PITTSBURGH -- Two weeks ago, Mitch Trubisky stood by his locker while answering questions about being replaced moments earlier by Kenny Pickett. It was a drastically different scene on Sunday, when Trubisky took questions from the postgame podium after shaking hands with Tom Brady as the winning quarterback following a 20-18 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Trubisky was forced into Sunday's game after Pickett suffered a concussion midway through the third quarter, with the Steelers protecting a 13-12 lead. He made it a 20-12 game after hitting Chase Claypool for a six-yard score with 9:55 left. After the Buccaneers scored to make it two-point game with 4:38 left, two third-and-long completions from Trubisky to Claypool, along with a first-down run by Trubisky, sealed the Steelers' first win since knocking off the Bengals in Week 1.
"Honestly, it feels good," Trubisky said after helping the Steelers win their first game at home. "It feels good to win as a team, and to show my teammates what I'm capable of. The best part is seeing their joy and excitement after a hard-fought victory like that."
#Steelers QB Mitch Trubisky: “We played like a team today, and that’s why we won.” pic.twitter.com/fMV73g5OZt— BryanDeArdo (@BryanDeArdo) October 16, 2022
Trubisky showed no signs of rust after watching the last game and a half from the sideline. He actually looked better than he did during the season's first four games, as he played for the sticks as opposed to making the safer throw. On his second third-down conversion to Claypool on the game's last drive, Trubisky stayed with Claypool as he worked through his route.
"When you kind of get thrown in there, you might be thinking a little less, just going out there and playing free," said Trubisky, who added that he did not get practice reps on that play to Claypool during the week but anticipated what would happen based on his mental reps during practice. "I just wanted to continue to be aggressive, play free and everyone kind of just rallied together. It was fun."
.@ChaseClaypool with an incredible grab 🤯— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 16, 2022
📺 #TBvsPIT on FOX pic.twitter.com/JRBMXpk7zH
The ending of Sunday's game was a stark contrast to the Steelers' Week 2 loss to New England. In that game, a 17-14 defeat, the Patriots kept the ball for the final 6:33 left in the game. Pittsburgh's offense took on that role Sunday, as Trubisky and Co. did not give Brady another chance with the ball.
"We knew they were going to [step up]," Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith told CBS Sports after the game. "We believe in them. Mitch stepped up, made a lot of great plays. Chase stepping up, Najee [Harris], all the guys. Just so proud of this team. It was a true team win."
It was certainly a team win for the Steelers, who played complementary football while receiving big plays in all three phases. Chris Boswell's 55-yard boot helped give the Steelers a 10-6 halftime lead. Steven Sims' 89-yard return at the start of the second half set up Boswell's second field goal, as Pittsburgh extended its lead to seven points.
Defensively, the Steelers consistently put pressure on Brady, who completed less than 50% of his first-half pass attempts and completed only 60% of his throws for the game. Leonard Fournette, the Buccaneers' bruising back, was held to 63 yards on 21 carries. Pittsburgh's defense was downright dominant in the red zone, as it forced Tampa Bay to settle for field goals in each of its first three trips inside the Steelers' 20-yard-line.
Making the Steelers' defensive performance even more impressive is the fact that they played without both of their starting defensive players, All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.
"Coach [Mike] Tomlin always says the standard is the standard, and I think we had a lot of guys step up and have a heck of a game," Highsmith said. "It's a huge game, because we know we've got to get back on track. We know the first five games of the year was not how we wanted to start.
"It's just huge for us. We're going to celebrate tonight, but we're about to work on Monday and focus in on Miami."
That @steelers front seven 💪 #HereWeGo— NFL (@NFL) October 16, 2022
📺: #TBvsPIT on FOX
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/CzoJaiDy5n pic.twitter.com/DZTC7ySjMZ
The Steelers' biggest defensive play, however, was turned in by Devin Bush, a 2019 first-round pick who has had a rocky go of it since coming back from a major knee injury near the end of the 2020 season. Bush's deflection of Brady's pass attempt to Chris Godwin on Tampa Bay's two-point try preserved the lead.
"Huge," safety Tre Norwood said of Bush's play. "[He's a] hard worker, a key guy on our defense. Our main thing is doing our job. He made a huge, huge stop on that two-point conversion for us to hold that lead."
They had their lapses, but the Steelers' offense did their job in scoring enough points and making the necessary plays to deliver victory. Pickett ended the Steelers' 14-game drought of not scoring a first-quarter touchdown when he fired a six-yard touchdown pass to Harris to cap off Pittsburgh's first scoring drive. Speaking of Harris, the Steelers' Pro Bowl running back recorded several positive runs on the Steelers' last two drives.
Harris, who shares the role with Trubisky as Steelers' offensive captains, said that nothing changed when Trubisky entered the huddle after Pickett suffered his injury.
"The missions the mission," Harris said. "We've got to go win the game [regardless of who] is in there. We've got good quarterbacks. We believe in both of them. We just know that both guys can get the job done."
As one can expect, the Steelers' locker room had a much more positive vibe after Sunday's game than it did during the team's first two home games. The win comes at a pivotal time for Pittsburgh, which had lost four straight games and were double-digit underdogs going into Sunday's game.
"Just stacking bricks," Harris said of the Steelers' collective mindset. "I know it was tough in the beginning, but we believe in ourselves. We've just got to stick together. Us sticking together, us grinding it out everyday, going to practice.
"I think that we're flipping something right now. I think we're flipping the page and becoming a great team. We've got to keep stacking bricks and keep going after it."
The win also showed that Pittsburgh's offense is starting to find its way after a rocky first five games. Pittsburgh's top receivers each played a role in the win, with Claypool leading the way with 96 yards on seven receptions.
"On offense, I know that we're really young," Harris said. "We've got a lot of football to learn. As I said, us sticking together, and us grinding it out, putting more work in, extra meetings, watching practice, all the small stuff that we didn't do at first, we've kind of turned the page. I think it paid off."
.@Mtrubisky10 ➡️ @ChaseClaypool for six!— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 16, 2022
📺 #TBvsPIT on FOX pic.twitter.com/kotOXNc9GO
The Steelers' decision to acquire Trubisky has also paid off, albeit it may have taken a little longer than Pittsburgh fans had hoped. Sunday's game showed that, if Pickett has to miss any time going forward, the Steelers can win with Trubisky, as long as Pittsburgh's other players do their jobs.
"I can't speak enough to Mitch just stepping up in the moment," Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward said after the game. "We needed a guy to step up and play quarterback for us, and he did that today. You rally around your quarterbacks. We know it's not an easy situation for either of the quarterbacks … but I thought that Mitch just showed great professionalism and made big plays when we needed them."