The bad news continues from the Steelers prime-time loss to the Patriots. TJ Watt, one of the league’s best pass rushers, now is in concussion protocol.
Watt woke up Friday morning with symptoms of a concussion. The Steelers don’t play again until Dec. 16 — that’s a Saturday. He can’t see the field until an independent neurologist clears him. Meanwhile, Alex Highsmith, Pittsburgh’s other pass rusher, also is injured. He left Thursday’s loss against the Patriots with an announced neck injury. But the Steelers confirmed he’s in concussion protocol.
For Watt, his injury came on the first play of the game. As he was diving to tackle Ezekiel Elliott, his head collided with Elliott’s knee. Watts returned to the game. But it seemed obvious to fans watching the broadcast that Watt still was feeling the effects of a knee to the head. There’s a video from later in the game showing Watt grimacing and using what appeared to be smelling salts.
Scandal: TJ Watt finished the game after this massive head impact.
He added a visor later in the game (light sensitivity?)
He didn't do a post-game interview bc of a "migraine".
Now we learn he is in the #concussion protocol.
How do we miss this in 2023? pic.twitter.com/FphoaMLata
— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) December 9, 2023
Steelers don’t have many options to replace Watt, Highsmith
Watt didn’t miss many plays after the initial hit. He was checked on the sideline, then returned to action on the opening drive. Later in the game, he played with a tinted visor. Overall, he was in on 90 percent of the Steelers defensive snaps. Watt made five tackles, three of them solo. He didn’t register a sack. Heading into week 14, Watt’s 14 sacks ranked second in the NFL. He was a sack behind Chargers’ star Khalil Mack.
Meanwhile, Highsmith suffered his injury in the first quarter. But he didn’t return to the game. The Steelers don’t have many options if Watt or Highsmith can’t play next week against the Colts. There are two other outside linebackers on the roster. One is rookie Nick Herbig, who replaced Highsmith against the Patriots. The other is Markus Golden.
The Steelers also have Kyron Johnson on the practice squad. They activated him for the Patriots. But Johnson’s snaps come on special teams, not defense. He played for the Eagles last season. But again, he was almost exclusively on special teams.
To return to action, Watt and Highsmith must go through a five-step clearance process. Typically, players are able to return within nine days.