Pittsburgh Steelers handed boost as linebacker T.J. Watt ‘does not require surgery’ for pectoral

Pittsburgh Steelers are handed injury boost as linebacker T.J. Watt ‘does not require surgery and could be back in six weeks’ despite walking off with a torn pectoral against the Cincinnati Bengals

  • T.J. Watt left Steelers’ win on Sunday in the fourth quarter with a torn pectoral
  • Scans on Monday confirmed the 27-year-old would be out for at least six weeks 
  • Watt had 22.5 sacks last season and would be a massive loss for the team
  • Alex Highsmith, also injured, is the only other linebacker on Pittsburgh’s roster

NFL’s reigning defensive player of the year and Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker T.J. Watt does not require surgery on his pectoral and could be back in six weeks after walking off injured in the fourth quarter of a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. 

The Steelers initially feared the worst for Watt, as they believe he suffered a season-ending injury during their first week of NFL action on Sunday. However, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network provided clarity on Twitter on Monday. 

‘#Steelers reigning defensive player of the year TJ Watt is still waiting on more information, but the belief is his pectoral injury will not require surgery and is not season-ending, sources tell me and @TomPelissero,’ Rapoport’s tweet read. ‘He could be back in six weeks or so.’ 

T.J. Watt could return from a torn pectoral in six weeks amid fears he’d be out for the year

Footage caught Watt on Sunday leaving the field after sustaining the pectoral injury, appearing to mouth the words ‘I tore my pec’ as he walked off.

The 27-year-old got hurt in the waning minutes of regulation. He bull-rushed his way past Cincinnati right tackle La’el Collins — ripping Collins’ helmet off in the process, a penalty that gave the Bengals a first down — and then jumped on top of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. 

Burrow ducked under Watt and managed to get the ball away, and the ex-Wisconsin player’s left arm went motionless as Burrow eluded his grasp. 

Watt was named as the NFL’s best defensive player after ending last year with an astonishing 22.5 sacks, and a long-term absence would be a huge blow for the Steelers.

‘Having TJ out there definitely benefits us. He’s a leader,’ teammate Cameron Heyward told reporters.

‘He’s the Defensive Player of the Year. However long it takes, other guys gotta’ step up.’ 

Former NFL pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Mario Williams are among those to suffer a torn pec before, and both missed their respective seasons afterwards (Williams played five games in 2011 before missing the rest of the season).

If there’s a source of optimism for Watt’s recovery time, though, it may be found in his older brother. 

Watt appeared to hurt himself after shoving Bengals' tackle La'el Collins (#71)

Watt appeared to hurt himself after shoving Bengals’ tackle La’el Collins (#71)

Brother J.J., a three-time defensive player of the year currently on the Cardinals, suffered a torn pectoral in 2019, and returned just over two months later for two Texans playoff games.

And according to Dr. David Chao, formerly the head physician for the Chargers, the full recovery timeline for a torn pec is typically three to four months, so it’s possible Watt could make a return late this season.

The Steelers are thin behind Watt at outside linebacker. Alex Highsmith — who also left the game on Sunday with an injury — is the only other outside linebacker on the roster who has spent extended time in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers acquired backup Malik Reed in a trade with Denver in August and claimed Jamir Jones off waivers this month after he was released by Jacksonville a day earlier. Jones did spend a few months with Pittsburgh in 2021 before being released last September.

Jones and Reed were credited with three combined tackles against the Bengals.

Watt's Brother, J.J., returned to action over two months after suffering a torn pectoral in 2019

Watt’s Brother, J.J., returned to action over two months after suffering a torn pectoral in 2019

Watt has been durable during his five-year career, missing just three games due to injury. With him, the Steelers have a defense with elite players at all three levels, in Watt, Heyward and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Without him, Pittsburgh’s offense under first-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky might need to accelerate the learning curve.

That might be difficult without Harris, who left in the fourth quarter after injuring his left foot. The foot was heavily wrapped postgame. Backup Jaylen Warren, who earned the job after a stellar training camp, ran for 7 yards on three carries in his NFL debut.

The Steelers host New England (0-1) next Sunday.