In a not entirely unexpected development, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt lost out on winning the prestigious AP Defensive Player of the Year award, which went to Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams. It’s the third time Donald has won the award, which he also captured in both 2017 and 2018.
Donald’s victory was somewhat predictable, at least if you consider a recent anonymous poll of 32 NFL executives, more than half of whom said they liked Donald, with 12 voting for Watt and three preferring Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. It’s also worth noting that Donald won the Pro Football Writers of America Defensive Player of the Year for 2020, though the winner of the PFWA DPOY award doesn’t always predict the winner of the AP honor.
T.J. Watt’s Promotional Wingmen Gave It Their Best Shot
It’s safe to say, though, that T.J. Watt’s brother J.J.—not to mention Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin—did all they could do to draw attention to Watt’s case by serving as promotional wingmen.
For example, at one point Tomlin promoted Watt’s cause by saying, “T.J. is visiting from another planet. He has freakishly unique talent coupled with freakishly unique work habits and mindset, and it produces what you guys witness every week, which in my opinion is Defensive Player of the Year quality.”
Not long afterwards, T.J.’s older brother added to the conversation, saying: “[T.J.] does everything unbelievably well. He leads the league in sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hits. He can drop into coverage and cover guys. He’s disruptive in so many ways, and he’s on a team that obviously has won the division and is doing extremely well.”
“I shouldn’t have to stump for him,” added the elder Watt, who is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner in his own right. “Everything he has done stands on its own, but I would have said the same thing last year, so I will stump for him.” He then took the opportunity to needle his younger brother, as he often does, reminding him that even when he wins his first DPOY award, he will still have “two less than I have.”
In 2019, T.J. Watt finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, behind winner Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots and Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals.
Steelers Defense Will Aim to Extend Sack Records in 2021
No doubt T.J. Watt will use this year’s slight as motivation to take his game to the next level, even as he helps the Steelers defense pursue franchise and NFL records. Beginning with next season’s regular season opener, the Steelers will have a chance to extend their record of most consecutive games with at least one sack, which stands at 73 contests and counting.
Next year the Steelers will also have the chance to tie the NFL record for most consecutive 50-plus sack seasons (five). That mark was established by three teams—Washington, Dallas and Buffalo—between 1983-87.
Meanwhile, it’s now been more than a decade since a Steelers player has won Defensive Player of the Year. The last one to do it was Troy Polamalu, who won it in 2010. Polamalu will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.
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