The Pittsburgh Steelers' worst fears may not be realized. It was a bittersweet start to the year for the franchise, as it was able to fend off the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 with an overtime win. But it came at a cost, as , including star pass rusher T.J. Watt. He went down with a pec injury in the second half, and the initial fear was the Watt may have suffered a torn pec.
Speaking Tuesday during his weekly press conference, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin offered a positive update on Watt without getting into the specifics regarding the injury. It does not appear, however, that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year will be out for a significant period of time.
"We're probably in a lot better place than we were after the game," Tomlin said. "I can definitively say that T.J. won't play this week. But I won't make any commitments beyond that. We're encouraged and we'll just continue to look at the situation and gain opinions and do what's appropriate."
Watt also seemed optimistic that his absence from the lineup won't be as long as originally feared.
Later Tuesday, ESPN reported that Watt received a second opinion from an orthopedic specialist outside the organization to not have surgery and is expected to miss around six weeks.
Tomlin mentioned reserves Jamir Jones and Malik Reed as the two players who will look to fill Watt's space at left outside linebacker. But the Steelers coach added that it will take a collective effort to make up for Watt's absence.
"When you lose a guy like him, it's not about the guys that occupy this position of left outside linebacker," Tomlin said. "It's about how we redistribute our responsibilities collectively, to produce the collective outcome that we desire. Those guys are not going to be T.J. It's not realistic to think that they're going to be T.J. But we expect them to be varsity, and we're going to formulate a plan to redistribute to responsibilities to lean on our strengths, to minimize our weaknesses, like we always do each and every week. And so we're excited about doing that with them and getting this group ready to play this week."
Before leaving due to the injury, Watt was his typical dominating self, tallying six tackles (three for a loss), a sack, and an interception as Pittsburgh's defense did a good job against Joe Burrow. The Bengals quarterback was sacked a total of seven times and was forced into four interceptions and one fumble. Watt is coming off a 2021 season where he tied the single-season sack record with 22.5.
"Having T.J. out there definitely benefits us," Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward said of Watt's impact following Sunday's win. "He's a leader. He's the defensive player of the year. However long it takes, other guys have got to step up. Alex [Highsmith] stepped up pretty good today. Malik and Jamir [Jones] are coming along. We had to do some different stuff out there. We rally around him, and when he gets back, we'll be ready."
Over the next month, the Steelers are slated to host the Patriots in Week 2, visit the Browns in Week 3, play the Jets at Acrisure Stadium in Week 4, and take on the Bills in Buffalo in Week 5. If Watt does sit out for just a month, that could be the window of games he misses with a return against the Buccaneers in Week 6 on Oct. 16 as a possible return date.