East’s better (New England) and lesser (Buffalo) teams. Let’s start with a closer look at that Bills loss.

Arizona was blitzed out of the game from the gate, falling behind 17-0 in fewer than 20 minutes. However, the Cardinals were still afforded a few comeback opportunities as the clock wound down. Buffalo led 30-16 when Colton Schmidt punted the ball back to the birds with 7:45 left in the game.



With multiple chances to lead Arizona back into this game, Carson Palmer failed to crack a Buffalo defense ready for an aerial assault. Four drives ended in four interceptions, including one at the Bills’ 1-yard line.

Week 3 isn’t the only week where Palmer’s fortunes have trended downward. After two weeks, his accuracy under pressure had dropped to 52.4 percent — a far cry from the league leading 72.4 percent he posted in 2015. His passing yards per attempt are down nearly a full yard and a half over the same span. He’s on pace to take the more sacks this season than he has since 2008.

Palmer was capable in Week 1’s loss to the Patriots. There, he put the Cardinals in position to win on two separate, pass-heavy drives. However, he also wasn’t asked to do much. In those final two possessions, the veteran only completed one pass downfield — an 18-yard strike on third-and-23 that took advantage of a drawn-back New England secondary.

The veteran QB is fortunate Sunday was also home to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s six-pick meltdown, or else this would have been a bigger deal. His Pro Football Focus grade was 31.4, his lowest mark since Arians took over as head coach. This was not the revitalized Palmer who led his team to the NFC Championship last winter; this looked more like the player who languished in Oakland before the Cardinals threw him a lifesaver.

At 36 years old, it may be too much to ask for a a third renaissance.

Panic Index: Things are fine as long as the Cardinals don’t have to play from behind. Easy solution for Arizona: never trail again.

Did the Jets pick the wrong quarterback?

The default answer to that question is yes. The Jets always pick the wrong quarterback. This is the team that traded up to draft Mark Sanchez with the fifth pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Geno Smith was supposed to be the solution to the Sanchez problem, but the coaches and front office people who invested a second-round pick in Smith in 2013 are gone. And nobody in the current regime has much faith in him, which is why they re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, after a summer-long flirtation with the guy they originally signed last year to be their backup.

If you really dig into his 2015 season, Fitzpatrick was mostly pretty average to slightly above. That’s a big jump from where the Jets have been over the last decade, but it doesn’t make him the kind of quarterback that transcends other issues on the roster. His performance is mostly dependent on how Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are playing.

In last week’s six-interception performance against the Chiefs, Fitzpatrick was pressured just 10 times on 47 dropbacks, according to PFF. He connected on just 40 percent of his throws and had a rating of 10.5 when he WASN’T pressured. On throws of 10 yards or more, he had just as many completions to the Chiefs defense as he did his own receivers.

You should have seen this coming. Remember last season’s Week 17 performance on the road against the Bills ... with a playoff appearance on the line? Fitzpatrick threw three picks and completed just 16 of 37 attempts in a 22-17 loss.

Panic index: You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have ... another frustrating season.

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Browns kicker Cody Parkey had a rough Week 3