Cardinals GM on possible return this season by J.J. Watt: 'I wouldn't bet against him'
If J.J. Watt could play almost an entire second half of a football game after suffering a dislocated shoulder, a torn labrum, a torn rotator cuff and reportedly a torn bicep, too, who’s to say the Cardinals’ defensive lineman can’t make a comeback and find a way to return to the lineup in time for the postseason?
“I wouldn’t rule it out, I’ll say that,” General Manager Steve Keim told The Republic. “I don’t know that for a fact, but I wouldn’t bet against him.”
Watt recently underwent shoulder surgery after getting injured during the second quarter of Arizona’s 31-5 victory over Houston, Watt’s former team, on Oct. 24. The surgery was a success, according to Keim, who didn’t know all the details about what was repaired but did reveal a torn bicep never occurred.
“I do know he didn’t tear his bicep,” Keim said. “I do know that for a fact, that he did not. I don’t know what all the other technical terms are, but I know he didn’t tear that.”
Initially, Watt thought there was a chance he could avoid surgery altogether and rehab his shoulder on his own with the help of the Cardinals’ medical team and training staff. Doctors didn’t recommend it, so the surgery went as scheduled and it was expected Watt would be sidelined for the rest of the season.
Not so fast, it turns out.
Keim said Watt, 32, has every intention of trying to make it back to join the Cardinals once they get to the playoffs. The Cardinals (9-2) wrap up the regular season Jan. 9 at home against the Seahawks, whom they just beat in Seattle 23-13. They presently hold the No.1 seed in the NFC and if they can keep it, they will earn a first-round bye and won’t play their first postseason game until Jan. 22 or 23.
“He told me he came back from his pec deal quicker than anybody that’s ever come back from a pec tear,” Keim said. “Again, he’s one guy I would never bet against.”
Watt suffered a torn pectoral muscle with the Texans midway through the 2019 season in a game against the Raiders. Following surgery, doctors told him it would be a three- to four-month recovery process. Watt was back in eight weeks.
He rejoined Houston in time for its 22-19 AFC Wild Card victory over the Buffalo and it’s 51-31 divisional playoff loss to Kansas City.
“When I got hurt, I just assumed I was done,” Watt said at the time. “I didn’t even know there was a possibility. And then literally a couple days after surgery, I was feeling so good that I just started asking questions. I said, ‘Is it remotely possible?’
“We left the door open for a possibility and from there, it was just literally day-by-day … doing whatever I can do, and we arrived here.”
Watt, who signed a two-year contract with the Cardinals last March after negotiating his release from the Texans, has appeared in seven games this season. He has 16 tackles, five for loss, with a sack, two passes defensed, one forced fumble, 10 quarterback hits and 23 hurries.
He’s been back at the team’s Tempe training facility attending practices, joining his fellow defensive linemen in meetings, and even hitting the weight room on a regular basis. He also traveled with the team to Seattle this past weekend, doing what he could to inspire his teammates.
“He’s doing well,” Keim said last Thursday. “I saw him in the weight room downstairs today, he’s rehabbing his tail off and he’s around constantly. Shoot, I was leaving late last night, and he was in the jacuzzi and I was like, ‘Dude, do you have a home?’ ”
Watt isn’t going anywhere now that he’s made up his mind to make a dramatic comeback. It’s going to take everything he has – and probably some luck – to make it happen, but don’t count him out just yet.
“He hasn’t let the injury stop him from being around us,” outside linebacker Markus Golden said this week. “He’s still pushing himself hard to get back and he’s pushing us still, coming in every day like he’s about the play in the game every week, so I’ve got a lot of respect for him doing that.
“If he wants to make a comeback, I wouldn’t put it past him. If anybody can do it, it would be J.J., so I wish him the best no matter what. I know he’s going to put the work in to do what he’s got to do to take care of himself and help the team.”
Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries said Watt, the former three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is one of his favorite players on the team because of his on-the-field exploits and noted leadership skills. If Watt can stage a comeback, Humphries said, “It would be huge for us, man.”
“The way he comes in, he always knows how to address every situation,” Humphries said. “It’s one of those things that you get when you’re dealing with a guy who’s seen every phase of the game. He’s been through playoff games, he’s won in the playoffs and been there. You can tell his leadership skills are so much mature and evolved than myself because he’s just seen so much more than I have and it’s awesome for me to be around him.
“I love soaking up how he handles the team and the way he always stands tall in the face of adversity. I would be super stoked if we get him back for the playoffs. I’m really hoping for that.”
So is tight end Zach Ertz, whose wife, Julie, is teammates with Watt’s wife, Kaelia, on the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.
“I think we got one game together, unfortunately,” Ertz said, referring to the Texans’ game in which Watt was injured. “Obviously, I was hoping for some more. But I have so much respect for the guy, not only on the field but off the field. I know he’s doing everything he can to get as healthy as he can.
“Obviously, it’s a big loss for our football team, but some of the guys have stepped in for him and he’s still leading. Even though he’s not physically on the field, he’s still leading in the locker room, he’s still leading in the meeting room. He’s still heavily involved and that’s no surprise to me.”
Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch.
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