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Veteran quarterback Mitch Trubisky came off the bench in relief of injured Kenny Pickett to help the Steelers upset the Bucs 20-18 Sunday at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh.
Trubisky threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Chase Claypool in the fourth quarter and picked up three huge first downs — two on passes to Claypool and another on a run — on the final drive as the Steelers (2-4) held on to snap a four-game losing streak.
The Bucs (3-3), who managed to get into the end zone just once, lost for the third time in four weeks.
Tom Brady’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Fournette with 4:38 remaining brought Tampa Bay back to within two points, but Devin Bush batted down Brady’s potential tying two-point conversion pass.
Ryan Succop kicked field goals of 30, 27, 54 and 24 yards for the Bucs.
Pickett threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Najee Harris on the Steelers’ opening possession for his first career touchdown but left in the third quarter after being hit by inside linebacker Devin White.
Chris Boswell added field goals of 55 and 25 yards for the Steelers.
Bucs tight end Cameron Brate was placed on a backboard and removed on a cart after being hit by linebacker Myles Jack following a third-quarter reception. Brate, who sustained a concussion just weeks ago, had feeling in his extremities and was undergoing further evaluation, according to the team.
Brady finished with 25 completions on 40 attempts for 243 yards and the one touchdown. Wide receiver Chris Godwin caught six passes for 95 yards. Fournette had 101 total yards.
Here’s how it happened:
If there has been a soft spot in the Steelers defense, it has been deep over the middle of the field.
Tom Brady exploited it again on a mid-fourth-quarter drive, connecting with Chris Godwin for 11 yards and rookie tight end Cade Otton for 17 to advance to ball to the Pittsburgh 38.
After a 9-yard pass to Leonard Fournette to the 29, Rachaad White and Brady were stopped for no gain, bringing up fourth-and-1. Fournette picked up 7 yards and a first down around right end.
After a false start penalty against Otton pushed them back 5 yards, Brady found Fournette for 4 yards and threw incomplete, making it third-and-11 from the 23. Brady’s pass to Godwin gained 10 yards, setting up another fourth-and-short.
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One play after Brady found White for the first down, Fournette took a pass from Brady 11 yards into the end zone to close the gap to 20-18.
But Devin Bush batted down Brady’s two-point conversion pass, keeping it a two-point game.
The Steelers’ longest pass play of the season helped them extend their lead to eight points early in the fourth quarter.
With Bucs scrambling to get defensive lineman Vita Vea off the field, Connor Heyward found himself wide open and Mitch Trubisky found the rookie tight end for a 45-yard catch-and-run to the Bucs 11.
Two plays later, Trubisky, who lost his starting job to Kenny Pickett just a couple of weeks ago, threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Chase Claypool to extend the Steelers’ lead to 20-12 with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Bucs tight end Cameron Brate was placed on a backboard and removed on a cart after a 6-yard reception late in the third quarter.
Brate, who was hit hard by linebacker Myles Jack, had movement in his extremities and gave a thumbs-up to the crowd as he left the field.
He has been ruled out for the remainder of the game and will undergo further evaluation, according to the team.
Brate sustained a concussion during a Week 4 game against the Chiefs earlier this month when he collided with teammate Chris Godwin after catching a pass.
Brate was inactive for last weekend’s game against the Falcons.
Bad news, worse news
A mid-third-quarter play couldn’t have worked out any worse for the Steelers.
It resulted in a net of minus-37 yards after a 10-yard holding penalty against Kevin Dotson nullified a 27-yard completion from Kenny Pickett to Diontae Johnson.
Worse, Bucs inside linebacker Devin White blew up Pickett as he released the ball, forcing the quarterback from the game.
Pickett was replaced by Mitchell Trubisky and went to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion. He has been ruled out for the remainder of the game.
The Steelers picked up a first down on a 16-yard completion from Trubisky to Chase Claypool on the drive before they were forced to punt.
