It took 3 weeks, but the Steelers 30-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave the Black and Gold its first win of the 2018 season, proving once again that on the field and off the field, Pittsburgh certainly does not lack for drama.
The win was a barn burner, something which Steelers Nation got accustomed to during the latter half of 2017. Moreover, it was a Steelers win that revealed both the limits and perhaps the promise Pittsburgh of the 2018 season.
The Stiff Arm Heard Round the World
Week three marks an important milestone in the NFL calendar. Teams that exceeded expectations in the first two weeks either get a reality check or show that they’re really ready for prime time. Teams that have fallen short of expectations in the first two weeks either dig themselves deeper into a statistical hole or they offer hope that the can be better.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had exceeded expectations during the season’s first two weeks, while the Pittsburgh Steelers had fallen short.
- That’s what made Vance McDonald’s stiff arm of Chris Conte so important to the game, and perhaps the season.
After Pittsburgh and Tampa traded punts, Ben Roethlisberger forced the ball to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Justin Evans made him pay, picking him off at midfield. Ryan Fitzpatrick needed only 5 plays to march 53 yards for a touchdown. For Steelers Nation, it was déjà vu all over again.
Fortunately, the Steelers starting tight end didn’t share the feeling:
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) September 25, 2018
With Vance McDonald’s stiff arm and incredible burst of speed, the Steelers declared “We didn’t come here to play. We came to win.”
Steelers Show Promise in First Half vs Buccaneers
Vance McDonald’s touchdown ushered a different Steelers team onto the field at Raymond James Stadium, one very similar to the team that people inside and outside of Pittsburgh thought could contend for a championship.
- Anthony Chickillo ended the next Buccaneers drive with a sack
- Artie Burns came off the bench to force a fumble
- 2 plays later, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown schooled Tampa for a touchdown
- The Buccaneers marched Pittsburgh’s 12 only to have Jon Bostic tip a pass that Mike Hilton intercept
- Terrell Edmunds returned an easy interception with Troy Polamalu-like speed
- After a -7 yard drive Jordan Berry pinned Tampa down at at their 2
- 2 plays later Bud Dupree took his first interception to the house
The Steelers did give up a field goal on the ensuring drive, but with just a 1:09 remaining, Ben Roethlisberger moved the Steelers 75 yards down the field with Swiss-like precision, hitting Ryan Switzer for a touchdown with 0:06 left to spare.
This was the type of Pittsburgh Steelers team everyone expected: An explosive offense matched with a defense capable of making splash plays to compensate for leaks that it can’t really doesn’t have the talent to plug.
Second Half Reveals Steelers Limits and Potential Ceiling
Twenty point leads lend a lot of confidence to teams heading into the locker room. But any wise fan knew not to take anything for granted. This was after all the Steelers team that had the Cleveland Browns on the ropes with a two touchdown lead in the 4th quarter but managed to tie the game.
- It would be easy to offer the Steelers second half effort as proof that the Steelers defense is hopeless.
And you’d no doubt, find plenty of takers in the “Fire Everyone” crowd who don’t understand why Art Rooney II didn’t summarily fire Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, Kevin Colbert and the water boy after the Kansas City debacle.
- The truth is that the Steelers defense in general and its secondary specifically secondary left a lot to be desired for much of the 2nd half.
On the upside, tackling was a bit better, but members of the secondary got plenty of tackling practice as Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with receiver after receiver. For all the “Fitzmagic” talk, Ryan Fitzpatrick never should have been allowed to make it so close. But he did, and underlining the fact that the Steelers have some legitimate deficiencies on defense.
- The Steelers offense also shoulders some of the responsibility.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown still are not on the same page: Ben grossly overthrew Brown on a deep pattern that could have been an easy touchdown, and the two were badly out of sync on another that could have killed the clock.
But those two flaws, while real, should not overshadow two positives from the game’s final five minutes.
- James Conner ripped off 27 and then 17 yard gains, when EVERYONE knew he was going get the ball
- The Steelers defense pitched a perfect shut out on the Buccaneer’s final drive
In fewer words, both Steelers units found ways to win. Finding the ability to make key plays at critical moments in the NFL is a distinct skill. In the closing moments against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the Steelers showed they still have that skill.
Which is good, because they will likely need to call on it throughout the 2018 season.