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Houston's Clowney impresses teammates with TD return

(AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

By KRISTIE RIEKEN

AP Sports Writer

HOUSTON (AP) Jadeveon Clowney's Houston teammates mocked him mercilessly when Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton tackled the defensive end to prevent a score.

Clowney responded last week by scooping up another fumble and rumbling 22 yards for his first career touchdown. That silenced - and impressed - his teammates.

"I wasn't going to get caught this game," Clowney said. "I said: `I can't get caught two times in a row.'"

Fellow defensive end J.J. Watt was asked if he was among those who teased the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Clowney for being taken down by the smaller Dalton.

"I did. I know I did," Watt said laughing. "I mean, he's like the fastest guy in the world and he got tackled by a quarterback . Yeah, absolutely. I think he rectified it this week though, so there's no making fun of him this week."

Clowney played running back as well as defense through his junior year of high school and has enjoyed the chance to run with the ball the past two weeks after not doing it since then. He was asked if his recent work reminded him of his old running back days.

"Kind of, but I wish it was a handoff," he said before dissolving into laughter.

Despite watching him every day in practice for years, coach Bill O'Brien is still impressed by all of the things Clowney can do. His rare combination of size, speed and athleticism allow him to make plays that few others can.

"Even when we were researching him and studying him in college, he always had a knack for the football," O'Brien said. "He always had a way of creating a turnover by putting, basically directing his body right at the ball, his hands right at the ball.

"Once he gets the ball in his hands, which he's been able to do the last couple of games, I mean, he can run. I mean, he can fly. ... He's got a very good skillset and he's tough to handle, there's no doubt about it."

After showing his skills with the ball in his hands the last couple of weeks, some wondered if Clowney might lobby to get some snaps at tight end like Watt has in the past. But Clowney isn't interested in branching out that way.

"Never," shaking his head, causing his long dreadlocks to graze against his face. "That ain't my thing. Nah, I don't care for that. Defense only."

Clowney struggled through two injury-filled seasons after Houston drafted him first overall in 2014 before having a breakout year. He led the Texans with a career-best 16 tackles for losses last year and has picked up where he left off early this season.

His two fumble recoveries lead the NFL and he has five tackles for losses and two sacks as Houston prepares to host Tennessee on Sunday. He had six tackles, including four for losses, three quarterback hits and two sacks to go along with his fumble recovery against the Patriots. He joined Watt as the only players in NFL history to have a game with at least five tackles, two sacks, three tackles for losses, three quarterback hits and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Watt achieved the feat in 2014 against the Colts.

"It's very nice knowing what I'm putting in is paying off," Clowney said. "Just got to keep working. I don't know if there's ever an ending to this thing unless you're done playing. Until that day comes, I'm just going to keep working. Keep getting better. Keep making a lot of plays for this team."

Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Clowney looks like a completely different player than he was a rookie, and he knows his team will have to account for him at all times Sunday.

"(He goes) 100 miles per hour, very tough to block, very slippery, as athletic as you can get," Mularkey said. "He does a lot of things ... somebody's going to have to have to block him one on one at some point in this game and we're going to have to do that."

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Updated September 28, 2017

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