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TJ Watt: It ‘Sucked’ to Miss 2023 AFC Wild Card Loss to Buffalo Bills

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Steelers TJ Watt

After an injury plagued 2022 season, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker TJ Watt bounced back to an elite level in 2023. While he suffered an injury in the last regular season game and missed the AFC Wild Card game, he stayed relatively healthy in 2023 and looks to continue a clean bill of health moving forward.

Watt was a huge reason that the Steelers snuck into the playoffs last season and his absence in the Wild Card loss showed as the Steelers lost by two touchdowns. Luckily, for him and the Steelers, the injury was not anywhere near as bad as they expected and he is fully recovered from it.

While losing the game did not feel good, Watt took the one positive out of the situation and is thankful that the injury was not worse.

“Yeah, it sucked,” Watt told reporters about missing the AFC Wild Card game.”I tried everything that I could but I couldn’t get back. Anytime that I am not able to play, it is not a good feeling. … As soon as it happened, I thought it would be a lot worse than it was so I was lucky to get out of there with what I had.”

As he is aging into his 30’s and the wear-and-tear of football in approaching, Watt is changing some of the things he does off of the field to minimize that wear-and-tear.

“I am going to do whatever is possible to win,” Watt said. “It’s all about taking each and every day as a true professional. It is about not taking any day for granted, and when it comes down to executing and working, putting everything aside and getting down to work.”

The things that he is changing or has already changed mostly involve his workout, diet and sleep schedule. All of these things could help improve his durability come game time.

“Just being smarter,” Watt said. “Im not going crazy in the weight room anymore, not trying to set personal records in the weight room. It is just about maintaining and trying to stay healthy. That is first and foremost and most important thing [for me] right now.”

While Watt is one of the best defensive players in the league, and the rest of the defense is filled by stars such as Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cam Heyward, Alex Highsmith and now Joey Porter Jr., Watt has not been the only unlucky one in regard to injuries over the last few seasons. Both Fitzpatrick and Heyward have missed extensive amounts of time due to injuries and outside of a handful of ballgames, that main trio have not shared the field on a consistent basis in about two seasons.

Watt talked about that and how good the defense could be if they had everybody at 100% health but also said that it is hard to talk about because it is a hypothetical situation.

“It’s so hard to speak on hypotheticals in the NFL,” “Every single year you are going to be dealing with some sort of adversity. I would love to say that if we had everybody in the lineup we would be doing ‘X, Y, and Z’ but it is just too hard to say.”

Regardless, a year after recording 19 sacks, and already tying the NFL sack record in 2021, Watt just seems to keep getting better. With Watt and Highsmith locked up for the next few seasons, the Steelers pass rush should be near the top of the league once again in 2024.

90 • T.J. Watt, Outside Linebacker, Wisconsin
6-foot-4, 252 pounds, 28 years old, 7th Season

Acquired: The Steelers drafted TJ Watt with the 30th overall pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Last seasonAfter an injury plagued 2022 season, TJ Watt bounced back in a big way in 2023. Watt started all 17 regular season games before missing the Wild Card loss to the Buffalo Bills. In 17 ballgames, Watt racked up 68 total tackles, 53 pressures, 19 sacks, one interception and four forced fumbles. Out of 17 regular season games, Watt recorded two or more sacks in six of those games.

Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 23, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

CareerAfter being the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2017, TJ Watt won the starting job over James Harrison to enter the season. He became the first Steelers’ rookie to start at outside linebacker in Week 1 since 1988. In his NFL debut in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns, Watt tallied two sacks and an interception. The next week, Watt suffered a groin injury that kept him out of the team’s Week 3 matchup. Watt broke the Steelers’ rookie sack record as he finished with seven in his first season. In total, Watt recorded 54 total tackles, seven sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble.

Watt took a step forward in his second season in Pittsburgh as he started all 16 games and nearly doubled his sack total. He racked up a career-high 68 total tackles while adding 13 sacks, and six forced fumbles.

Steelers OLB T.J. Watt

Steelers OLB T.J. Watt against the Arizona Cardinals, Dec. 3, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

In 2019, Watt started all 16 games once again and kept up his high-level play for the defense. He finished the year with 55 total tackles, 14.5 sacks, two interceptions, eight forced fumbles, and a career-high 81 quarterback pressures. The following season, Watt had a very similar season production-wise. He finished the 2020 season with 53 tackles, 15 sacks, 73 quarterback pressures, one interception, and two forced fumbles. Pro Football Focus gave Watt the highest rating of his career in 2020 as he was given a 91.6 defensive rating.

Watt rewrote the record books in 2021 as he started 15 games and tied the NFL record for most sacks in a single season. Watt finished the year with 64 total tackles, 62 pressures, five forced fumbles, and a career-high 22.5 sacks. He tied the record despite missing two full games and portions of four others. Following the season, Watt was named as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year which was the first time a Steelers’ defender has won the award since Troy Polamalu won it in 2010.

Watt and the Steelers opened the 2022 season with an overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals but unfortunately for Watt, he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the win and missed the next seven contests. In that Week 1 game, Watt tallied six tackles, one sack, and one interception.

Watt returned to the Steelers’ defense in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints and totaled four tackles. Watt finished the season with 10 starts. He recorded 39 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 31 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and two interceptions.

Over his first seven seasons, Watt has started all 104 games that he has appeared in with the Steelers. He has totaled 96.5 sacks, 215 quarterback hits, seven interceptions, and 27 forced fumbles. He is a six-time Pro Bowler and a three-time first-team All-Pro member.

Year GP GS Tackles Sacks Pressures INTs FFs PFF Rating
2017 15 15 54 7.0 40 1 1 70.4
2018 16 16 68 13.0 52 0 6 75.7
2019 16 16 55 14.5 81 2 8 91.3
2020 15 15 53 15.0 73 1 2 91.6
2021 15 15 64 22.5 62 0 5 89.5
2022 10 10 39 5.5 31 2 1 82.1
2023 17 17 68 19 53 1 4 91.9

College: TJ Watt committed to the University of Wisconsin as a tight end prospect and sat out the 2013 season as a redshirt. In 2014, Watt suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 2014 season and the 2015 spring practices.

In the fall of 2015, Watt switched from tight end to outside linebacker. Watt made his first collegiate appearance in 2015 for the Badgers as he played in 13 games as a redshirt sophomore. He finished the season with eight combined tackles, three passes defended, and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Watt really exploded onto the scene in 2016 as he started all 14 games for the Badgers as an outside linebacker. He totaled 63 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, one interception, and two forced fumbles. His lone collegiate interception was returned for a 17-yard pick-six. The 11.5 sacks that Watt racked up in 2016 ranked as the fifth-highest total in a single season at Wisconsin.

In total, Watt appeared in 27 contests and recorded 14 starts in his Badgers’ career. He tallied 71 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, one interception, and two forced fumbles.

Year GP GS Tackles TFLs Sacks INTs FFs
2013 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0
2014 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0
2015 13 0 8 1.5 0.0 0 0
2016 14 14 63 15.5 11.5 1 2

Salary cap and future: TJ Watt signed a four-year extension with the Steelers in 2021 and is signed with the team through the end of the 2025 season. This season, Watt will cost $30.42 million against the Steelers’ cap space with $21.05 million being base salary and $9.36 million being bonus money.

Watt will become an unrestricted free agent following the 2025 season when he will be the age of 31 years old.

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