PITTSBURGH (AP) — T.J. Watt has seen it all when he's trying to get to the quarterback.
The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker has faced slides to his side, tight end chips, running back chips, double teams and more. Even with all that, offenses have had trouble containing the two-time All-Pro in the midst of a historic season.
Watt, who was voted the Steelers’ most valuable player on Thursday, will take aim at the NFL’s single-season sack record and try to help Pittsburgh into the playoffs during the regular-season finale on Sunday at Baltimore.
“I only get one chance at this,” said Watt, who is the first player in franchise history to be named team MVP in three consecutive seasons. “You only get to play for so long. It has consumed a lot of my life and I’m completely OK with that. The people around me truly push me and understand my obsession with this game and wanting to be the best.”
Watt, in his fifth NFL season, signed a contract in September that made him the highest-paid defender in the league. It's been money well spent for the Steelers, who are 8-3 when Watt plays a full game and 0-4-1 when he sits or is limited because of injury.
“His contributions are immeasurable,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Watt needs 1 1/2 sacks on Sunday to break Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s single-season mark of 22 1/2, set in 2001.
Although Strahan played a 16-game schedule and Watt gets one more game, he has missed significant time with groin, hip and knee injuries. Watt has started 14 of 16 games and left several others early this season.
“I feel like if I’m healthy, I can definitely have a big impact on each game,” Watt said. “I really haven’t felt that way in a long time, being 100 percent healthy, but at this point of the year, nobody is 100 percent healthy.”
Watt had 3 1/2 sacks in the Steelers’ first meeting with Baltimore this season, but a play at the end of the game had the biggest impact. Watt hurried Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson during an attempt at what would have been a game-winning 2-point conversion. Jackson’s throw to an open Mark Andrews went off the tight end’s fingertips and bounced away.
“I think he’s the best in the world,” Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “I’m glad I don’t have to game plan for him in games.”
Watt, who had a career-best 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 are the most since Kansas City’s Justin Houston had 22 in 2014.
Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward isn’t surprised at Watt’s production.
“I don’t really go ‘wow’ because I understand the preparation he puts in,” Heyward said. “I understand what he does in the offseason. This guy is locked in no matter what the circumstances are. He’s a game-changer and a game-wrecker.”
Watt also leads the NFL with 20 tackles for loss and 36 quarterback hits. He could become the seventh player to lead the league in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits in the same season since 2006 when quarterback hits became an officially recognized statistic. Four of the previous six players went on to capture NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu in 2010 was the last Steeler to win that award.
Watt led the league with 15 sacks last season, but he finished second to Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He has 71 sacks in 76 career games. Only his older brother J.J. Watt and Hall of Famer Reggie White have reached that total faster.
And the single-season record could be next.
“It’s always attainable when you have a guy that works as hard as he does,” Heyward said. “T.J. puts in the work and he’s rewarded for it.”
NOTES: The Steelers placed wide receiver Diontae Johnson and center Kendrick Green on the COVID-19 list on Thursday. ... Defensive back Arthur Maulet (illness), linebacker Buddy Johnson (foot), guard Trai Turner (knee) and tackle Dan Moore Jr. (ankle) did not practice on Thursday.
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