PITTSBURGH (AP) TJ Watt has seen it all when he tries to reach the quarterback.
The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker has faced side slips, tight chips, running back chips, doubles teams and more. Even with all that, the offenses struggled to contain the All-Pro double in the middle of a historic season.
Watt, who was voted the Steelers MVP on Thursday, will aim for the NFL single-season sack record and try to help Pittsburgh advance to the playoffs in Sunday’s regular season finals in Baltimore. .
“I only have one chance at that,” said Watt, who is the first player in franchise history to be named the team’s MVP in three consecutive seasons. “You can only play for a very long time. It consumed a lot of my life and I totally agree with it. People around me really push me and understand my obsession with this game and my desire to be the best.
Watt, in his fifth season in the NFL, signed a contract in September that makes him the highest-paid defenseman in the league. That’s money well spent for the Steelers, who are 8-3 when Watt plays a full game and 0-4-1 when seated or limited with injury.
“His contributions are immeasurable,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Watt needs 1 1/2 sacks on Sunday to beat Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s 22 1/2 mark in a single season, set in 2001.
Although Strahan played a 16-game schedule and Watt gets one more game, he missed a lot of time with groin, hip and knee injuries. Watt started 14 of 16 games and left several more at the start of the season.
“I feel like if I’m healthy I can definitely make a big impact in every game,” Watt said. “I really haven’t felt that way in a long time, being 100% healthy, but at this point of the year nobody is 100% healthy. “
Watt had 3 1/2 sacks in the Steelers’ first meeting with Baltimore this season, but a late play had the biggest impact. Watt rushed Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on an attempt at what would have been a winning 2-point conversion. Jackson’s throw on an open Mark Andrews came out of the tight end fingertips and rebounded.
“I think he’s the best in the world,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada. “I’m glad I don’t have to plan a game for him in games.”
Watt, who set a career-high four sacks last Monday against Cleveland, is the 12th player to reach 20 or more sacks in a season since 1982, when the individual sack became an official NFL statistic. His 21 1/2 sacks lead the league this season – Chicago’s Robert Quinn is next with 18 – and is the biggest since Kansas City’s Justin Houston was 22 in 2014.
Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward isn’t surprised at Watt’s output.
“I’m not really ‘wow’ because I understand the preparation he puts in,” Heyward said. “I understand what he’s doing during the offseason. This guy is locked up no matter what. He’s a game changer and a game breaker. “
Watt also leads the NFL with 20 tackles for a loss and 36 quarterback hits. He could become the seventh player to lead the league in sacks, loss tackles and quarterback hits in the same season since 2006, when quarterback hits became an officially recognized statistic. Four of the previous six players have won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu in 2010 was the last Steeler to win this award.
Watt led the league with 15 sacks last season, but was second to Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the defensive player of the year vote. He has 71 sacks in 76 career games. Only his older brother JJ Watt and Hall of Famer Reggie White reached that total faster.
And the single season record could be next.
“It’s always possible when you have a guy who works as hard as him,” Heyward said. “TJ does the job and he gets rewarded for it. “
NOTES: The Steelers placed wide receiver Diontae Johnson and center Kendrick Green on the COVID-19 roster on Thursday. … Defensive back Arthur Maulet (illness), linebacker Buddy Johnson (foot), goaltender Trai Turner (knee) and tackle Dan Moore Jr. (ankle) did not practice Thursday.
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