HOUSTON — J.J. Watt is out until at least December and could miss the rest of the season with an injured back, leaving the Texans searching for ways to deal with the loss of the NFL’s best defensive player.

Watt was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, which means he’ll be out for a minimum of eight weeks.

“You can never replace the best player in the NFL,” Coach Bill O’Brien said. “When someone like that goes down, it’s a tough thing obviously, but at the same time … this is a team.

“A team made up of some really good veteran leaders, some really good young players. We’re looking forward to the challenges that are ahead.”

O’Brien said Watt had re-injured his back and putting him on IR was the best thing for his long-term health.

“It’s flared up to the point where he can’t continue to play right now,” O’Brien said. “Going on IR will give J.J. all the time he needs to make sure that he’s 100 percent healthy and back to being himself.”

The team was still exploring the injury and it’s unclear if it will require surgery.

Watt, who has won the Defensive Player of the Year for the past two seasons, missed training camp and Houston’s four preseason games after surgery in July to repair a herniated disk in his back. The defensive end started each of the team’s three regular-season games and got hurt again Thursday against the Patriots.

COWBOYS: Dez Bryant has a slight hairline fracture in a bone in his right knee, though Coach Jason Garrett says the receiver might not miss a game.

Bryant didn’t practice Wednesday, three days after getting hurt on the opening in a win over Chicago, and the same day the team got back results of an MRI.

“We’ve had players with this kind of injury who missed no time in the past and other players who have missed up to a week or more than that,” Garrett said. “We’ll see how he does. When he comes in (Thursday), see how he feels and we’ll make our evaluations there as we go forward.”

Bryant missed seven games last year after breaking his foot in the opener.

Dolphins: Miami has four players out for Thursday’s game at Cincinnati because of injuries: linebacker Koa Misi (neck), center Mike Pouncey (hip), running back Arian Foster (groin) and tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion).

SEAHAWKS: Seattle signed veteran C.J. Spiller to a one-year contract to add depth at running back.

JETS: Eric Decker’s ailing shoulder was worsened in the 24-3 loss on Sunday. Coach Todd Bowles said the receiver was “probably” going to have an MRI and that his availability for Sunday’s game against Seattle is uncertain.

DIVERSITY: The NFL received a high grade for its racial hiring practices and a C+ for its gender hiring efforts in 2016, according to the annual report by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

It gave the league its seventh consecutive A on racial hiring practices and a combined grade of B for hiring minorities and women.

The second straight C+ indicates the NFL still has a long way to go in improving hiring opportunities for women, but it is a dramatic improvement from two years ago.

BEARS: Quarterback Jay Cutler returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday after missing a game because of a sprained right thumb.

Cutler was injured against Philadelphia on Sept. 19 and sat out last week’s 31-17 loss at Dallas. Veteran Brian Hoyer went 30 of 49 for 317 yards filling in against the Cowboys.

CHIEFS: Running back Jamaal Charles could make his season debut Sunday at Pittsburgh, though Coach Andy Reid acknowledged that it would depend on how he practices this week.

Charles has not played since tearing the ACL in his right knee in Week 5 last season.