ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Even without a preseason, T.J. Watt is still T.J. Watt.
Watt, who held out of the entirety of the team practice portions of the 2021 training camp and preseason, and returned to practicing in full just days before the opener, looked to be at pretty close to top condition on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills after signing a contract extension on Thursday that made him the richest defender in the NFL.
“I felt really fresh,” Watt said. “I said that this week, I felt fresh all week. I didn’t want to get too confident because I didn’t know coming into a game atmosphere and the hype and adrenaline that comes with it.”
Watt had two sacks, one of which was a strip sack of Bills quarterback Josh Allen, and the Steelers’ four-man pressure wreaked havoc on the Buffalo offense.
“He’s fine,” defensive captain Cam Heyward said sarcastically. “He’s had a heck of a week. Not everybody can do what we he does. For him to handle it the way he handled it, and capitalize on it with a win like this, I’m pretty proud of him.”
Cornerback Cam Sutton said there was no thoughts or signs of the $100 million man slowing down now that he’s got his big pay day, and the team supported him throughout his hold out.
“We know that guy’s motor,” Sutton said. “We know how hard he works each and every day, the energy that he brings each and every day. His presence is always felt, regardless of him being with us the whole time, up until this moment. You just see how hungry he was, to just come out here and continue to showcase the things that he’s putting on.”
Watt and the defensive line disrupted the Buffalo passing attack over and over again, with Allen recording a 79.7 passer rating on 51 attempts. With Watt out of practice, Alex Highsmith limited by a groin injury and Melvin Ingram making his Steelers debut, that probably wasn’t the most expected outcome, though maybe it should have been, particularly Watt’s dominance.
“Were you surprised?” Ben Roethlisberger posed to a reporter after being asked the same thing about Watt’s performance.
The reporter admitted that he wasn’t.
“Me either,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t think anyone was.”