Heinz Field came alive tonight as for the first time in over eight months, the Pittsburgh Steelers returned to action, taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Led by their young emerging talent, the Steelers survived a late resurgence and defeated the Buccaneers 30-28.
While stars such as Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward and James Conner did not suit up, rookie linebacker Devin Bush certainly did look like a star in the making. It was obvious that the Steelers’ defense had a little more juice right from the get go as Bush was flying all over the field.
By halftime, the Steelers’ rookie linebacker managed to stop a third down conversion and fourth down conversion on consecutive plays while also having what should have been a pick six bounce off of his helmet. Playing alongside Mark Barron for majority of his time on the field, Bush showed the Steelers exactly what they expected when they traded up to select him, finishing with 10 tackles.
Despite Bush’s efforts, Jameis Winston orchestrated a 12-play, 81-yard drive that culminated in a touchdown on the Buccaneer’s opening drive. Winston and the first-team offense moved down the field at will on the Steelers’ second-string defense. Rookie cornerback Justin Layne was picked on quite heavily, allowing a third down conversion and missing a tackle that led to the Buccaneer’s opening touchdown.
Winston’s opening drive would not keep the Steelers down for long as James Washington broke down the Buccaneers’ defense throughout the first half. The second-year receiver made a handful of big plays in the first half, catching a 44-yard deep ball, a 22-yard third down conversion and finally an 8-yard back shoulder grab in the endzone to give the Steelers a 13-10 lead at halftime. Washington would finish with four catches for 84 yards and one touchdown.
Washington caught passes from both Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph but it was Rudolph who connected with Washington for the touchdown pass. While Dobbs got the start, Rudolph played excellent in relief.
Rudolph looked like a completely different quarterback than the one the Steelers saw last preseason as he showed incredible poise in the pocket. The second-year quarterback looked every bit like an NFL-starting quarterback, going through his reads and buying time when necessary. His second touchdown pass of the night, a three-yard pass to Zach Gentry showed this exactly as Rudolph bought time before finding the 6’8 tight end in the back of the end zone to give the Steelers a 20-10 lead.
Rudolph would finish the night 5/8 with two touchdowns and zero interceptions while Dobbs would also finish 5/8 for 85 yards. Devlin Hodges would be the third quarterback in command, throwing a touchdown pass of his own to Tevin Jones early in the fourth quarter, giving the Steelers a 27-16 lead.
As the offense turned it up a notch, the defense chomped down on the Buccaneers’ offense until the fourth quarter as they allowed three touchdowns after Winston’s removal, with two coming late in the fourth quarter. The game came down to the wire as a failed two-point conversion at the end of the fourth quarter was the only thing keeping the Steelers from overtime.
Familiar names like Tyler Matakevich chipped in, recording a strip sack while Ulysees Gilbert III also added 1.5 sacks while intercepting a two-point attempt. Unfamiliar names such as Tuzar Skipper also recorded a sack and provided constant pressure. Skipper may have entered tonight’s game as an unrecognizable name but it does not seem like it will remain that way for long.
Special teams closed out the show as Chris Boswell and Matthew Wright nailed all three of their combined field goal attempts.
The Steelers will resume their preseason activity next Saturday as they welcome the Kansas City Chiefs to Heinz Field. Kickoff is set for 7:30 PM EST.