TJ Watt’s injury to likely leave Steelers relying on ‘next man up,’ newcomer Malik Reed

CINCINNATI – Six tackles, a sack, an interception, three tackles for loss, a batted-down ball, a play in coverage and another sack negated by a penalty 30 yards downfield.

Just another day at the office for the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

But was TJ Watt’s effort during Sunday’s 23-20 overtime victory against the Cincinnati Bengals the final stat line he will put up for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the foreseeable future?

Watt suffered a pectoral injury during the final minute of regulation, leaving his availability for the Steelers for next week’s game – and beyond – in serious doubt.

“Next man up,” veteran cornerback Cameron Sutton said when asked about Watt.

“That’s the sad part of this business is you’re never going to dwell on it because you have to keep moving on week in and week out and all those good cliche-type stuff. But you hate to see that for anybody, not just for TJ but any of our brothers, man. Guys will be ready and have been willing and ready to be prepared for those opportunities that have arisen now. We will be ready for next week. “

Coach Mike Tomlin did not provide any clarity on Watt’s injury during postgame comments, saying only Watt was “being evaluated.” Watt was spotted in the locker room at Paycor Stadium in good spirits without any wrap over his chest and chatting with team staff.

As he left the field after his final play of Sunday’s game, though, Watt on CBS cameras appeared to be saying he “tore” his pec. Watt was injured while he was pass rushing on a play with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

ESPN reported the Steelers “believe” Watt suffered a torn pec and is scheduled to undergo testing Monday.

A torn pectoral, pending its severity, typically has a recovery time ranging from several weeks to several months.

“All I am worried about is his health right now,” Sutton said. “That’s all. He’s a guy who gives his all about him. Not just in this game but every day in life. “

Watt is also a Steelers’ co-captain and the highest-paid player in franchise history who tied the NFL record for sacks in a season with 22½ in 2021.

The guys the Steelers have to step in weren’t even on the roster two weeks ago. Though they had a formidable duo of starting edge defenders in Watt and Highsmith (who had three sacks Sunday), the organization was feared to have scant depth at the position when camp began.

Team management tacitly confirmed that assertion by bringing in waiver claims at outside linebacker throughout the latter stages of the preseason. When it came time to set their final roster for the start of the regular season, the Steelers acquired two players from outside the organization to serve as their OLB backups: Jamir Jones and Malik Reed.

Jones was a waiver claim Sept. 1. Reed came to the Steelers with an established NFL pedigree and via a trade with the Denver Broncos.

“I know God has me here for a reason, for a purpose,” Reed said after Sunday’s game, “so I am ready embrace that. I had a lot of opportunities starting games (in Denver), so I am going to be ready for it. “

Reed started 34 of his 45 games played for Denver the past three seasons. He said he has been taking practice reps on both sides of the defense, but if Watt is out Reed almost certainly will be the choice to take over as the No. 1 left outside linebacker.

“I am so grateful to be in a position like this and part of an organization like this,” Reed said, “so I am excited.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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