The NFL and NFLPA are conducting a joint investigation into the process of how T.J. Watt was put into concussion protocol and if there were errors made during Thursday night’s game against the Patriots that allowed him to return. Watt is already back at practice, a limited participant on Tuesday, but there were some concerning signs on Thursday.
For one, Watt did get checked for a concussion. After the first series, Watt was taken into the medical tent on the Pittsburgh sideline and examined more fully by both Steelers team medical professionals and the NFL’s independent neurologist. It was determined that Watt was okay to return to play, and he did so.
Watt was hit with a knee by New England Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott on the first defensive snap of the game. Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick tackled Elliott right into Watt, with Elliott’s knee impacting Watt’s facemask in the jaw area.
Watt stayed down on the field after taking the hit. He was helped off the field by Steelers trainers and examined on the sideline before being allowed to return to the field after just a few plays.
“I assume that he was (checked for a concussion),” Mike Tomlin said on Monday. “I’m managing the game. I leave that to the medical experts. They essentially tell me whether someone is out, whether they’re subject to return or whether they’re back. I got a report that he was subject to return and then I got a report that he was back. That was my knowledge of the details of what transpired with him during the time that he was out in-game.”
When Watt returned to the game, the Steelers had him wearing a tinted visor, and on the sideline, he was seen inhaling smelling salts. Defensive tackle Cam Heyward said that Watt told him he got hit in the jaw but that he was fine otherwise, cracking jokes like he always did.
The timing of Watt changing his helmet was interesting, but Tomlin said he was unaware of the change and downplayed its potential significance on Monday.
“I wasn’t aware of that, to be honest with you,” Tomlin said. “So I don’t I don’t have a response to that. I wasn’t aware that he changed visors. He normally wears a visor. You mean the tone of his visor was different? I wasn’t aware of that.”
Watt was seen wearing the same visor in practice on Thursday. It is standard that the review occurs whenever a player goes into protocol to ensure all the correct steps are taken.