There was little doubt whether Pittsburgh Steelers star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick would suit up for a chance to sweep the rival Cincinnati Bengals. In fact, on November 17, just five days after emergency surgery to remove his appendix, Fitzpatrick was back on the practice field running around as if nothing had ever happened. He wasn’t even limited. No. Not Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Heck, if it were up to the All-Pro, he would’ve played the day after his surgery.
“I saw him Sunday at the stadium, and Minkah wanted to play on Sunday,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said in a November 15 press conference. “Obviously, that wasn’t the appropriate thing to do, but that’s just the mentality that he brings in. Oftentimes, when you’re talking about injury or being unavailable, coming back from lack of availability, your attitude has a lot to do with it, and so, we’re really optimistic about him.”
Fitzpatrick, presumably cleared by doctors to play, was a full participant in the Steelers’ final two days of practice for the week. He had no injury designation on Pittsburgh’s final injury report.
Minkah Fitzpatrick Versus Bengals Week 1
Minkah Fitzpatrick hopes to pick up where he left off on September 11, one of the Pittsburgh Steelers three wins on the season.
Fitzpatrick was a force, easily Pittsburgh’s best player on the field versus the Bengals opening week, a loss Cincinnati is looking to avenge.
Sure, T.J. Watt did T.J. Watt things like a sack and an interception before exiting the field for what would ultimately be seven weeks with a pectoral injury. But Minkah Fitzpatrick was doing Minkah Fitzpatrick things, which was good to see after what was his least productive season (statistically) as a Steeler in 2021. While Fitzpatrick nearly doubled his 79 tackles from 2020, he wasn’t as impactful with takeaways — an aspect of his game he’d been known for since coming to Pittsburgh via trade in 2019.
Fitzpatrick kicked off the 2022 season with a bang, intercepting Joe Burrow on his first pass of the game and taking it 31 yards to the house. It could’ve been an entirely different ballgame if it hadn’t been for Fitzpatrick’s score. The Steelers struggled to find the endzone outside of a one-yard pass from Mitch Trubisky to Najee Harris midway through the second quarter.
But that was then, and this is now.
Enter Damontae Kazee
The Cincinnati Bengals aren’t that same turnover machine from Week 1. And Minkah Fitzpatrick isn’t 100 percent; that’s to be expected.
But he may not have to be.
Damontae Kazee, signed by the Steelers over the summer, stepped in last minute as Fitzpatrick stood on the sideline, less than a day removed from getting his appendix out, and put on a show.
It was Kazee’s first regular season game in the black & gold, and he made his presence known.
Kazee suffered a wrist injury in the final preseason game versus the Detroit Lions, which required surgery and a trip to injured reserve. Initial concerns were that he could be lost for the year, forcing the Steelers to scale back their plans for exotic looks by the secondary.
Kazee later revealed that he not only dislocated his wrist, he broke his forearm.
Kazee, the NFL’s interceptions co-leader in 2018, brought down one of Pittsburgh’s two interceptions. He added three tackles, one defended pass and a punishing hit on Saints rookie receiver Chris Olave. As exciting as it was, it drew an obvious 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. But Steelers fans got a glimpse of just what a healthy Kazee can bring to the defense.
And this week, for the first time since the preseason, the Steelers will be able to deploy three-safety sets in certain situations.
“I’m excited to see what it looks like with both of us — all three of us — out there making plays,” Fitzpatrick said in a November 18 press conference.
“Three safeties who know what they’re doing — it’s going to work out perfect,” Kazee added.
Let’s hope so.