Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith is entering the NFL’s concussion protocol after leaving Thursday’s game against the Patriots with a neck injury, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported. The injury occurred on a stretch run play by Ezekiel Elliott, where Highsmith got caught in the wash. Highsmith remained down and woozy and is now officially diagnosed with a concussion. He will have nine days to clear that, as the Steelers play next Saturday in Indianapolis against the Colts.
The Steelers had one scare earlier in the game when T.J. Watt got hit in the head by Minkah Fitzpatrick and Elliott when they converged in the backfield on a tackle. He would head into the tent for evaluation but returned to the game afterward. With Highsmith out, rookie Nick Herbig stepped in as the starter across from Watt, and he played well. Herbig played 45 snaps in relief of Highsmith. He looked fine for what they needed him to give.
Markus Golden was made a surprise inactive for Thursday’s game, but if Highsmith is out, that naturally will allow Golden to play more. Special teams’ outside linebacker Kyron Johnson was elevated from the practice squad and acted as the fourth-edge rusher for the game. He did not play a snap on defense.
With injuries like Highsmith’s popping up, that only makes the situation that Pittsburgh faces much worse in must-win games coming up to save their playoff hopes. They need all the help they can get, and Highsmith’s high level of play, although not reflected in sacks, has helped this team buoy throughout the season. Now, the group has to face the possibility at least that he might not play since concussion protocol is tricky, and the neck injury still looms as a potential hurdle to all of this depending on its severity.