It didn’t come easy, but it did come. The Pittsburgh Steelers ended a three-game slide that started with a tie to the Detroit Lions, winning their biggest game of the season, 20-19, against the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens, coming down to a gutsy two-point conversion attempt called by John Harbaugh that failed with just 12 seconds to play.
And while the defense ultimate surrendered a touchdown late, it was their efforts who kept the game close enough to leave it within striking distance for Ben Roethlisberger and the offense, who finally caught a spark in the fourth quarter, leading to two Diontae Johnson touchdowns.
Minkah Fitzpatrick came up with an interception in the end zone to end Baltimore’s first possession, but T.J. Watt, who missed all week after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday, was everywhere, finishing the game with six tackles, including three tackles for loss. He also recorded 3.5 sacks, which is a new single-game career high.
Entering the day with 12.5 on the season, and 1.5 behind the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett, he now has 16, holding the league lead in sacks by a margin of two now. That number also ties him with James Harrison for the Steelers’ single-season franchise sack record, which was originally set in 2008, during their last Super Bowl run.
And the amazing thing is that Watt has done it in just 10 games. He has missed two games due to injury, as well as parts of others, including the majority of week two. The frequency with which he is racking up sacks relative to the amount of time he is playing is truly extraordinary, and should have him clearly as the frontrunner to finally win the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Watt led the NFL in sacks last season with 15, but finished second to the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald. For this season, he now has 16 sacks, 26 quarterback hits, 47 tackles, 16 for loss, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and four passes defensed.
While the headline of the day is the fact that the Steelers were able to keep their postseason hopes alive, and perhaps have finally turned the tide in their play, this is also a day in which Watt made history for one of the most storied franchises in the NFL.
The Steelers are now 6-5-1 on the season. Watt only needs half a sack over the final five games to set a new franchise record for sacks in a single season. But he still has a long way to go if he’s looking to break the NFL’s single-season sack record.
That number, officially, belongs to Michael Strahan of the New York Giants, who recorded 22.5 sacks in 2001. 16 sacks is only the 57th-most in a single season since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic. If he can reach 18, he would be tied for 28th. Hit 20, and you’re up to 11th. 21 gets you tied into the top five. Three players have hit exactly 22, half a sack behind Strahan’s record, most recently a man who was on the field today, Justin Houston, as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014.