Pittsburgh Steelers star outside linebacker T.J. Watt won’t be available for Sunday’s wild-card game against the Buffalo Bills because of a knee injury, coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday.
“Obviously playing without T.J. is significant, but to be quite honest with you, we’ve played without a lot of people this year,” Tomlin said. “It’s just another opportunity for us to strike a blow for team and to display what team really means, a collective of individuals that work together in an effort to produce an outcome. It’s not going to be a one-man job in terms of replacing T.J. … Just like I stood before you and said similar things when Cameron Heyward missed a block of games, it is going to be a by committee approach.
“We better strengthen our output in other areas because T.J. is one of a kind, but that’s ball. There’s an attrition component to it. That’s what makes it the ultimate team game.”
Tomlin also announced that Mason Rudolph would start at quarterback for Sunday’s playoff game. The Steelers have won three straight games since inserting Rudolph as the starter. Rudolph last started a postseason game as the quarterback for Oklahoma State in the 2017 Camping World Bowl where he was named the game’s MVP after throwing for 351 yards with two touchdowns.
“We’re just simply staying with the hot hand and not disrupting the apple cart,” Tomlin said. “We’ve been in some tough circumstances. He’s delivered, we’ve delivered and so we will continue in that vein.”
Watt sustained his knee injury in Saturday’s victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The team has not revealed the specific nature of Watt’s injury. Retired pass-rusher J.J. Watt announced Sunday on social media that his brother has a Grade 2 MCL sprain and needed a “couple weeks of rest/recovery.”
T.J. Watt led the NFL this season with 19 sacks and since Watt was selected in first round of the 2017 draft, the Steelers are 1-10 when he doesn’t play.
On Saturday, rookie Nick Herbig and Markus Golden stepped up to fill in for Watt, and Golden got a sack of quarterback Tyler Huntley to force the Ravens to settle for a field goal on their final drive.
“It hadn’t been a lot of times where I think about not having T.J. to be quite honest with you, but we’ve got depth at the position,” Tomlin said. “That’s why we went out and thoughtfully acquired Markus Golden. That’s why we drafted Herbig. We’re as deep at that position as we’ve been in some time. We’re comfortable with the quality of depth.”
While the Steelers will be without Watt, Tomlin was optimistic about the return of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who hasn’t played since sustaining a knee injury against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 15. The Steelers are also in line for another boost thanks to the return of safety Damontae Kazee, who was suspended for the final three regular-season games for repeated violation of rules to protect player health and safety after a hit to Michael Pittman Jr. that gave the Colts receiver a concussion.