Today was a big day for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They had a thrilling come-from-behind win over their arch rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, at home, keeping their playoff hopes alive with five games left to play. And some history was made along the way, courtesy of outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
He recorded 3.5 sacks of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the most for a single game in his career and tied for the fifth-most in team history, which brought his season total up to 16. With five games to go, that is tied for the most in Steelers history for a season, a record set by James Harrison in 2008.
And he had that big game without practicing all week, after first testing positive for COVID-19 all week, making it all the more remarkable. Chances are he had it before testing positive on Monday, which seems to be the day that the Steelers do their weekly testing for vaccinated players, but he was able to clear protocols by the end of the week and play despite his inability to practice. So can he just forget about practice?
“I don’t know, you’ll have to talk to Coach Tomlin”, he said with a laugh to the question from Aditi Kinkhabwala. “I was probably a little winded toward the end there because of the no practice. I was trying to run in my backyard as best I could to simulate practice, but you can’t really do it without actually practicing. But I’ll take it”.
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In addition to his three and a half sacks, he also had three tackles for loss, and one of those sacks ended in a forced fumble, though it unfortunately spilled out of bounds. He was his sixth multi-sack game of the season, out of 10 games played.
“I had a little bit of symptoms”, Watt acknowledged, in dealing with the virus. “Nothing that lasted too long at all. Just tried to watch the meetings at home as much as I could and tried to stay in shape, because I knew I wanted to leave the door open for Sunday, and luckily I was able to come out here and play”.
Steelers have fared well coming back from COVID-19 this year. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns in Los Angeles, albeit in a loss. Minkah Fitzpatrick got his first interception of the season last week after his stint on the COVID-19 List.
Don’t let that send the wrong message, of course. You’re not going to be able to chase down Lamar Jackson any better than you were before getting COVID. But it does speak to the immense physical conditioning that a player like Watt has to be in to be able to play at such a high level without being able to practice, while also experiencing some virus symptoms to boot.