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One Final Practice, One Final Game For J.J. Watt

Retiring defensive lineman prepared for emotion of last game against 49ers

J.J. Watt addresses his teammates after his final NFL practice on Friday.
J.J. Watt addresses his teammates after his final NFL practice on Friday.

As J.J. Watt walked out on the field Friday morning, it occurred to him it'd be the last time he do that in the NFL, helmet in hand, ready to practice.

His final game approached on Sunday. He was one of the few veterans who made it through the season relatively unscathed. And it gave him the platform to break down after the work was over one more time.

"I told them after practice, 'Everybody’s day comes at some point,' " Watt said. "Nobody gets to play forever. This is just my day."

The groin issue that appeared on the injury report won't be a problem, Watt said. He's dealt with worse, although he's hoping the rain stays away from Sunday's game in the Bay Area as he takes the field for the last time prior to retirement.

"A bomb cyclone doesn't seem to help when you're trying to rush the passer," said the man trying to add to his 10½ sacks against the NFC West champion 49ers.

It will be emotional for him Sunday. His brothers won't be there – the Steelers have a game to play themselves – but his parents will be, as will his wife and son. He expects some emotions about wrapping up his NFL career, but admitted it probably won't hit him as hard as it will when the 2023 season starts and he's watching from the couch.

Right now, whatever euphoria he might get from the flourish of ending his 12-year career is muted some by the end of a 17-game grind and the lack of success the Cardinals have had on the field. This last game, "I want to go out there and enjoy it."

"I want to spend the time with my teammates," Watt said. "We're trying to win a game. It's not a purely sentimental or emotional thing. We're trying to win a game. We're trying to play good football."

Said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, "He's going to play hard. Hopefully he gets more sacks."

When Watt came into the NFL, Joseph was there, an assistant for the Houston Texans. With Watt now leaving the NFL, Joseph is here again.

"It's been emotional for all of us," Joseph said. "J has had an emotional week. It's his last week of practice as a football player. And for me, it's been fun to watch both sides."

Remarkably, Watt said he had been able to put his heart scare suffered in Week 4 out of his mind all season, believing if he dwelled on it after a "tough week, an emotional week" that he wouldn't be able to play football like he could.

"I stopped thinking about it and thankfully it's been good ever since, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it after Monday night," Watt said.

That was the night Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered his cardiac arrest.

But Watt went through this week like any other. He went to dinner with his fellow defensive linemen on Thursday night, cherishing the final time he'd take part in that ritual."

"It's the hanging with the guys, it's the laughs, it's the stories and the little moments you're going to miss," he said.

As for his legacy, Watt didn't have an answer. He was just a good football player and someone who tried to help his communities, and beyond that? He'd let others decide.

"At some point everybody gets forgotten about," Watt said. "I just hope that I've passed along enough things and made enough of an impact, that somebody else can pass it along so somebody else can pass it along.

"I don't need anybody to remember me. I enjoyed it while I had it."

BANJO, LEDBETTER TO IR

The Cardinals placed Chris Banjo (concussion) and defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter (knee) on Injured Reserve on Friday, clearing two roster spots for the finale this weekend. The Cardinals are expected to fill those holes with practice squad members, in addition to their regular two elevations from the practice squad.

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