Should A Potential Stat Error Give TJ Watt The NFL Single Season Sack Record Over Michael Strahan?

Michael Strahan

Yes, as a Steelers fan I’m biased but I think the video evidence speaks for itself…

In today’s NFL, offense is king, no one can deny that. The league’s biggest stars are nearly all quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers and anyone paying attention to the wave of rule changes can clearly see they’re aimed not only for safety but making the games higher scoring and more entertaining to the casual viewer.

Even though there’s limited ways for a defender to really make a household name for themselves, the easiest way is to get after the quarterback.

For years, feared pass rushers have terrorized linemen, flattened quarterbacks, and sent stadiums of fans erupting to their feet. Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Warren Sapp, JJ Watt, Aaron Donald, and no shortage of others come to mind and I’m betting that every football fan has their personal favorite quick at the ready if asked. (James Harrison for me, for those wondering at home.)

But a conversation about the pass rushing greats wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the two men tied for the NFL record of most sacks in a season: Michael Strahan and TJ Watt.

Before anyone starts I know TJ has only played 7 years and can’t (yet) be rightly talked about as one of the greatest of all time, but you can’t deny the astounding career he’s put together to this point.

Already the Steelers franchise leader in sacks, TJ won the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year and finished top 3 another three times. He’s forced 27 fumbles, grabbed 7 interceptions, and lead the league in sacks three seasons, one of which tied the record with 22.5, and that record is today’s topic at hand.

Michael Strahan set the sack record in 2001, breaking the mark set by Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets of 22. His 22.5 was the high water mark for the NFL until Watt tied it in 2021.

However, an online sports account did some digging on Strahan’s iconic 2001 season and found a potential stat error that would hand the record to TJ Watt.

JaguarGator9 didn’t set out to find the “truth” of the sack record but was simply following up on a fib Panthers head coach John Fox told Julius Peppers when he got off to a poor start to a season. Fox told Peppers that the year Strahan set the record he had zero sacks through the first five games, which wasn’t true as he had 8 through the first five, but this lead JG9 to go back and watch the film of Strahan’s sacks.

All appeared normal until a clip of a week 8 game against the Dallas Cowboys surfaced and he realized that a mistake may have been made and a tackle that should not have counted as a sack was recorded as one. Had that not counted, Strahan would not have broken the sack record later that year.

Does it sound crazy? Like someone, perhaps multiple people, would have checked on all the plays of a stat total that would make history? I agree, it does sound crazy, but just watch the play, listen to the explanation, and you may just have your mind changed.

On the opening drive of the game, Dallas had the ball and made it to New York’s 44 yard line. Quarterback Clint Stoerner took a third and 3 snap, dropped back, and then took off running when no receivers were open and it looked like he had a lane. Unfortunately for him, Michael Strahan saw him start to scramble, peeled off his block, and tackled Stoerner near the line of scrimmage.

On first glance, it appears there was no gain on the play, which would go down on the stat sheet as a sack, and that’s exactly how the scorekeepers marked it. But, if you rewatch the play, the quarterback isn’t tackled at the line of scrimmage. He was actually tackled about a yard past the LOS for a small gain.

Here’s a thread where JG9 breaks it all down.

Are you interested yet? I know I am…

He gives way more details in his YouTube video (posted below) and brings up the official scorekeepers rulebook from the NFL and draws lines similar to the first down marker to show, pretty conclusively, that the play should have been marked as a gain of 1.

Now, I would have liked to see the play after this to see where the official spot of the ball was to know if this whole issue originated from that, but unfortunately I don’t have an archive of NFL film data at my disposal…

Does this prove 100%, without a doubt, that Strahan’s record shouldn’t count? I wouldn’t go quite that far but it certainly raises a good point and it wouldn’t be the first time a record was overturned upon further review.

Am I biased and want TJ Watt to have the record? Of course, I won’t lie and say that I’m not.

But come on, the video evidence is pretty damning.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock