Dec 31, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) and running back Najee Harris (22) celebrate after Harris scored a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers stick with QB Mason Rudolph, rule out OLB T.J. Watt

Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph remains the No. 1 quarterback for Pittsburgh as the playoffs begin.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said pass rusher T.J. Watt (knee) is out for the wild-card game with the Buffalo Bills but safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will be back on Sunday.

“We’ll stay with Mason Rudolph,” Tomlin said. “We’re just simply staying with the hot hand, not upsetting the apple cart. He’s been in some tough circumstances, and he’s delivered.”

Rudolph has three touchdowns and no interceptions since taking over for backup-turned-starter Mitchell Trubisky, who was starting in place of injured Kenny Pickett.

“He’s making good decisions. There’s a cumulative body of work. Mason’s been here a long time,” Tomlin said of his confidence in Rudolph.

Fitzpatrick missed the past three games with a knee injury.

He began the week as limited in practice, but Tomlin said that’s more of a precaution than commentary on his readiness to play. He’ll be reunited with strong safety Damontae Kazee, who is back with the Steelers from a three-game suspension for a series of borderline illegal hits.

Watt has 19.0 sacks and helped the Steelers surge into the playoffs with a three-game winning streak to end the season. Alex Highsmith is second on the team with 7.0 sacks, but recorded just one in the past four games.

“Playing without T.J. is significant,” Tomlin said. “It’s not going to be a one-man job replacing T.J. … T.J.’s one of a kind.”

Tomlin consistently repeats the team has a “next man up” mentality and said he will not be surprised when someone steps up and plays well.

“We’ve got depth at that position. I’m comfortable with the quality of depth,” he said. “We have guys that are capable.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) works out prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Tomlin: Steelers ‘optimistic’ OLB T.J. Watt could return Sunday

Steelers All-Pro pass rusher T.J. Watt might be ready to jump from practice to gameday on Sunday when Pittsburgh returns from last week’s bye.

Safety Damontae Kazee (arm) and Watt (torn pectoral muscle) are eligible to play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints if they’re activated from injured reserve. Kazee said Monday that he is fully healed from the broken forearm he suffered in preseason.

“We’ll continue to monitor those guys,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday.

The Steelers have a deadline of Saturday at 4 p.m. ET to make the roster moves, or Watt and Kazee would wait another week.

Watt considered surgery after playing in the first regular-season game at Cincinnati but opted to seek additional medical input. He ultimately decided to delay the surgery for rehabilitation of the muscle.

He was a full participant in Monday’s fully padded practice and came out of the workout unscathed, leaving Tomlin “optimistic” Watt is ready to play for the first time since Week 1.

Cornerback Arthur Maulet said Watt’s return shifts almost everything for the Steelers — from scheme to mindset — despite their 2-6 record.

“Honestly, for everybody … he makes it a whole lot different. You’ve got an MVP guy, right? But also just the work he puts in, it’s just second to none,” Maulet said.

Kazee had a plate and nine screws inserted to promote healing in his forearm, he said Monday.

–Field Level Media

Nov 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Baltimore Ravens fullback Patrick Ricard (42) takes on the field prior the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens place FB Patrick Ricard (knee) on IR

The Baltimore Ravens placed Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard on injured reserve Thursday due to his knee injury.

The three-time Pro Bowler saw limited action in last week’s 20-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams after missing the previous three games.

The loss of Ricard is a blow for Baltimore’s pass protection as it enters Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Steelers star linebacker T.J. Watt has 21.5 sacks this season, one shy of the official NFL mark held by Michael Strahan (2001).

Also, tight end Nick Boyle, another solid blocker, was placed on the COVID-19 list on Thursday.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (ankle) sat out practice again Thursday. He has missed the past three games.

Backup Tyler Huntley (illness) was a full practice participant for the second straight day and may be in line to start the pivotal game.

The Steelers (8-7-1) and Ravens (8-8) are on the outside of the AFC playoff race. The winner of the contest will need help from multiple teams to sneak into the postseason field.

–Field Level Media

Dec 21, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) celebrates with inside linebacker Avery Williamson (51) during the third quarter at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers OLB T.J. Watt to ‘keep the door open’ for Sunday

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt ran around enough in Friday’s practice to not rule out playing Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Watt is dealing with a groin injury that pushed him out of last week’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

He was able to participate in portions of the practice Friday but injuries remain a critical storyline for the Steelers.

