INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The Arizona Cardinals activated defensive lineman J.J. Watt off injured reserve on Monday afternoon, just hours before playing the Los Angeles Rams in the last NFC wild-card game of the weekend.
It was the next formal step for Watt to play Monday night, completing another fast recovery from a major injury. Watt suffered a shoulder injury on Oct. 24, and after having surgery on Nov. 3 was told he'd be out four to six months. He returned to the field just 13 weeks after suffering the injury.
Watt's last step to taking the field Monday came 90 minutes before the game when he wasn't among the inactive players listed by the Cardinals. Watt returned to action when the Cardinals' defense took the field in the first quarter.
Watt had teased the idea that he would return Monday night through various social media posts. On Friday, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told reporters: "Don't be surprised if he's ready to go."
Watt's return was welcomed by the Cardinals. They were 7-0 with him but 4-6 without him. Their defense led the NFL in scoring defense and had the top defensive efficiency with Watt on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Since Watt's injury, the Cardinals' defense allowed an NFL-worst 61 Total QBR since Week 8 and generated pressure at the third-lowest rate in the league in that span, doing so on 23% of opposing QB dropbacks, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
Watt might be the answer to slowing the Cardinals' recent skid; they lost four of their last five. "No doubt it would give us a boost," coach Kliff Kingsbury has said of getting Watt back.
Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, is in his first season with the Cardinals after 10 seasons with the Houston Texans. He has one sack this season and 102 in his career.