More from the series
Panthers at Texans
Expanded coverage of Carolina’s Week 3 game at Houston.
Scribbled in tiny capital letters, contorting within the No. 20 on the back of the jersey, there were three messages:
LOVE YOU BRO!!
BEEN DREAMING OF THIS MOMENT
No matter what happened on the field at NRG Stadium on Sunday — where the Carolina Panthers ultimately defeated the Houston Texans 16-10 — those messages were always going to be what mattered most to Eric Reid. Win or lose. Good game or bad. For all the football implications from Sunday’s contest, perhaps this one is most important to remember:
Family comes first.
Reid, the Panthers safety, had never before played against his brother. Never with him, either. Not in pee wee, flag football, high school ball — nothing. And considering Eric is five years older than Justin, one of the Texans’ starting safeties, that makes sense.
But all that meant was that Sunday’s meeting, the first time the brothers would ever share a football field, was of special importance. It was about more than the Panthers trying to get back to .500 and more than the Texans trying to keep pace in the AFC South.
“Man ...” Eric said after the game, taking a pause to compose himself. “It’s hard to find words. I mean when he was in high school, he didn’t think he wanted to play football. Then he changed his mind, and I started trying to give him advice.
“To see him go from high school to Stanford and now I get to play against him, it’s one of the happiest football moments of my life.”
The stage for the Reid brothers rivalry was established earlier this week, when Eric told reporters he had never lost to Justin and “it ain’t starting now.” Then there was Sunday morning, when their parents game to game with split-colored Reid jerseys; each with one half of a Houston jersey and one half of a Carolina one, stitched together.
There were the pregame photos with family and friends, the end of playful trash-talk that persisted throughout the week.
And then, there was a football game to play — and bragging rights to be won.
Now they belong to Eric, not just for his team’s eventual victory, but for his individual success.
“Like I said earlier in the week,” Eric said, “to live my dream and my brother to be out there on the same field as me, it’s a special moment.”
Justin finished Sunday’s game with more tackles than Eric, 10 to 6, but the big plays certainly belonged to Eric. Justin almost had an interception of Panthers backup quarterback Kyle Allen, but the ball eventually fell to the ground.
“I was having conflicting emotions. He almost made the interception, and I was like, ‘Ooh,’ ” Eric said with a grin. “I’m happy that he played well; it looked like he made a bunch of tackles. But, obviously, I’m happy that I won, because I get the bragging rights.”
Without Eric’s contributions though, the Panthers don’t win this game.
His first big play came on Houston’s penultimate offensive drive, with Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense hoping to drive for a game-winning touchdown. But on second-and-6 with about four minutes left, Eric came on a blitz around Houston’s right tackle and went straight for Watson. Vernon Butler Jr. grabbed Watson by the ankle to sack him, and then he and Eric popped the ball out of Watson’s hands in tandem.
“I was going on the blitz, and I saw (Watson) drop the ball,” Eric said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta get it.’ ”
Then Eric fell on the ball to complete the turnover, setting the Panthers up for a clock-killing final drive that cemented the win.
“Eric was the guy on the spot to make the play,” coach Ron Rivera said.
After a short Joey Slye field goal pushed Carolina’s lead to 16-10, the Texans had about 28 seconds to mount one final drive. They just made it across midfield and to the Carolina 47, with time for one final heave.
Watson dropped back, scrambled and found time to throw from the right sideline. He was drilled by Brian Burns as he threw, but he got the ball headed to the end zone nonetheless.
Until Eric came flying into the play, swatting it emphatically to the ground.
Play over. Game over. Sibling rivalry decided.
After the game came the jersey swap, the emotional embrace, even Eric giving his little brother a kiss on the cheek.
“I’m sure at Thanksgiving or Christmas I’m going to hear about this one again, so he earned that,” Justin said. “It was still a fun game.”
Added Eric: “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I’ve never played against him at any level. So to do it at the highest level ... I mean, how many people get to do that besides J.J. Watt and his 15 brothers?”
Perhaps most impressive about Eric’s performance, aside from the obvious role he played in Carolina getting to 2-2 this season, is that he did so while injured. He briefly left the game in the second quarter and had his left ankle attended to by physicians, but returned almost immediately.
“It could have been easy to not come back,” Rivera said. “I know he’s going to be very sore the next couple of days, but it was really just great that he came back out and did the best he could for his teammates.”
After the game, Eric had a boot on his left ankle. That’s not atypical for injured players, as the boot helps to reduce swelling on the plane ride home. He said he wasn’t worried about his status going forward, although he said he would “race to the training room” to make sure he was ready for next Sunday against Jacksonville.
“I’ll throw some ice on it,” Eric said, “and I’ll get back out there.”
That’s the type of player Eric is and has been since the day he signed with Carolina early in the 2018 season.
But more than his toughness, his play is what made the difference Sunday. And doing so in one of the more emotional games of his career speaks volumes about him, too.