HOUSTON (AP) — After the Houston Texans extended their franchise record with a ninth straight win on Sunday, J.J. Watt was asked to reflect on how far the team has come in the past year.
"I was on the couch a year ago so this is a lot better," said Watt, who missed the last 11 games of Houston's 4-12 2017 season with a broken leg. "I was in a lot of pain. So it's good for us to be winning ... this is what it's supposed to feel like. Honestly this is how you dream it up."
Deshaun Watson threw a touchdown pass and the Texans intercepted rookie Baker Mayfield three times, returning one for a score, to get the 29-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday that extended the streak.
The Texans (9-3), who opened the season 0-3, haven't lost since Sept. 23 to take a commanding lead atop the AFC South. While they appreciate what they've done to turn things around, they're quick to note that they still have plenty of work left to do.
"It means a lot especially from where we came from 0-3 ... but it's not the Super Bowl so we're still fighting," receiver DeAndre Hopkins said.
Houston raced out to a 23-0 halftime lead and added two second-half field goals by Ka'imi Fairbairn to give him five on Sunday.
Mayfield, the top overall pick in this year's draft, had his worst game of the season, throwing three interceptions for the first time since he was a freshman at Texas Tech in 2013. He entered the game having thrown nine touchdown passes with just one interception in the past three games as the Browns (4-7-1) won consecutive games for the first time since 2014.
Mayfield lamented the mistakes he made in this one.
"(If) I would've taken care of the ball, this game would've been very close," he said.
He finished with 397 yards passing and had a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter after throwing a career-best four in a win over the Bengals last week. Houston's fearsome pass rush, led by Watt and Jadeveon Clowney didn't sack Mayfield, but they hurried and harassed him for much of the day.
His interceptions all came before halftime to help the Texans build the big early lead.
"He probably wasn't feeling too dangerous in the first half, but he was feeling a little more dangerous in the second half," Watt said.
Houston was up 3-0 after an early field goal when Watson, who finished with 224 yards, connected with rookie Jordan Thomas on an 11-yard touchdown pass. Hopkins set up that score when he made a 24-yard reception after T.J. Carrie grabbed his dreadlocks in an attempt to slow him down two plays earlier.
Zach Cunningham made it 17-0 when he grabbed his first career interception and ran 38 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Officials first ruled him down at the 1, but the play was reviewed and changed to a touchdown.
Kareem Jackson was called for a 47-yard pass interference penalty on Cleveland's next drive to put the Browns at their 20. But Mayfield threw another interception two plays later and it was returned 18 yards by Johnathan Joseph.