The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-18 at Acrisure Stadium in a game that embodies the concept of “Upset.”
Mike Tomlin’s Steelers hadn’t simply dropped four straight games since their opening day win over the Bengals: They got progressively worse with each loss. They arrived at the stadium today absent their number 1 tight end, their All Pro safety and their top three cornerbacks.
- Worse yet, Tom Brady, the GOAT was their opponent.
Did anyone give the Steelers a chance? I know I didn’t. Craig Wolfley, the optimists’ optimist was none too positive in his pregame comments. Mike Tomlin, however, did give Pittsburgh a chance, and he made sure his players gave themselves a chance, and that attitude carried the Steelers from the very first play to the very last.
Steelers Upsets in Context
Special upsets occur not when a team wins a game that they “shouldn’t” win, but rather when they prevail when the consensus is that they “couldn’t” win.
I experienced my first special Steelers upset listening to Myron Cope on WTAE while on the Pennsylvania Turnpike as Chuck Noll’s 1989 Steelers, after losing their first two games 51-0 and 41-10, shocked the Minnesota Vikings, then a Super Bowl favorite, 27-14 at Three Rivers Stadium.
Eleven years later I stood in Baltimore’s Purple Goose Saloon, as Bill Cowher’s 0-3 Steelers went down to Jacksonville, having had their starting quarterback injured late in practice on Friday, and pasted the then Super Bowl favorite Jaguars 24-13. The upset over the Jaguars set the tone for an entire decade.
Chuck Noll’s ’89 Steelers defied the odds because, after watching his team lose 92-10 in their first two outings, he boldly stood in the locker room and declared “I believe in this team,” and then outlined how they were going to address their short comings by “getting back to basics.”
- How did Mike Tomlin’s ’22 Steelers pull off their upset today?
Time will tell if he delved into his coaching craft to find something unique or if new leaders emerged, but today we can make one definitive observation: The Steelers beat Tampa Bay because they dominated in the Red Zone.
Steelers Dominate the Red Zone
Often times, in today’s Fantasy Football fueled football discussion exaggerates the importance of the Red Zone. But make no mistake about it, there is one undeniable truth about the Red Zone and that is this:
- Play well in the Red Zone and you give yourself a chance to win.
- Fail in the Red Zone, and you’ll likely loose.
Much will be made about Kenny Pickett’s difficulty in scoring points, but his scramble in the Red Zone set up a 4th and 1, and Jaylen Warren’s 1 yard run on 4th is what set up Pickett’s pass to Najee Harris – the Steelers first opening drive touchdown since last year’s tie vs Detroit.
- That set the tone for what was to follow, on both sides of the ball.
Myles Jack and Tre Norwood broke up passes in the Red Zone on the next play, forcing field goals. Larry Ogunjobi and Terrell Edmunds made tackles for losses and Cam Heyward got a sack forcing field goals the next time Tampa Bay reached the Red Zone. On the Buccaneers next trip to the Red Zone, Tom Brady & company had five shots inside the Steelers ten. All of those came up short, despite a Steelers holding penalty. Again, Tampa settled for 3.
Tom Brady of course rallied the Buccaneers, as you’d expect him to do with nearly 10 minutes left to play. But while Tampa scored a touchdown, they missed the 2 point conversion thanks to Devin Bush deflecting the pass.
Defense Delivers, Special Teams Special
Those Red Zone performances were made relevant by the outstanding work done by the defense and special teams with a significant contribution by a workman-like offense.
One should not lose sight of this simple fact: The Steelers were starting practice squad cornerbacks against Tom Brady. And they won. They won in part by forcing 5 punts, as Tampa Bay went 4-14 on third downs.
Myles Jack, Robert Spillane, Alex Highsmith and Malik Reed all batted away passes. Highsmith registered a strip sack that help scuttle a drive. Chris Wormley made a critical tackle for a loss that closed the 3rd quarter by forcing a punt.
Steven Sims saw his first regular season action and responded by ripping off a 24 yard punt return and opening the 2nd half with an 89 yard kickoff return. And if the Steelers inability to turn that long return into a touchdown is frustrating, Chris Boswell delivered when called upon, tacking on 3 points in a game that was ultimately decided by two.
Mitch, Chase Connect to Close the Game
If you’d told me that the Steelers could hold a 2 point lead with 4:38 left in the 4th quarter, I’d have told you it was possible, but improbable. If you told me the Steelers held that lead despite Kenny Pickett leaving with a concussion I’d have rolled my eyes.
But if you’d told me that the Steelers would lose 13 yards on a bad snap after on their second play from scrimmage while defending that lead but still would win, I’d have said you were bat shit crazy.
Yet that is what happened, thanks to exceptional plays by Mitch Tribuisky and Chase Claypool, who teamed up on 3rd and 15 and 3rd and 11 to kill the clock.
Road from Here
After the game, Mike Tomlin, while praising his players was quick to remind everyone, “…where we are is more than one good day, one good plan, one good winning performance in terms of working our way back to respectability.”
Tomlin strikes exactly the right tone. After all, this still is a team that 2-4 so the Steelers locker room would do well to embrace Tomlin’s words.
But man, it does feel good beat Tom Brady.