The Pittsburgh Steelers took a major step towards relevancy in the National Football League with a squeaky win by the score of 20-18 over the Tom Brady lead Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tom has been a little less than perfect these days with his life of the rich and famous taking a few dents in the gossip columns. Yet, he still had the ability to all but snuff out the Steelers seasonal expectations last Sunday and his failure to do so kept the hopes of Pittsburgh still kicking with a record of 2-4.
This surprising result came at the hands of a back-up quarterback named Mitch Trubisky, who not too long ago was the starting quarterback for the Steelers. The “Ditch Mitch” campaign in Pittsburgh has been discontinued until further notice.
The Steelers, however, remain in concussion protocol following the pounding they took just two weeks ago against the Buffalo Bills. This win against Tampa Bay may end up being just another eye-mesmerizing oasis on the desert of a disappointing season for Steelers Nation.
But…maybe…just maybe Coach Mike Tomlin and his team of media and fan bashed assistants might just have turned a corner on the season.
To do so they’ll need to continue their journey of fishing for respect, this time against the new-look, superfast Miami Dolphins who will be benefitting from the return to the field of their quarterback Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa.
There is something fishy about all of this. So, let’s give it a Spin.
Just Like Magic
There is something to be said about having the weight of the world, or at least the weight of Pittsburgh, taken off your shoulders. The odds were weighed heavily against Mitch Trubisky at the start of the season.
Actually, the weight got heavy the moment the Steelers announced they were taking University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett with their first-round pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Mitch’s friends and family must have said, “You seeing what I’m seeing?”
It was a predictable disaster of a start to his new job as a Pittsburgh Steeler as it didn’t take long at all for Steelers fans to say, “I’m bored, where’s the new guy?”
Mitch seemed to get a fair share of redemption following Pickett’s departure in the Tampa Bay game due to a concussion. In a flash, Trubisky was warming up and trotting out to the field.
The results of his debut as the backup quarterback were impressive. He finished 9 for 12 with 144 yards with a touchdown pass. But it was much better than that. Trubisky continually fought through long yardage third downs with pinpoint and clutch passing.
Who would have blamed Trubisky if at the end of the game he would have pulled out his Harry Potter wand, turned to the crowd and said, “Alright you Muggles. Whomever of you ever chanted ‘Kenny…Kenny…Kenny’ against me this season can now turn to swine.”
There would have been at least 57,348 pig snouts appearing suddenly on the faces of Steelers faithful. And several million throughout the world.
On The Cusp
One of the most encouraging aspects of the Steelers victory against who many do consider to be the G.O.A.T. of quarterbacks was that it came with the use of a very secondary…secondary.
Watching the game from the sidelines was All-Pro Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and starters Cam Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace.
James Pierre and Josh Jackson were suddenly assigned the roles of NFL cornerbacks and Arthur Maulet was shoved into the slot. Tre Norwood was forced to step into the massive shoes of Fitzpatrick.
When the smoke cleared at the end of the game, what was left was one of the best defensive performances of the year by the junior varsity squad.
With Fitzpatrick, Sutton and Wallace expected to return this Sunday and with Witherspoon progressing nicely, the Steelers are beginning to show their defensive roster has depth in potential and character.
Devin Bush appears to slowly be rediscovering Devin Bush and the youth movement in the defensive line could serve the team well for years.
Alex Highsmith is putting together a whispery quiet Defensive Player of the Year campaign and oh yes…last year’s DPOY T.J. Watt is about to ride back in on his saddle.
This has not been the defense we were hoping for this year…but it soon may be.
This is a defensive unit on the cusp of being special.
If the storyline of the gradual ascension of the defense to greatness is going to be more than the whimsical fiction of a hackneyed sports columnist than it will require Myles Jack to continue to be the answer to strengthening the heart of the defense.
Jack has consistently been one of the unit’s best contributors and has assimilated into the team culture team as if he’s been here all of his career.
He hasn’t by the way. He was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
He just turned 27 in September which means he still has his best playing years ahead of him, all of which may be played out in Pittsburgh.
This reminds of one of franchise’s favorite players in James Farrior. Farrior was a key cog in the great Steelers defense of their most recent Super Bowl era having played in equal measure alongside Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, and Casey Hampton.
Farrior as well was a hired hand, having played his first five seasons as a New York Jet as their first-round pick, the eighth overall in 1997 draft. He floundered in his early years there as they tried to convert him into an edge rusher.
When the Steelers picked up Farrior through Free Agency when he was similar in age to Jack is now, they moved him to inside linebacker, and he rapidly blossomed to one of the league’s finest players.
There is no question that Pittsburgh provides storied and fertile fields for National Football League linebackers. Jack, like Farrior, certainly has an opportunity to catapult his league status at this point in his career.
Since he’s only on a two-year contract with the Steelers, that longer term commitment on the sides of both parties will need to be discussed, probably at the end of this season.
Having experienced four losses in their first six games, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in an unenvious position after faltering poorly out of the gate. Not only is their record firmly among the dregs of the league, some of their performances on the field have been as embarrassing and uninspired as has been witnessed by the franchise in decades.
What the Steelers have playing in their favor are two important things. One is they are playing in one of the least competitive divisions in the NFL as there is no team among them that can boast a winning record with the top two at 3-3. Even with a 2-4 record, Pittsburgh finds itself only one game in arrears.
Secondly, Pittsburgh has managed already to pull off two significant wins. The first was against the Cincinnati Bengals, last year’s Super Bowl runner ups. The importance of that victory can’t be over-hyped as it gave them a critical foothold in division relevancy.
The second potentially season-shifting win was this recent one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sure, Tom Brady was probably distracted and hung over from his attendance at Robert Kraft’s big shindig of a wedding. But this didn’t change that the Buccaneers still are a highly formidable opponent, and they remain a favorite to represent the NFC in this year’s Super Bowl.
No one is better at digging a team out of a deep hole than Coach Mike Tomlin. He’s defied the naysayers for many years when his teams have been counted out. He is the Master of the Golden Shovel.
Yet are the naysayers right in saying that at best this will be a “here we go again” moment in Tomlin’s career? Sure, he’ll be able to wedge his way out of a sand trap and get the team into a Wildcard playoff spot. But, once there the team will get blown out in the first round as it has so many times in the past ten years.
To all of the naysayers, including the one patching together this commentary: Who cares? Enjoy the season.
With a brand new, barely out of the packaging NFL caliber rookie quarterback in Kenny Pickett and a host of young players around him, this is a different season than has been experienced in Pittsburgh for quite some time.
Whether the plot of the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers is unveiled to be one of the great turnaround stories in league history, or rather just the more commonplace variety of a young team finding its way, it’s all rather exciting and enjoyable to watch unfold.
This is not your father’s Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s not even your grandfather’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Discovering exactly who they will grow up to be is the real adventure of this year.
It continues with an important fishing trip in Miami this weekend. Will Pittsburgh be able to successfully fish for more respect? Or will they be back to being the bait for NFL league jokes?
One thing is always certain in Miami. The water will be warm, and the party will go late into Sunday night.