JJ Watt: Arizona Cardinals' season 'was a massive failure ... no other way to describe it'

Greg Moore
Arizona Republic

INGLEWOOD, California JJ Watt set out to do something legendary Monday night at SoFi Stadium.

He was returning to the field just three months after tearing up his left shoulder, the type of injury that typically takes six months or even a year to recover from.

It had the potential to be one of those iconic football moments. Kellen Winslow pushing to the brink in Miami. Ronnie Lott deciding to cut off the tip of his finger after a collision against the Cowboys. Emmitt Smith going against the Giants with a dislocated shoulder.

Not that Watt would ever frame it in those terms.

“Just doing my job,” he said, “trying to help the team win.”

That didn’t happen.  

Watt gave it what he had, but the Arizona Cardinals were eliminated after a 34-11 loss to the LA Rams on Monday night at SoFi Stadium.

It ended a season that started with as much promise as new love but closed with the frustration of a bitter divorce.  

“It was a massive failure,” Watt said. “I mean, from what we were capable of doing and what we showed we can do, to what we showed today. There’s no other way to describe it than as a failure.”  

Success. Failure. Wins. Losses.

Jan 17, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA;  Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) walks off the field after losing 34-11 against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Wild Card playoff game. Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow-Arizona Republic

Players are asked to evaluate themselves and their performances before they’ve had a chance to say goodbye.  

“Let’s be real, man,” Markus Golden said. “A lot of these guys, we’re not even gonna play together no more. That’s what people forget. This game. You get to be around people every day … like Corey Peters, man. That’s my big bro. I love playing with him. Been playing with him every day since my rookie year. And I can’t say for sure that I’m gonna get to play with him again. I take all of that in. All of that … You build relationships with these guys, with these coaches. You want to get out there and win for them.”

Peters. Colt McCoy. Christian Kirk. Chase Edmonds. James Conner. Darrell Daniels. Max Garcia. AJ Green. Chandler Jones. Nearly 30 players are becoming unrestricted free agents who can sign with any team in the league.

“That’s one of those things that won’t sink in for maybe a couple of days,” Kyler Murray said. “Hopefully, we can get some of those guys back, if not all of them. You build relationships with these guys. That’s always the tough part about sports. Here one day. Gone the next. I love all those players.”

Watt feels the same way. That’s why he pushed so hard to get back on the field. He formed bonds in a short time and believed that this team had a chance to be special.   

It wasn’t. Not when it mattered most. And that stings.

“Part of sports is that you get to enjoy the highs,” he said. “But then you also have to live with the lows. You hope to have less lows than highs, obviously. But if you’re gonna ride high and enjoy the good times and be confident and excited during the good times, then you’ve got to understand that when the s--- goes bad, you take that, too.”

His teammates appreciated the work he put in to get out there with them one last time this season.

“A lot of respect to JJ,” Golden said. “I’ve been saying it all year. He’s been one of the leaders on the team. He’s been leading whether it’s been going good or bad for him, personally.

“He’s a legend, man. Everybody knows who JJ Watt is and what he’s done in this league. He’s a legend, but he comes in every day like he’s got zero sacks. You wouldn’t even think he’s a Hall of Fame player like he is, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I’m glad I got to play ball with him. I learned a lot from him. Having him out there on the field, it was good to be out there with him.”

Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“They played much, much better than we did,” Watt said. “There’s not a whole lot to say about it. They made more plays. They made less mistakes. They executed extremely well. And we executed extremely poorly.”

And now the season is over, and guys will go their separate ways.

JJ Watt set out to do something legendary on Monday night.

Then again, they all did.

And if they remember nothing else from this season, I hope they remember that the honor is in the effort.

The journey is the destination.

And it was a joy to watch them work. 

Reach Moore at gmoore@azcentral.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.

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