The Pittsburgh Steelers placed outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the concussion protocol on Saturday, and the team should be facing tough questions on how it handled his injury. Watt took a knee to the head from New England Patriots running Ezekiel Elliott on the first play from scrimmage in the Steelers’ 21-18 loss, resulting in him briefly leaving the game.
Watt went into the medical tent and was checked for a concussion before returning to the game. The handling of the injury is concerning because Watt re-entered the game with a tinted visor at one point, perhaps indicating that he was dealing with light sensitivity. According to ProFootballTalk, he also did not take part in an interview with Peter King after the game because he was dealing with a migraine.
Adding all of those factors together should lead to questions on how — and why — Watt was cleared to return to the game. Other teams have faced intense scrutiny in recent seasons for similar treatment regarding concussions. The most notable was the Miami Dolphins during the 2022 season with their handling of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
The Steelers are a different team with Watt in the lineup and have struggled to win when he has been sidelined throughout his career. He is one of the best defensive players in football, and there was an obvious desire to keep him on the field, especially given the importance of the game.
Pittsburgh entered the game with a 7-5 record and was coming off an ugly loss to the 2-10 Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Losing to another 2-10 team at home within four days put a huge dent in their playoff chances.
Even with all of that, Watt’s long-term health — for both himself and the team — needed to take precedence over one game. By sending him back into the lineup when all signs indicated that he was dealing with some sort of an issue, the Steelers have opened themselves up to scrutiny.