DAN BICKLEY

J.J. Watt’s impending return provides jolt to Cardinals’ playoff hopes

Jan 7, 2022, 3:17 PM | Updated: 3:18 pm
J.J. Watt #99 of the Arizona Cardinals walks the field before the game against the Seattle Seahawks...
J.J. Watt #99 of the Arizona Cardinals walks the field before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on November 21, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Cardinals received a gift on Friday. They received the jolt of electricity only a superstar can provide.

The impending return of J.J. Watt is more like J.J. Wattage.

This isn’t a shock. The possibility of Watt’s return has been floating for weeks now. But it still sent ripples throughout the Valley. It added a layer of intrigue to a loaded field of NFC contenders. The optics and timing couldn’t be better.

The playoffs are a test of toughness and will, and the Cardinals defense will surely benefit from Watt’s pedigree. So will the mood in the locker room.

Watt’s return is a testament to his courage. His shoulder injury usually takes 4-6 months to properly heal. Watt might be returning after 11 weeks.

He has his own reasons in pursuit of glory. Watt has never played in a Super Bowl. He’s never been on an extended playoff run. He could achieve all of that in 2022. He is one of Wisconsin’s finest and is surely eyeing a potential NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field.

But Watt’s teammates will see something bigger. They will see a Hall of Fame superstar testing his pain threshold and risking his health for a precious window of opportunity. For a playoff run in Arizona. They will see how much it matters to him. Through his eyes and his actions, the rest of the Cardinals will see how close they are to winning a championship. The trickle-down effect will be a powerful thing.

Watt’s impending return is also a touchstone for a fan base yearning to believe.

In the Valley, there is a distinct difference between Cardinals fans and Suns fans, and it’s a matter of trust. The Cardinals have the noise. The Suns have the energy. And there’s a big difference.

Suns fans have grown to trust almost every significant member of their basketball team. The Suns have proven to be cool, compelling and clutch under pressure. They are built to sustain success. They are a great emotional investment.

The Cardinals haven’t won a playoff game since 2015. Their collapse in 2020 was grotesque and highly disappointing, badly bruising fans who took the plunge after a 6-3 start and that magical Hail Murray. The recent three-game losing streak in 2021 was another painful reminder of how fragile the Kliff Kingsbury Cardinals can be under duress. And that’s not the kind of program a fan base wants to be associated with because nobody likes a choker. Nobody likes a team with stage fright. Nobody likes a team built to let you down.

To their credit, the Cardinals snuffed out the losing streak and some of the doubt last week in Dallas. But I’m guessing an unhealthy percentage of people remain skeptical of this team’s ability to reward your fandom, to safeguard your heart.

A win over the Seahawks on Sunday would help build momentum and a new narrative entering the playoffs. So would the return of Watt, who gives this team and fan base exactly what it needs:

Energy.

Dan Bickley

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J.J. Watt’s impending return provides jolt to Cardinals’ playoff hopes