Watt said he would “keep the door open” to face the Bengals with 48 hours between practice and the Week 3 kickoff.

Cornerback Joe Haden (groin) is also hoping to play, but the Steelers are not expected to have leading receiver Diontae Johnson. Johnson has a team-high 14 receptions this season. He is dealing with a knee injury.

–Field Level Media

Oct 1, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker TJ Watt (90) defends a pass against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger lobbies for paying T.J. Watt

Ben Roethlisberger sees no ceiling on the financial value of outside linebacker T.J. Watt and implored the Pittsburgh Steelers to open the coffers and meet the pass rusher’s contract demands.

“I think T.J. Watt should get whatever the heck he wants. He’s arguably the best football player in the game right now, not just on defense but in general,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “I’ve been through a few negotiations here with contracts. One of the reasons was so he could get paid. He deserves every penny that he wants, asks for. T.J. Watt is ‘that guy’ and should get whatever he wants.”

With the Steelers in dire straits against the salary cap, Roethlisberger, 39, took a pay cut to return to the team in 2021.

Watt, 26, has been a participant in team and position meetings but avoided on-field workouts all offseason.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said Watt would practice Wednesday and be available for the Week 1 game against the Buffalo Bills.

Watt’s physical readiness is not known, but Tomlin voiced optimism he would be ready to play a significant role after leading the NFL with 15 sacks last season. He is a two-time All-Pro.

Reports surfaced Tuesday indicating Watt and the Steelers remained in a staredown over guarantees beyond the first year of the contract.

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) reacts in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. The Rams defeated the Cardinals 18-7. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Adding J.J. Watt might cost Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson

At $15.5 million per year for J.J. Watt, the Arizona Cardinals welcomed one reputable defender at the risk of losing another.

Patrick Peterson, 30, is headed for unrestricted free agency, and the former first-round pick expects to find stronger interest from suitors outside of Arizona. That’s because the Cardinals were left with just under $14 million in salary cap space entering the new league year.

“I know that I will be playing football for someone, if it’s the Cardinals or someone else,” Peterson said in a USA Today Sports interview. “I’m a go-with-the-flow-type guy. That’s out of my control. I’ve done everything I can do to show my worth, and I can still play this game. I know I will be playing football for somebody, so that’s my approach.”

Peterson denied a report he has already agreed to part ways with the team. Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said he is hopeful the team can retain Peterson.

However, there is growing sentiment the Cardinals are chasing a No. 1-type receiver to pair with DeAndre Hopkins, which would leave Arizona with precious little cash to offer Peterson.

Peterson played out a five-year, $70.05 million deal that expired at the end of the 2020 season knowing this offseason could be a crossroads in his career. He openly applauded the Watt signing, even knowing the trickle down might mean relocation.

“When you have a guy like that on the market, you have to put it all on the line to risk it and put players on the roster to give you a good chance to win the championship,” he said. “They made a big splash, and we all know if you’re able to get to the quarterback effectively, you have a good opportunity to win.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 27, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) waits with teammates to walk onto the field before a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

J.J. Watt: ‘Free agency is wild’

First-time NFL free agent J.J. Watt resurfaced publicly for the first time since he was granted his unconditional release by the Houston Texans to describe his ongoing foray into the open market.

“Free agency is wild,” Watt, 31, said via Twitter on Wednesday.

The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year was swarmed with interest in the hours after he was let go by the Texans. A report on Tuesday from said Watt finds the Browns an attractive landing spot. In Watt’s opinion, the Browns are positioned to make a Super Bowl run. Further, the Browns have $21.7 million in cap space; Watt was set to make $17.5 million in 2021.

Plus, defensive end Myles Garrett (12 sacks in 2020) would be on the other side.

There are numerous suitors for the five-time All-Pro.

Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson said Tuesday that the Titans have reached out to Watt’s agents. Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Green Bay are also potential suitors. However, the Steelers and Packers are $30 million and $19 million over the cap, respectively.

Watt’s former teammate in Houston, Arizona wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, also took to social media Tuesday to woo Watt, photo-shopping Watt in a Cardinals uniform. Free agent wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster told Watt to “come play with your brothers” — T.J. and Derek — in Pittsburgh.

The Browns reached out to Watt’s agents Friday after his release from Houston, per the report.

