HOUSTON – Heading into the final weekend of the season, defensive end Jerry Hughes returns to the city where it all began when the Houston Texans visited the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts selected Hughes in the first round of the 2010 draft, and in his 13th season of veteran play, his first with the Texans, he’s playing like he jumped out of the Fountain of Youth.
The 34-year-old has nine sacks and has the 16th-highest pass rushing percentage (19%) in the NFL. Those numbers are why Hughes was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate.
Last season, however, Hughes wrapped up his ninth and final season with the Buffalo Bills with two sacks, one tackle-for-loss, and seven quarterback hits.
• Quarterback Jets revolving door
• Browns offense: Signs of progress
• Saleh defends OC LaFleur
• OL’s Viking works
• Playoff Pictures: Week 17 Clinch Scenario
He promised himself never to repeat such a season again.
Hughes credits his teammates, coach Robbie Smith’s defensive plan, his diet (along with the Texans’ nutritional infrastructure), and many other aspects as contributing factors to his resurgence, but his heart Inside, his resurrection was literally closer to home.
Before signing a two-year deal with the Texans in the offseason, Hughes was on a “soul-searching.” The search ended at a children’s swim meet last February.
His son JR and daughter Hayden were competing.
As he watched, he had an epiphany. He realized something was missing in his playing style. He realized that there is a lot to be expected of a professional athlete, but at the end of the day, it’s just a game.
He could see in their innocent eyes that he was missing something so simple.
Hayden, 4, and JR, 6, wore matching red, white and black bathing suits with red swim caps. Each in her 25-yard freestyle her race slipped through an individual competition in each heat.
As they exit the pool, they are both dizzy with excitement. They smiled and pointed to their proud dad who was positioned at the top of Natatorium’s seat to cheer them on.
At that moment, the fuse lit a light bulb. Seeing his kids succeed was one thing. Seeing them having fun was a game changer.
“I thought, ‘It’s the fun that sports are supposed to bring,'” Hughes told ESPN. is needed.”
Hughes said last year that the organization that saved his career left him mentally shaken.
In 2013, Hughes, who had only five sacks in his first three seasons, was traded from the Bills and made an immediate impact. He recorded his 10 sacks in his first season (his 9.5 sacks the next), leading to his five-year contract extension worth $45 million in 2015.
He had 53 sacks, leaving Buffalo fourth in franchise history, but for some reason his mind was plagued with self-doubt even before the start of last season.
As a result, the fun evaporated.
“Oh my suspicions crept in week one,” Hughes said. “The year before I was captain, the next year I wasn’t. That bothered me, maybe the first two months of the season. ‘Are you enjoying yourself? It was my first time being captain. So I was honored to receive the award. [it was] robbed.
“When they announced the captain, the first thing that came to my mind was ‘OK, I won’t be here next year’.”
This idea has a ripple effect.
Every week he slowly put away his locker.
Obsessive self-criticism then appeared on game day. He thought too much and pressured him to get sacks, which prevented him from playing freely.
And when those bags didn’t come, he became overly critical while studying film.
“I was mentally breaking myself when the production wasn’t there,” said Hughes. ‘I need to do better’
“I haven’t seen anything positive about how I was able to beat that guy and be in position to almost make a sack. It was out the window.”
Results for the first four weeks of the season were minimal as he made three tackles with no sacks or quarterback hits.
Ultimately, Hughes realized it was an unhealthy approach.
Hughes credits teammates like Texans defensive end Mario Addison, who was with the Bills last year, as a constant source of encouragement.
“If I hadn’t stuck with him and continued to push him when he wasn’t having a season like he usually is, I would have stopped being his friend,” Addison said. will not stop.”
Hughes didn’t feel anywhere near normal until last season’s Week 5 loss against the Tennessee Titans. rice field.
Hughes stopped taking clothes out of his locker, stopped criticizing himself, and maintained that positive energy throughout the rest of the season. I felt a sense of relief. normal feeling.
With a pass rush win percentage of 20.9%, he was 13th among qualified pass rushers, so it’s not like Hughes couldn’t beat the guy blocking him. He simply wasn’t recording sacks like he normally would.
That’s why Texans defensive line coach Jack Cesar focused on Hughes’ finishing.
“One of the things I noticed about Jerry last year when I brought him in is that he won a lot of one-on-ones,” Cesar said. “When he got here, I said to him, I said, ‘Look, if you’re going to do what you did last year, but now just get it done, focus on getting it done, as soon as possible.’ Get to the quarterback…and beat him, you’ll have more rush production, and that’s what he did.”
Hughes enters Week 18 as the Texans (2-13-1) move to the Colts (4-11-1) on Sunday (1pm ET, CBS).
It remains to be seen if Hughes will make an appearance in the Banner season after rediscovering himself, but one thing is for sure, JR and Hayden admit they’ve found themselves.