- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

HOUSTON (AP) - Last year at this time, J.J. Watt was at the center of the conversation for MVP.

A year later, after coming in second to Aaron Rodgers for the award, he’s hardly being mentioned as a contender for it.

This despite leading the league in sacks and helping the Houston Texans to a four-game winning streak that has them in the thick of the playoff hunt.

So maybe the star defensive end should be up there with quarterbacks Cam Newton and Tom Brady?

Watt says he doesn’t think about the MVP race because he can’t be concerned with things out of his control.

“So it doesn’t matter a whole lot to me,” Watt said. “All I do is play for the respect of my teammates and coaches, make my family proud, and then try and put on a good show for the fans.”

It’s been quite a show, as it usually is with Watt.

He won AFC defensive player of the month honors on Thursday after piling up 7 1/2 sacks, 20 tackles (nine for losses) and forcing a fumble. He’s helped the Texans go from a 2-5 start by leading a defense that allowed the fewest yards (250.5) and points (8.8) a game in November.

The Texans try to extend their longest winning streak since 2012 on Sunday at Buffalo. No one had to remind Bills coach Rex Ryan about how dominant Watt is. He’s been an admirer since Watt was in college.

Watt recalled a meeting with Ryan at the NFL combine when Ryan was coaching the Jets and they weren’t scheduled to pick until the end of the first round.

“I sat down in there and he kind of real casually goes: ‘Hey man, you’re going to be gone by the time we get to pick, so here’s what we’re doing. We’re going to put a fake medical report that you have some sort of disease, I don’t know what, but we’ll make one up. And then we’ll draft you, but we’ll pay you like you’re way up there,’” Watt said. “It was a funny exchange and something I always remember about the combine, because it’s a nice compliment to hear from an NFL coach when you’re a college kid.”

Ryan’s affinity for Watt has only grown since, and he certainly thinks Watt should be in the conversation for MVP. He also believes Watt is the NFL’s best player, though Ryan knows it’s unlikely the Texans star will ever win MVP because he plays defense.

“I knew he was a great player back then,” Ryan said. “But he’s even exceeded that, you know, now. I love the way he plays. I mean he’s taking over games. Probably two of the last few games that I’ve seen on tape where he clearly has been the difference.”

Houston coach Bill O’Brien won’t discuss Watt and league MVP. But O’Brien never tires of seeing the way Watt approaches work.

“The thing that always impresses me about him is how hard he plays the game and the level of work ethic that he brings every day to the building,” O’Brien said. “This play versus that play, I don’t know. It’s just the consistency of his work ethic and his level of play is pretty impressive.”

While Watt doesn’t waste time worrying about where he’ll rank when award season rolls around, he beamed when told that Ryan called him the league’s best player.

“There’s people out there that have a lot of opinions and things like that, but to hear from people who day to day know what they’re looking for and actually watch all the plays, it means a lot,” Watt said.

Along with leading the league in sacks, he’s also first in the NFL with 23 tackles for losses and 41 quarterback hits. Watt tied a career-high with 20 1/2 sacks last season to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. He has 70 1/2 sacks in his five-year career and has had at least one sack in five straight games.

He’s continued to put up impressive numbers despite schemes that try to limit his effectiveness, and near constant double-teams. And that’s not to mention the excessive holding offensive linemen often resort to when they can’t corral the 6-foot-5, 289-pound Watt.

In Sunday’s game against the Saints there was one play when not one but two players were pulling on his jersey. No flag was thrown, but Watt simply raised his arms in the air as the play was done to show the hold - and the fact it had pulled his jersey so much that almost his entire abdomen was visible.

Though Watt was clearly irked at that moment, he views being double-teamed so much as a sort of badge of honor.

“You always look at it like a challenge,” he said. “If people are going to put two or three men on you to try and stop you, and then you still get there, that’s always an accomplishment. It always feels good because you know that they’re doing everything that they can.”

Watt, who plays on a defense featuring 2014 top overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney and fellow pass rusher Whitney Mercilus, also welcomes when two opponents are on him because he knows someone else is free.

“That’s what’s very cool about it from my perspective,” he said. “That’s fine, if you want to put a few guys on me, we got other guys over here that will make plays. And you’re still not guaranteed to stop me, either.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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