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Steelers’ T.J. Watt has so much more to accomplish: ‘Leave my mark on this game’

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Steelers’ T.J. Watt has so much more to accomplish: ‘Leave my mark on this game’

T.J. Watt, dream Steeler for a dream football town, vowed his hunger would never wane on the day he signed his four-year, $112 million contract extension, with $80 million guaranteed, days before Pittsburgh’s season opener. 

And now, Watt’s next after 17.5 sacks? Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record (22.5), that’s Watt. 

Serby Says asked Watt why he has been able to fight off any hint of complacency. 

“It’s kind of in my DNA. It’s not the type of person that I am, there’s still so much that I want to accomplish,” Watt said. “We haven’t gotten close to the Super Bowl since I’ve been here, so I think that’s obviously the No. 1 goal. You only get so many years, good years, to play at this level, and that’s kind of what I’m trying to capture and take advantage of while I have it, ’cause I know that if I didn’t give it everything I had I would regret it when I can’t do the things I can do now.” 

Asked what he remembers about Strahan, Watt chuckled: “Besides the gap in the teeth? 

“To be honest with you, I haven’t watched a ton of his film, but obviously I know that 22  ¹/₂ sacks is a helluva lot to have in 16 games.” 

Watt has missed two games this season with a groin injury, so he would have to break the record in 15 games. 

“It would be cool, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not something that I’m consciously thinking about,” he said. “All those goals I had earlier in my career, and I realized that it just puts unnecessary pressure on yourself, and then you find yourself in games, a couple of games into the season you’re not anywhere close to be on pace, then you start to try to do too much and then you start hurting yourself and your team, so I’m just trying to impact every game the best that I possibly can, to play the best that I can for my team. A record like that would be cool, but I also think I’d take a Super Bowl any day over that.” 

T.J. Watt's primary goal with the Steelers is to reach the Super Bowl.
T.J. Watt’s primary goal with the Steelers is to reach the Super Bowl.
USA TODAY Sports

It is ironic when Watt — little brother of the Cardinals’ J.J. and Steelers teammate/fullback Derek — names Brett Favre as the one quarterback he would love to have sacked, because it was Favre who took the dive that enabled Strahan to break Mark Gastineau’s all-time sack record. 

“I think just growing up in Green Bay, I think that’d be one that no one would be able to stop telling stories about just ’cause of how big he was growing up and how much everybody in the state of Wisconsin looked up to him.” 

Reminded it was chronicled that Favre took a dive, Watt said, and laughed: “I wasn’t gonna bring it up! No, I haven’t even seen that play, but I definitely heard the story many times.” 

Asked how he would feel if he broke the record in that fashion, Watt said, “I gotta get a couple more sacks before I even get close to it, so I’ll leave it up for whoever wants to say.” 

Watt, who will take aim at Patrick Mahomes on Sunday in a game the Steelers must win to keep their playoff hopes alive, has 67 sacks in 74 career games. And remember, he started as a tight end at Wisconsin. 

“I didn’t grow up watching a lot of pass rushers, I just kind of grew up watching my brother [J.J.] play,” Watt said. “I think that’s kind of why we have some very similar moves.” 

Biggest brother is 50 or so pounds heavier than li’l brother. 

“He’s a lot bigger than me, so he has like a better bull rush, a lot of his rushes are based off of the power, whereas I’m more of a speed rusher,” T.J. said. “His double swipe we both use, that’s one that I took from him. He’s got a really good long-arm stab. The cross chop, and that’s even funny ’cause now he’s trying to evolve too, so he was asking me questions about the cross chop which is kinda my specialty rush.” 

T.J. Watt has evolved as well into more of a student of the game. 

“He’s a very aware player,” T.J. said of his big brother. “The more that I realize that he’s studying formations and things that you can expect to see, and certain runs that they like to run out of certain formations that they’re in and certain tells, I’m kind of growing into that role where early on in my career I was more of an instinctual-only player.” 

J.J. Watt recorded 20.5 sacks in 2012 and 2014 with the Texans. 

“The dominance was so regular that I always joked to people like if he didn’t have a sack in a game I’d always like, ‘What the hell happened? What went wrong there?’ ” T.J. said. “The amount of plays he was making on a regular basis is pretty insane, now that I have a different perspective being in the NFL.” 

T.J. Watt sacks Lamar Jackson during the Steelers' 20-19 win over the Ravens.
T.J. Watt sacks Lamar Jackson during the Steelers’ 20-19 win over the Ravens.
USA TODAY Sports

It is almost as if T.J. is in a zone at times. 

