The Arizona Cardinals are a team in desperate need of a spark, stumbling through the playoffs with a 1-4 record in the last five games.
JJ Watt and his bionic left shoulder might be able to provide it.
The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year tries to pull off an unlikely return from a serious shoulder injury in a bid to help the Cardinals’ defense as they travel to face the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night in the turn of the jokers.
“The only thing that matters to me is being there for my teammates, trying to help us win a game and reach the end goal,” Watt said on Wednesday. “That’s all it is about. I don’t do all of this work and I don’t try to come back in half the time for no reason.
The idea that Watt could return seemed absurd at the end of October. The injury was reportedly serious and the 11-year-old veteran confirmed most of the details on Wednesday, including a dislocated shoulder, torn rotator cuff, torn labrum and capsule. He also dislocated his biceps tendon and had surgery on November 3.
Doctors told Watt the normal wait for a return is four to six months. A little over two months later, he could be back.
There’s no guarantee he’ll be on the pitch against the Rams. He’s tested the shoulder against offensive linemen in simulated situations, but a real practice Thursday is the next step.
“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of time has been put in by a lot of people for whom I’m very grateful,” Watt said. “And I just can’t wait to go, see how it goes and help this team get to where they want to go.”
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury has repeatedly said how impressive it is to see Watt attack his comeback offer. The 6-foot-5, 288-pound defensive end has been at some training for the past few weeks, doing some conditioning work to stay in shape.
Kingsbury, like everyone else, doesn’t know what to expect. But he would obviously welcome Watt back onto the pitch.
“I have no idea anyway,” Kingsbury said. “It’s been a while since he’s been there, and I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. He did all he could, like I said. Weights room, training room, there is nothing more to do in there, so it was time to progress on the pitch.
Watt was injured in Arizona’s 31-5 October 24 win over the Houston Texans, which pushed the Cardinals 7-0 for the season. Since being sidelined, the Cardinals haven’t looked like the same team with a 4-6 record, and that took some of the excitement out of the team’s first appearance in playoffs since 2015.
Arizona’s discoloration is not just due to the absence of Watt. The Cardinals have certainly had other issues: Star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is out with a knee injury. They also struggled with untimely penalties and stopping the race.
“It’s just a matter of playing good football, keeping the gap and sometimes just making a game,” Watt said. “We know that (race defense) is an area where we want to be good, and it’s an area where we have to be good.”
This is not the first time that a serious injury has interrupted Watt’s successful career. He missed big chunks from three other seasons, including 2016, ’17 and ’19. If Watt returns on Monday, it won’t be the first time he returns quickly from a serious injury, either.
In 2019, he tore his pectoral muscle while with the Texans and missed the last eight games of the regular season. He returned for the playoffs and helped the Texans overcome a 16-0 deficit to beat the Buffalo Bills 22-19 in the wild card round.
“These are the things you come back for and this is why you play the game, for these times,” Watt said.
Watt is hoping for another Monday.
The Cardinals have mostly struggled since his injury, but the defensive end said the beauty of the playoffs was that it didn’t matter anymore.
“You can leave the last two months behind,” Watt said. “Now we go to work. “
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL