In Sunday’s opener, Minkah Fitzpatrick made a strong argument for the best game of his career. He littered the stat sheet with 14 tackles, one pick-six, a QB pressure, a blocked extra point, doing things big and small to put the team on his back and lead the Steelers’ to victory. His plays directly led to 11 points for or against: six points for his touchdown, one point on his blocked extra point, and four points for his TD-saving tackle on Joe Mixon. All his efforts led to him being named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the first time of his career, an overdue honor.
If there’s any red mark on his paper, it’s a yellow one. Fitzpatrick was flagged twice for unnecessary roughness, twice called for hits to the head of a defenseless receiver. But DC Teryl Austin sees that as just part of football and not an issue he needs to address with Fitzpatrick going forward. Speaking with the media Thursday, Austin was asked if it was a point he brought up to Fitzpatrick. The answer? No.
Here’s what he said, as tweeted out by the PPG’s Ray Fittipaldo.
Fitzpatrick himself called the penalties “terrible” and led to a sarcastic remark after a clean and legal hit late in the fourth quarter. While these may have been penalties, they weren’t egregious hits and clearly weren’t him trying to head-hunt. They were the result of the bang-bang nature of football. Overall, he’s a clean player and fundamental hitter and tackler, something that’s become an overlooked and underrated part of his game.
Frankly, the question alone of if Fitzpatrick needs to be “reeled in” is a silly premise. He’s a star in the league and arguably the NFL’s best and most well-rounded safety. What he did to help beat the Bengals Sunday doesn’t need to be “reeled in.” Quite the opposite. If you could wave a wand, it needs to be copied, pasted, and applied to every other member of the Steelers’ defense. Fitzpatrick set the gold standard of what elite-level play looks like and it’s something he and the rest of the team will be chasing the rest of the season.