On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals put cardiologists on stand-by. Both teams traded punches, pick-sixes, comeback drives, blocked PAT’s, missed field goals and the kitchen sink, only ending after 70 minutes of play AND a 53-yard game-winning field goal from Chris Boswell to lift the Black and Gold over the Bengals, 23-20 to open the 2022 NFL season.
Rarely does an NFL game go by where players don’t suffer injuries. They are part of the game, the most violent of contact sports. Team’s championship fates can live and die by those who get hurt and an ability to come back healthy and in time to contribute towards winning a Super Bowl.
The cost of victory was steep for Pittsburgh. How high that cost is has yet to be tallied.
Both TJ Watt and Najee Harris left late in the 4th quarter with various injuries. Harris came off first with what was described as a ‘foot sprain’ while a few plays later, Watt walked off with a pectoral injury.
Neither returned. The Yinzer speculation machine has been working OT ever since and hasn’t slowed down.
Both players are keys on each side of the football, but the Watt injury is really concerning. The reigning 2021 AP Defensive Player of the Year was a beast early on, recording a sack, TFL and an interception all in the first quarter of play.
I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on this website, so I will wait for concrete results before I speculate on a possible return. His brother JJ Watt suffered a similar injury in 2019, returning eight weeks later for the Houston Texans playoff game vs. Tennessee.
Truth be told, he hasn’t been the same dominant player since. It goes without saying that without Watt’s presence, the Steelers defense, one that is expected to keep this team in games while the offense figures things out, will not have the same punch it showed on Sunday. It’s still a very formidable team with Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick, still having serious impact to disrupt a game.
But without TJ Watt, it’s not elite. And this team needs elite to balance out a very average offense at this point in time.
Watt’s teammates know how important it is to have him and at 100%:
“Having TJ out there definitely benefits us. He’s a leader. He’s the Defensive Player of the Year,” offered Cam Heyward. “However long it takes, other guys gotta step up. Alex [Highsmith] stepped up pretty good today. Malik [Reed] and Jamir [Jones] are coming along. We had to do some different stuff out there, but we rally around him. And when he gets back, we’ll be ready.”
As for Harris, his day was rather nondescript outside of his 1-yard TD catch in the 1st quarter. He only ran for 23 yards on 10 carries, with 11 of those yards coming on one run.
The Steelers may have escaped a serious injury for Harris, though. Reports late Monday evening are positive.Monday evening are positive.
The injuries have overshadowed a truly remarkable win, one that nobody really thought was possible. Fitzpatrick was a total beast, returning a pick for a touchdown early in the first quarter to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead. It came on the first pass of the season for Bengals QB Joe Burrow.
As if that wasn’t big, Fitzpatrick’s biggest contribution came on the final play of regulation. Burrow connected with former LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase on a 6-yard score to tie the game at 20-20. Somehow Fitzpatrick found a seam to sneak through like a dart and blocked the PAT attempt of Cincinnati kicker, Evan McPherson, sending the game into overtime.
One that saw two missed field goal attempts, a confusing punt that could have taken 15 additional seconds off the clock and most likely forced a tie but didn’t.
Bungals gonna Bungle y’all.
It’s always good to win a game nobody thinks you have any reason to. To do it on the road, as an underdog against a division rival who also happens to be the defending AFC North and Conference Champs is sweet.
But the cost of the win hasn’t quite been added up just yet. The question is if Steeler Nation will be able to pay that tab when the bartender brings the bill.
Can the Steelers defense perform at this level without Watt? Sound off below!