T.J. Watt could have had a better week. He spent most of it working his way back from hip and knee injuries that he suffered two weeks ago. the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top edge rusher was clearly not all the way back from his ailments when he took the field Sunday, and the Cincinnati Bengals were focused on eliminating him with double teams, at which they were largely successful.
If that were not enough, he tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday and is now on the Reserve list, likely to miss the team’s next game unless that positive proves to be a false alarm. That had nothing to do with his evident frustration in Sunday’s game, however.
Following a long first half during which he hardly got anywhere near Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Watt seized the opportunity following a Minkah Fitzpatrick interception to grab onto the second-year passer and block him.
While he committed no penalty, nor did it really cause much of a scuffle, it did become a minor subject, which Burrow addressed following his team’s blowout win. Asked if he took exception to his interaction with Watt, he said, “No, he was just blocking me. I wasn’t too worried about it. It’s football”.
And that’s all there was to it. Is it possible that Watt was taking out some of his frustrations on Burrow with the way that he gripped the quarterback? Sure. We saw him play frustrated while injured earlier this year. He’s not happy about it.
But it’s not like he tossed Burrow to the ground or did anything that could constitute an infraction, which the quarterback understood well. When asked if he spoke to Watt about it, He said, “Yeah, I just told him, ‘nice block’”.
And thus ends yet another nontroversy, as if the Steelers don’t create enough drama of their own. They have far bigger things to worry about right now than to concern themselves with whether or not their star pass rusher, who will probably not even be on the field on Sunday, was a little too rough on an opposing quarterback.
Still, not all Bengals took it as gently as did Burrow. Left tackle Jonah Williams did take exception. “I don’t think that he would have blocked anyone else on the field in the same manner”, he told reporters. “I don’t know the rules to that extent. I don’t like seeing anyone hit my quarterback like that. So I don’t necessarily know the rules, but I definitely don’t like it”.
And that’s fine. Of course Steelers fans wouldn’t be thrilled if Trey Hendrickson were getting up in Ben Roethlisberger’s face, either. But there’s a big difference between taking exception to something and something actually being illegal, let alone unsportsmanlike or even dirty. Quarterbacks are eligible to be blocked during a turnover return.