Despite often playing through injury, Pittsburgh Steelers fifth-year edge rusher T.J. Watt turned in a phenomenal 2021 season, one that is sure to land him the title of Defensive Player of the Year after being a finalist in each of the previous two seasons.
Highlighting his campaign was his 22.5 sacks, which not only shattered the Steelers’ franchise record of 16, but tied for the most sacks ever recorded in a single season, matching the number put up by Hall of Famer Michael Strahan in 2001.
Like Strahan, however, it was all for naught. The New York Giants actually didn’t even qualify for the postseason that year after losing their final two games. The Steelers did just squeak in, but were hastily eliminated by the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I would’ve definitely traded in a lot of those to be still playing right now”, Watt told Pat McAfee when he was on the former Pro Bowl punter’s show earlier this afternoon. He did get a sack of Patrick Mahomes, and even recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in the game, but they ultimately lost by three touchdowns.
Watt had a shot at not just tying but actually breaking the record, and there were a couple of would-be sacks in the season finale. Early in the game, off a botched snap, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley scooped up the loose ball and began to get up as Watt came in and hit him, dislodging the ball. Later in the game, he and Cameron Heyward split a sack, but Heyward was flagged for roughing the passer, negating the play.
Either of those would have given Watt the total needed to break the record. The former play was officially scored as an aborted play and a forced fumble; the Steelers officially requested a review of the scoring, but the original scoring was upheld.
Asked if he still thinks about those plays and how they could have given them the outright record, he told McAfee that he does “A little bit, but not as much [as you might think], because 22 and a half, I’m very happy with it”.
He has the third-most sacks through five seasons in NFL history, behind only Reggie White and his older brother, J.J. Watt. While he is hoping to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award, however, he repeatedly discusses both that award and the sack record as team achievements.
“The number one thing that bothers me about it is everybody acts like it’s a personal accolade, it’s just myself”, he said. “There are so many sacks in there where a couple times the quarterback just kind of takes a coverage sack and I’m just the first guy to tap him down. It’s not just myself getting those numbers, for sure”.
It may all play into team, but everyone watching knows that anybody else playing in that same role on those same plays wouldn’t have recorded the same number of sacks. Watt got those numbers because he’s Watt, and he deserves to be individually recognized for it.