TAMPA -- Before he ever put on a Bucs uniform, Jameis Winston said the person he most looked forward to playing against was J.J. Watt.
In his "Rookie Confessional," a video produced in June at an event hosted by the NFL Players Association, the Bucs rookie quarterback said his first meeting with Watt was "going to be a fun matchup."
The statement sent shudders up the walls at One Buc Place. Bulletin board material can be spawned from the most innocent comments and the NFL Golden rule is you don't wake up a sleeping giant.
"Be careful what you wish for, it might come true," said Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who has been given the job of keeping Winston in one piece.
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With the Bucs traveling to Houston this weekend, Winston amended his words, saying he meant it as a compliment because the Texans defensive end is a such a great player.
Considered the NFL's No. 1 quarterback killer, Watt responded on Wednesday.
"That's a smart rookie," Watt said.
Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was less cautious.
"I understand his (Winston's) excitement, but eventually the time has to come around when what you said, you to have to do," Cushing said. "This is the week. We'll see how excit
ed he is."
Watt really doesn't need a whole lot of motivation to take Winston's head off. His Texans are 0-2 after last season's 9-7 record and things are spinning out of control.
Still, Winston is most definitely on Watt's mind.
"You want to rattle him," Watt said. "You want to lay some hits on him. You want him to feel your presence early in the game."
During his storied career, Watt has viewed rookie quarterbacks as free lunch. He was particularly rough on the Titans' Zach Mettenberger last year, turning him into a Pinata and then declaring that "this is the NFL, not high school."
After two games, Watt is tied for second in the NFL with six quarterback hurries. His teammate Jadeveon Clowney has three.
Head coaches Lovie Smith of the Bucs and the Texans' Bill O'Brien agree that this game will be decided by the front four of each team. It's not a novel concept, but in this game it could be particularly true.
In the last 25 years, only three teams that started 0-3 made the playoffs. With quarterback Ryan Mallett ranked last in the NFL when under pressure, the Texans will be relying on their defense to get into the win column.
Winston was excited about going up against heralded rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota in Week 1 and then proven star Drew Brees last week, coming out of the two games with a 1-1 record. But this is the first time he will face off against such a high profile player on the field.
"It's a privilege for me," Winston said. "Me, thinking like a kid, not even thinking about going against him, I'm just like 'wow,' we get to play J.J. Watt. It's amazing."
The Bucs' offensive line will have to play better than it did against New Orleans. Rookie tackle Donovan Smith continues to struggle, Logan Mankins continues to slide as he ages, and the Bucs running game virtually stoopped last week after starting center Evan Smith had to leave because of an injury.
"I trust my offensive line," Winston said. "Obviously those guys are great. They've got Jadeveon Clowney, the first pick from last year. They've got Vince Wilfork, he's a true veteran. Just great guys. It's going to be amazing to play against those guys, but at the end of the day it's going to be a battle between two good football teams."
After struggling in his first NFL game two weeks ago against Tennessee, Winston showed marked improvement against New Orleans.
But Koetter is worried.
"Jameis is still taking too many hits," Koetter said. "Sometimes that's a pass protection thing, sometimes that's a quarterback-receiver thing. We can't get Jameis hit as much as we are right now. That's too many hits. Those will add up over the course of 16 games."
Koetter admits he is particularly worried about Watt and he knows there is no advantage to be gained from getting him riled up -- even if it was not the intent.
"He's an elite player. He's at the top of his game," Koetter said. "I'm not going to throw out anymore than you already know about him. He's an excellent player and we're well aware we need to game plan for him."