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After Further Review: Playing at a high level

After further review …

There was no official word regarding T.J. Watt's status in the immediate aftermath of the Steelers' 23-20 overtime survival of the Bengals.

But Malik Reed pronounced himself up to the challenge in the event he's called upon to replace Watt over the long haul.

"No doubt," Reed insisted in what was still a celebratory visitor's locker room late Sunday afternoon at Paycor Stadium.

The mood was such, even in the wake of Watt's misfortune, that Arthur Maulet initially declined to be interviewed because he was otherwise occupied.

"I'm dancin' right now," Maulet explained. "I got you in like five minutes."

Reed wasn't dancing.

But he was adamant he can cut in at Watt's position if necessary.

"I did it the past two years," Reed said. "I started like 35 games, played in 40-something games.

"I definitely have experience, a lot of experience, and I can play this game at a high level, so I'm excited."

Reed actually started 34 games and played in 46 with Denver from 2019 through 2021, but his point was well-taken even if the math was a little off.

Reed wasn't just asked to step in for the Broncos.

He was tasked with replacing elite edge rushers.

If he's called upon to do the same weeks into his Steelers tenure, it'll be a familiar albeit challenging ask.

"My first few years in Denver we had (Bradley) Chubb go down, we had Von (Miller) go down," Reed continued. "It's always tough to see a guy go down, guys of that caliber go down to injury.

"I'm sending prayers up for (Watt), tell him I'm gonna pray for him, but we know that we have to step up to the plate."

Reed responded with eight sacks in 16 games (13 starts) in 2020 with Miller unavailable and five sacks in 14 games (13 starts) last season when Chubb only played in seven and Miller was traded midway through the campaign.

So there's confirmation on tape Reed is indeed capable.

But he was also spot-on when he suggested it might take multiple players grabbing a bat in the wake of Watt starting but not finishing in Cincinnati.

It might take Alex Highsmith continuing to play like the terror he was against the Bengals, something Watt had maintained Highsmith was on the verge of becoming back in training camp.

It might require Minkah Fitzpatrick continuing to play like a player intent on becoming the NFL Defensive Player of the Year this season, which is what Fitzpatrick clearly resembled against the Bengals.

And it'll definitely demand continuing to rely upon the mindset the Steelers displayed throughout what became a marathon of an opener, one in which the defense had to overcome losing multiple players to injury (Levi Wallace and Robert Spillane also weren't available at the end), work around penalty flags that were repeatedly thrown in critical instances, and defend blades of grass for 94 offensive snaps by Cincinnati.

"You gotta keep playing, that's the nature of football," Larry Ogunjobi maintained. "

"They spot the ball, you gotta play."

Reed did that on Sunday, when it took 17 players playing at least 29 percent of those 94 defensive snaps (Terrell Edmunds, Fitzpatrick and Ahkello Witherspoon had the gas to play all 94) to get the Steelers out of Cincinnati.

"Embrace the opportunity," Reed added.

And do what's necessary from there.

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 1 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium

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