“I think it’s more of a mentality than a zone,” he said. “I don’t think you can really get out of a zone if you have the right mentality. I truly think that you can stay in your zone. I don’t think that you’re always gonna get the results that you want just ’cause sacks are so hard to come by, but I think you can consistently beat the guy if you’re putting in the time and the effort, and you have the confidence. I think that’s the biggest thing I’d to be confident as well.” 

T.J. Watt was the 30th pick of the 2017 draft. He has forced 21 fumbles mastering the art of the strip-sack. He has added four interceptions. He likely will be first-team All-Pro for the third consecutive season. He should be Defensive Player of the Year this season. Former Giants general manager Jerry Reese drafted tight end Evan Engram with the 23rd pick in that 2017 draft. 

“I have been doubted my whole life as far as only getting a scholarship ’cause of my brothers and all that stuff, and obviously I’ve lived in the shadows of both J.J. and Derek for pretty much the majority of my life,” T.J. said. “I’ve done a good job of blocking a lot of that stuff out and just using it as a tool to ask those guys as many questions as possible. Just to see how hard those guys work is really what kinda sparked me. I remember being in college and going to class and my brothers would text me that they were going to workout and they didn’t have to go to class, go to school, and I just thought that would be the best job to ever have in the world, and now I’m living it as well, and to be able to work alongside those guys and to have the blueprint of how to get in the NFL, how to be successful, was a great tool for me growing up.” 

T.J. Watt followed in his brother J.J.'s footsteps and played collegiately at Wisconsin.
T.J. Watt followed in his brother J.J.’s footsteps and played collegiately at Wisconsin.
AP

As the Steelers’ left outside linebacker, quarterbacks and running backs have learned the hard way that you can never be too secure with the football around T.J. Watt. 

“I rush on the left side of the football, so I can always see where the quarterback’s looking and where the football is, so as you’re rushing the passer and turning the corner against a tackle, the ball is always in sight,” he said, “and I think it’s very important to secure the tackle with the off hand, and then the other hand can always strike down on the football. A lot of those quarterbacks are always looking downfield so not securing the ball very tightly. So just trying to take a good swipe at it, and if you get the ball out it’s a bonus.” 

T.J. Watt is just 27 years old. Given his commitment and character, you have to believe his best is yet to come. 

“Growing up, my dad always said you have to have the impact to be a great player,” T.J. said. “It took me a while to find that impact, but I finally found it. If you go into a game knowing that no one’s prepared like you have, it’s a very big advantage mentally and physically, and you just kinda let your body take over, and the aggression definitely comes out.” 

He would have fit right in with “Mean” Joe Greene and Jack Lambert and those Steel Curtain Steelers. 

“I just think it’s a perfect fit, from everything on the field to off the field,” T.J. said. “These people are blue-collar, they take a lot of pride in all of their sports teams. Every sports team is black and yellow, so that’s all you see across the whole city. Whenever I’m out in public, nobody’s bothering me, everybody’s super-respectful. Just genuine people, they’re just the working-class people, how can you not get along with everybody? I didn’t come from a high-class family, I didn’t come from a low-class family. These are all my type of people, and I think it’s why it’s such a great fit.” 

And he is their type of Steeler. 

“I always tell people it’s somebody that’s very gritty and very selfless,” T.J. said. “You gotta have that switch that you have to flip when you’re on the football field, but they’re always around the football, they’re a great member in the community. It’s very important to be in the community here especially playing for the owners like Mr. [Art] Rooney [II] and just how they conduct themselves in and out of the facility in the community. It’s a special place to play football.” 

T.J. Watt
T.J. Watt
USA TODAY Sports

He desperately yearns to return to Heinz Field on Jan. 3 against the Browns with everything still on the line in front of those Terrible Towel-waving fans. 

“You truly get the chills,” T.J. said. “On some of those third downs you line up in your stance and you can kind of just tell yourself like, ‘Here we go, I can just tell this is gonna be a monster play.’ It’s just such a cool place to play.” 

Dream Steeler for a dream town. 

“Now I think it’s just a matter of wanting to leave my mark on this game, wanting to leave my mark in Pittsburgh,” T.J. Watt said. “I know that it’s possible to be one of the best players to play, ’cause one of ’em came from the same family that I came from. 

“So why can’t I be that too?” 

Steel Certain. That’s Watt he is.

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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