Written By Edward Sutelan
For years, Michael Strahan's sacks record has felt like one of those records that would take a long time to fall.
Several players have come close. Jared Allen and Justin Houston each had seasons with 22 sacks in a season, just a half-sack back of tying the record. Yet since 2001, that has been as close as anyone has come.
Until 2021. Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt enters the final week of the season with 21.5 sacks after an impressive four-sack performance against the Browns in his last game. He now needs just one sack to tie the record, and 1.5 sacks against the Ravens on Sunday to set the record. Perhaps most impressively, while the league added an extra game to the schedule, potentially adding an asterisk to other record-breaking performances in the future, Watt has played in only 14 games this season, meaning that if he set the record, he would achieve the feat in fewer games than Strahan.
Sporting News dives into the record, and the remarkable season turned in by Watt to reach this point in the season.
What is the NFL single-season sack record?
Back in 2001, Strahan had a season to remember. He recorded 22.5 sacks in a single season.
While some will claim that Al Baker holds the record with 23 sacks tallied back in 2003, the stat was not officially counted back then, making the record unofficial and Strahan's the mark to beat.
Watt is making a real run at both records — official and unofficial — with his season in 2021. Prior to his Week 17 matchup, his sack production had slowed as he had only 1.5 from Weeks 14 through 16, which began to throw into question whether he could reach the milestone. But he set a single-game best with his four sacks against Cleveland, vaulting himself right back into the conversation for the record.
The year Strahan set the record, he had one game with four sacks and two additional games with at least three. During the season, he had three games where he left the quarterback untouched and seven games where he reached the quarterback for only a half sack or one full sack.
Watt has three games with at least three sacks — including last Sunday against Cleveland — and has had four games where he did not sack the opposing QB. He has had only two games where he recorded only one
T.J. Watt's missed games
The addition of the 17th game to the season has called into question how records will be evaluated moving forward. It will be an extra chance for each player to add to their counting stats, giving players a chance to not only chase down previous single-season records a bit easier, but also reach career totals in fewer seasons.
Should Watt reach the record against the Ravens, there would be no reason to throw into his question his per-game production. Watt missed both the Steelers' Week 3 game against the Bengals with a groin injury and their Week 11 game against the Chargers with hip and knee injuries, meaning that he will finish the season with 15 games. Strahan and Baker both played in 16 games during their record-setting seasons.
This season, Watt has averaged 1.54 sacks per game, which ESPN Stats & Info lists as the second-best single-season rate since the stat has been counted.
T.J. Watt needs 1.0 sack to tie Michael Strahan's single-season record and he has 21.5 sacks in 14 games this season.
That's currently the 2nd-most sacks per game in a season since sacks became official in 1982, trailing only Reggie White (21 sacks in 12 games played in 1987). pic.twitter.com/1HInnsj0Nq
Should he reach 23, his average would actually dip to just 1.53, a testament to the remarkable season that he has had. In order to surpass Reggie White's record, he would have to reach 26.5 sacks this season, which would set his average at 1.77 per game. That would require him to register five sacks in a game, which, according to Stathead, has only been done 18 times.
T.J. Watt for Defensive Player of the Year?
At this point, it feels like a foregone conclusion that Watt will be named the AP Defensive Player of the Year.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, Watt is a minus-2000 favorite to be named the winner, with Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons second at plus-1000.
Should Watt be named the winner, he will join his older brother, J.J. Watt (three-time winner), as the only pair of siblings to each win the honor.
Watt's season, now on the verge of being historic, has called into question whether he should be a strong candidate for NFL MVP. While his season has been noteworthy, it would take a lot for him to receiver the AP NFL MVP honors.
Only two defensive players have ever been named MVP: Alan Page (1971) and Lawrence Taylor (1986). The year Page won the honors, he had three fumble recoveries and two safeties. When Taylor won the award, he led the league with 20.5 sacks, which was at the time, officially the second-most in a season behind only Mark Gastineau's 22 in 1984.
When Strahan set the sacks' record, the only defensive player that received votes for MVP was linebacker Brian Urlacher despite Strahan having been named DPOY. Rams' QB Kurt Warner won the MVP.
Here are the only defensive players since then to receive votes for MVP:
|2002||Derrick Brooks||LB||1||Rich Gannon, QB|
|2003||Ray Lewis||LB||2||Peyton Manning, QB|
|2008||James Harrison||LB||3||Peyton Manning, QB|
|2014||J.J. Watt||DE||13||Aaron Rodgers, QB|
|2014||Bobby Wagner||DE||1||Aaron Rodgers, QB|
Historically, defensive players don't receive much of any love for this award. FanDuel Sportsbook does not currently list odds for him to be named MVP.