Watt is Houston’s all-time leader in sacks with 101, tackles for loss (172), quarterback hits (282) and forced fumbles (25). He has 531 career tackles, 61 passes defensed and 16 fumble recoveries since the Texans made him the No. 11 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.

–Field Level Media

Jun 11, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt (99) talks to the media during a press conference in the media room at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Crennel, Texans will tolerate Watt’s frustration

Houston Texans head coach Romeo Crennel can tolerate defensive lineman J.J. Watt’s frustration.

As Crennel sees it, Watt’s boiling point is borne of an intolerance for losing.

“He will not feel better until we start winning. If we don’t win, he’s not going to feel better,” said Crennel.

The Texans won’t win this week. The team is on bye and big changes could be made via trade.

Crennel is focused on in-house issues, including finding time for a sit-down meeting with Watt. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year again voiced his frustration with the results Sunday following a lopsided loss to the Green Bay Packers.

“We can talk about what’s happening and what he perceives to be the issues and see if we can get those straightened out. But a lot of it will have to do with the guys who play on either side of him because J.J. is a pretty consistent player himself,” said Crennel, who was elevated to interim head coach after Bill O’Brien was fired. “So, what we have to get those other guys is to be as consistent as he is. If we can get that done, then I think that we’ll improve. I think that if he sees that and sees that we are trying to improve and get better, I think that that will make him feel a little better.”

The Texans are a work in progress in terms of their personnel and scouting department as the trade deadline nears. O’Brien had final say on roster decisions and oversaw the football operations department. Crennel is one voice in that department as Houston hits reset, but his voice will definitely count when trade offers come rolling in this week.

“They’ll come to me and we’ll sit down and we’ll make a decision about what we think is best for the team. I’ve been informed of some possibilities but nothing definite right now,” Crennel said.

Watt is not thought to be on the trade block but with no first- or second-round pick in the 2021 draft, Houston might be more intrigued by such an offer right now. His name has been mentioned as a possibility for multiple teams, including the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints. Watt said none of the rumors change his focus.

“My goal since I got here was to bring a championship to Houston,” said Watt. “That remains my goal until the day I’m not a Houston Texan anymore.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) reacts after a play against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Texans’ Watt declines to discuss exchange with fired O’Brien

Houston Texans star J.J. Watt reportedly had a heated exchange with Bill O’Brien less than two weeks before Monday’s firing of the head coach and general manager.

ESPN reported that the argument occurred during a practice leading up to the team’s Week 3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver also was part of the incident that has been pinpointed as the moment when O’Brien “lost the team.”

Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, said Wednesday that he is looking forward to a “fresh start.” But he declined to discuss the report of the practice incident.

“I’m not going to talk about what happened at practice or what conversations were had or whatever it may be,” Watt said. “The situation is what the situation is and we … right now have a fresh start and we had a good practice today and we’re looking forward to (playing) Jacksonville.”

The Texans are 0-4 after losing to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday. O’Brien was fired the next day with a 52-48 regular-season record. Houston reached the playoffs in four of his six full seasons.

Romeo Crennel is serving as interim coach entering Sunday’s game against the visiting Jaguars.

“When you’re 0-4, obviously things need to change. I mean, it wasn’t working,” said Watt, who is in his 10th season with the Texans. “I appreciate and respect what we had. We won four division titles in six years with Bill and I appreciate that and that time, but obviously this year, we’re 0-4 and stuff wasn’t working.”

Watt said he harbors no ill will toward O’Brien.

“The one thing I’ll say about Bill O’Brien is he always stood up for his players,” Watt said. “… Certainly, he tried to do whatever possible to support his players and give his players the absolute best support. And I truly believe that he always did what he believed was best for this football team. So I don’t have ill will at all.”

Quarterback Deshaun Watson said he appreciated his time playing for O’Brien and is grateful for the things he learned. Watson is in his fourth season with the team after being a first-round pick (12th overall) in 2017.

“I have the (utmost) respect for Coach O’Brien for getting me to Houston, teaching me what he taught me the four years I’ve been here,” Watson said. “The discipline, just everything as a person, getting ready for professional football. He did a lot of amazing things to help me get two Pro Bowls and win the AFC South every year that I’ve played a full year. So I have all the respect for him and the things, but that’s just how the business goes.”

–Field Level Media