Making a connection
Tom Brady and Chris Godwin had some trouble connecting in the first half, but they were dynamite on a early third-quarter drive, hooking up twice for 37 yards.
A 9-yard completion over the middle set up third-and-1 from the Bucs 34. Leonard Fournette gained 5 yards over right guard to pick up the first down.
Three plays later, Brady connected with Godwin deep over the middle for a 28-yard gain to the Steelers 30.
A 2-yard run by Fournette on third-and-2 gave Tampa Bay another first down at the 13.
After a false start penalty on Brandon Walton pushed the Bucs back 5 yards, a 9-yard pass from Brady to Russell Gage moved the ball to the 9.
James Pierre gave the yards right back when he was called for defensive holding, and Tristan Wirfs returned the favor when he was flagged for being ineligible downfield.
After Terrell Edmunds dropped Fournette for a 2-yard loss and Brady missed Gage in the end zone, the Bucs faced third-and-goal from the 11. Brady’s pass for Gage went through the receiver’s hands in the middle of the end zone for an incompletion.
For the fourth time in the game, the Bucs turned to Ryan Succop for their points, and the kicker’s 24-yard field goal trimmed their deficit to 13-12 with seven-plus minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Taking them back
The Steelers got the three points back in the opening minutes of the second half.
Steven Sims gave Pittsburgh outstanding field position, returning the opening kickoff 89 yards to the Bucs 12.
After a 6-yard completion from Kenny Pickett to Diontae Johnson, Pickett threw incomplete, bringing up third-and-4 from the 6.
Pickett overthrew George Pickens in the right corner of the end zone, and Pittsburgh had to settle for a Chris Boswell 25-yard field goal and 13-9 lead.
Every second matters
Poor clock management by the Steelers on their final two possessions of the first half gave the Bucs a chance to cut into Pittsburgh’s lead.
The Steelers managed to run just 40 and 23 seconds off the clock and gave the Bucs the ball at the Tampa Bay 49-yard line with 32 seconds remaining.
After a 15-yard pass from Tom Brady to Chris Godwin over the middle moved the ball to the Steelers 36, Ryan Succop’s 54-yard field goal as time expired moved the Bucs within a point, as they went to the locker room down just 10-9.
The Steelers were moving the ball downfield midway through the second quarter when a penalty halted their progress and seemed to alter their thinking.
A 14-yard Najee Harris run moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 39. A 6-yard Kenny Pickett pass to Chase Claypool on third-and-4 gave the Steelers a first down at midfield.
Facing third-and-6 from the Bucs 45, Pickett hit Diontae Johnson for 9 yards along the left sideline to give the Steelers a first down at the 36.
But a holding penalty on Kevin Dotson on the next play pushed Pittsburgh back 10 yards, making it first-and-20.
The Steelers went conservative as a result, seemingly satisfied to play for a field goal.
They got it — barely — when Chris Boswell’s 55-yard attempt hit the crossbar, then went up and over to extend Pittsburgh’s lead to 10-6 with just over four minutes to play in the half.
Flipping the field
The Bucs got great field possession to start a late first-quarter drive and took advantage of it to pick up three more points.
Antoine Winfield Jr. sacked Kenny Pickett for a 12-yard loss to the Steelers 4, forcing Pittsburgh to punt from its own end zone. Jaelon Darden’s 2-yard return gave Tampa Bay the ball at its 46-yard line.
The Bucs sputtered to start the drive, as Tom Brady threw incomplete for Chris Godwin and Luke Goedeke was penalized for a false start.
But Brady hit Godwin with a seam pass deep over the middle for 22 yards and a first down at the Steelers 37. Runs of 8 yards by Rachaad White and 4 by Leonard Fournette picked up another first down.
Brady took over from there, hitting Mike Evans for 10 yards and Russell Gage for 11 over the middle to move the ball to the 3.
But two Fournette runs netted a loss of a yard, and Brady was sacked by Cameron Heyward on third-and-goal from the 4.
