Widely given up for dead, the Steelers demonstrate they’ve only begun to fight.
During the 1960s, nobody expected the Black-and-gold to win and Steelers fans lived week to week harboring the hope of an upset. In those days, thrills were few and far between as fans celebrated victories only on the rare occasion when the home team decided it had its fill of being the NFL’s punching bag.
But in 2022, the dominant teams that formerly victimized bottom feeders like the ‘60s Steelers have become scarce. These days, upsets have become so prevalent that it’s quite difficult to decide which teams to favor from week to week. For example, just during the past two weeks, the New York Jets trounced the Green Bay Packers 27-10, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the L.A. Rams 22-10 and the seemingly undermanned and overmatched Pittsburgh Steelers rose from the dead to take down Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh’s skeleton defensive unit and previously suspect offense waged a dogged effort throughout 60 minutes of play to pull themselves back from the abyss. They snatched a very significant victory from an opposing quarterback who, for the past 20 years, has been their chief nemesis. By the time Mitch Trubisky gathered his offense into the victory formation during the game’s final minute, a Steelers’ home crowd that trekked to the stadium on Sunday morning fearing the worst was jumping for joy.
In the wake of Pittsburgh’s debacle last week in Buffalo and their mostly unfortunate history facing Tom Brady, this was a game that almost nobody seriously believed the Steelers could win. But beyond grabbing a crucial victory, this patchwork bunch of Steelers actually made the Bucs look like the pretenders.
To a man and regardless of their NFL experience (or lack thereof), the Steelers defense left every single ounce of effort they could muster right out there on the gridiron. Cam Heyward, Alex Highsmith, Larry Ogunjobi, Devin Bush, Miles Jack, Malik Reed, Terrell Edmunds and Arthur Maulet each contributed yeoman efforts to frustrate Brady and keep the Bucs off of the scoreboard at critical points in the game. A revamped Steelers secondary, including some players Steelers Nation scarcely had heard of, successfully held down the fort — largely thwarting Brady’s trademark passing attack.
Offensively, the Steelers’ receivers performed with uncanny perfection, while the recently maligned Trubisky came in cold from the bench in the third quarter to deliver clutch plays that sealed the win. Overall, it was a gutsy team effort that not even Pittsburgh’s most persistent detractors could reasonably criticize.
Essentially, this was what fans have come to know and love over the years as Steelers Football — the remarkable ability, when the chips are down and the team is backed up against a wall, to reach down deep and somehow grasp victory. We’ve seen this trait in all six of the Steelers’ world championship teams, but to see it resurface precisely at a point in the season when Pittsburgh’s prospects had sunken lowest was especially thrilling.
In their postgame comments, both Cam Heyward and Mitch Trubisky struck appropriate notes of caution despite clearly being elated in the wake of this hard-fought win. While praising his teammates, Heyward admitted this win is only one step towards the team’s ultimate goal. And whatever we might think about Trubisky’s prospects for reclaiming his previous status as starting QB, it was clear from his on-field comments after the game that Mitch’s value as a player extends beyond his quarterbacking talents to the positive attitude he carries regardless of how his role on the team might develop this season. As proud as Steelers Nation is with the upset win, fans can take equal pride in players like Heyward and Trubisky who exude a team-first attitude.
With the Steelers currently sitting at 2-4 in an AFC North Division where no team presently holds a winning record, the importance of each and every win moving forward is amplified. And given the expectation that key players will be returning from injury in the weeks ahead, the Steelers’ ability to be competitive this season — a suggestion which seemed like a pipe dream only a week ago — shouldn’t be discounted.
On Sunday in Pittsburgh, we witnessed what hopefully marks the beginning of the road back for the Steelers. We saw players who never imagined they would ever see the field making important contributions in the win over Tampa Bay. We saw a Steelers coaching staff that clearly had their makeshift squad well prepared for the challenge at hand. But perhaps most importantly, we saw a revival of the gritty brand of football which has been a hallmark of the Black-and-gold for the past 50 years.
When players normally buried deep within the depth chart collectively step up to meet this kind of challenge, it can spur some very positive side effects. In some cases, coaches learn that players previously considered strictly as backups have the capability to grow into starting roles. And when a team is forced by injuries to dig down to the bottom of the barrel, they occasionally find a couple of diamonds in the rough.
Moving forward, this experience can only help a Steelers team which has been criticized for a lack of depth. While this promising vision might still prove to be only a mirage, we seem to have witnessed some important pieces of the Steelers’ future coming together in the victory over the Bucs. Particularly in view of the inspirational efforts of players such as Ogunjobi, Jack and Maulet on defense, we saw real potential for these players to create synergy with seasoned veterans including Heyward, Watt, Highsmith and Edmunds.
Offensively, growing familiarity between the Steelers quarterbacks and receivers appears to be starting to pay dividends. Meanwhile, the offensive line continues its gradual improvement, at least in terms of better pass protection which, at a crucial stage of Sunday’s game, afforded Trubisky adequate time to deliver his game-saving passes
The huge win offered Steelers Nation a welcome glimpse of a future which might materialize for this team, provided that some key pieces fall into place as the season unfolds. The victory also tends to support the belief that Pittsburgh isn’t really quite so far away from fielding a competitive team — a notion that will be firmly tested in the weeks ahead.
This content was originally published here.