Can J.J. Watt help the Cardinals reconstruct a season that once was so promising?
If Cardinals' defensive lineman J.J. Watt is able to play Monday night against the Rams, it will be the second most impressive accomplishment in the Watt family this season.
Younger brother T.J., a linebacker with the Steelers, tying the NFL record with 22½ sacks is the clear leader.
But if J.J. is able to do more than just play, if he can be effective, then little brother will have some competition.
Watt is attempting to return to action just a little more than two months after surgery to repair a shoulder joint that came apart against the Texans a week before Halloween.
Watt was told the rehabilitation period was typically four to six months.
Watt didn't argue the timeline, but he didn't accept it as gospel, either.
“You go to work. You have no clue if you’re going to make it happen or not,” he said.
Watt's about to make it happen. He's scheduled to practice Thursday, 71 days after surgery. If all goes well then and the rest of the week, Watt will play against the Rams.
"You can write whatever narrative you want about this comeback if I'm able to make it," Watt said Wednesday in his first news conference with reporters since suffering the injury.
"But the only thing that matters to me is being out there for my teammates, trying to help us win a game and get to the end goal. I'm not doing all this work and trying to come back in half the time for no reason."
Watt was careful not to proclaim he would definitely play Monday night at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, but all signs point in that direction.
The more pressing question now is not if Watt will play, but how will he play? And how will his return impact a team that lost four of its last five games and blew a prime opportunity to win the NFC West?
It’s not likely to hurt, unless Watt re-injures the shoulder, or is just a shell of his usual self.
"I'm not going to step on the field if I am not able to do the things that I need to do to help us win games,” he said.
Expectations should be managed.
Watt is likely to be rusty, just as he was in the first few weeks of the season. That was to be expected, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said back then, because Watt missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury.
He’s returning now after missing 11 weeks of practice and 10 games. It’s unrealistic to think he’s going to spend Monday night in the Rams backfield.
But a J.J. Watt in need of some WD-40 would still improve a defense that has suffered from other injuries on the line and in the secondary.
That’s a tangible benefit his return would bring. There are intangible ones, too.
I’m usually dubious about such things. When coaches and professional players toss around words such as “leadership” and “chemistry," my eyes usually roll. The best players lead by performing, not preaching.
This situation might be different.
In the process of losing four of their last five games, the Cardinals appeared to have lost confidence. They said the usual things, about each player needing to look in the mirror and hold himself accountable. Stuff like that. But the results didn't change.
It’s a team that needed a stiff shot, or a jolt of electricity.
Maybe Watt will provide it. Maybe the guy with the reconstructed shoulder is just what the Cardinals needed to reconstruct what once was a promising season.
It’s an unlikely narrative, but it would be a fun one to write.
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