Ryan Succop’s second field goal of the game trimmed the Bucs’ deficit to 7-6 with just over 11 minutes left in the second quarter.
The Bucs responded to the Steelers’ opening touchdown with a scoring drive of their own.
A 14-yard Leonard Fournette run off left tackle and 20-yard Tom Brady completion to Mike Evans quickly moved the ball to the Steelers 39.
Facing third-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 31, Brady completed a 3-yard pass to running back Rachaad White to pick up the first down.
But the Bucs couldn’t convert their next third down, as Brady threw incomplete for Chris Godwin on third-and-10 from the 17.
Tampa Bay had to settle for Ryan Succop’s 30-yard field goal and a 7-3 deficit with 2:50 remaining in the first quarter.
Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett quickly moved the Steelers downfield on their opening possession, capping the 11-play drive with his first career touchdown pass.
Passes of 5 yards to Diontae johnson and 14 to Chase Claypool picked up first downs, moving the ball to the Bucs 39-yard line.
Antoine Winfield Jr. dropped Najee Harris in the backfield for a 4-yard loss, leading to a third-and-long situation for Pittsburgh. Pickett threw incomplete, but Devin White was penalized for roughing the passer after an unnecessary shove after the pass was thrown, giving the Steelers a first down at the Bucs 21.
After Pickett scrambled 10 yards to the 11, setting up fourth-and-1, rookie running back Jaylen Warren went up the middle to pick up the first down.
Two plays later, Pickett dumped a pass into the left flat for Harris, who went untouched into the end zone to complete a 6-yard scoring play.
Pickett went 5-for-5 for 37 yards and the touchdown on the drive.
The Bucs offense went three-and-out on its first possession of the game.
After Leonard Fournette was stopped following a 1-yard run around right end, Chris Godwin dropped a pass from Tom Brady on a slant pattern.
Brady threw downfield for Godwin on third-and-9 from the Tampa Bay 26, but his pass was incomplete, forcing a punt.
Things can’t be that bad in Pittsburgh. Can they?
Yes, the Steelers, at 1-4, are tied for the worst record in the NFL. But they started the season the same way just three years ago before rebounding to win seven of their next eight games.
And they did it with Mason Rudolph and “Duck” Hodges at quarterback.
At least this year, they can turn to first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett (taken 20th overall), who supplanted the struggling Mitchell Trubisky in the second half of a loss to the Jets in Week 4.
(Never mind that 38-3 loss to the Bills in Pickett’s first NFL start, Pittsburgh’s most lopsided defeat in 33 seasons.)
And the last time the Steelers had a four-game losing streak, 2016, they reeled off seven straight wins to close out the season.
So, nothing to see here, right?
The defenses on those squads stepped up in each case and carried the team.
This year’s Steelers defense, minus outside linebacker and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt (torn pectoral tendon) and with a banged-up secondary, has been awful: tied for second-worst in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (287.6), third-worst in total yards allowed per game (416.8), tied for sixth-worst in points allowed per game (25.6).
And the last thing they want to see right now is Tom Brady throwing to a (mostly) full complement of receivers, including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage; not to mention tight ends Cameron Brate and Cade Otton; and running backs Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White.
Meanwhile, the Bucs, who wrested sole possession of first place in the NFC South from the Falcons last weekend, look to put some dust between them and their pursuers as they enter a stretch of games against teams with a combined record of 9-16.
Granted, the offense hasn’t looked like itself, averaging just 20.6 points per game after putting up 33.4 at this same stage a year ago. But having most of their offensive starters back (receiver Julio Jones and tight end Kyle Rudolph are inactive) should help.
So should facing a Pittsburgh secondary that will be missing four of its top five defensive backs: safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee) and cornerbacks Cam Sutton (hamstring), Levi Wallace (concussion) and Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring).
Don’t be surprised when the Steelers are looking at their first five-game losing streak since 2009 by the end of the afternoon.
Yes, things are that bad in Pittsburgh.
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