Resilience is that thing that’s found when you reach deep down in your bag after nothing else seems to work. It’s that thing that keeps you fighting to the end when nobody else thinks that you can win the fight except you, and those close to you. No one thought that the Steelers would beat Tom Brady and the Buccaneers at Acrisure Stadium Sunday, except the Steelers organization.
Not too many that cover the Steelers believed they could get what many said was a must-win game against Tampa Bay. Not too many Steelers fans, especially those who reside in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, thought Mike Tomlin and his Steelers would win. That’s what is so special about resilience, it’s an internal quality. Outside thoughts, opinions and noise need not apply because they don’t matter!
On Sunday, October, 16, 2022 — Mike Tomlin and his Steelers were in “us against the world mode,” vs. the heavily favored (-9.5 road favorite) Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Pennsylvania haters (both press and so-called Steelers fans that reside there) and the NFL media that’s tired of the Steelers organization winning for so long, didn’t think they stood a chance, yet they delivered a huge win. As Kanye West famously lamented, “How Sway?” The team showed resilience in many facets of yesterday’s game.
Resilience from available defensive starters
Before Sunday’s kickoff, it was announced that defensive starters Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cam Sutton, Levi Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon would not be available to play. Most naysayers thought this meant Brady would pick the defense apart. Instead, the all-hands-on-deck unit stood and delivered.
Together, this defense showed resilience by playing staunch pass defense, repeatedly flustering Brady and bending but never breaking while holding the Buccaneers to three field goals before surrendering a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. They believed they could make pays when no one else thought they could, and they played to win.
Kenny Pickett started the show by leading the offensive on an opening drive touchdown, the first of this season. Pickett did a great job of taking what the defense gave him and using his mobility to keep the chains moving throughout the day. This continued up until he was knocked out the game with a concussion by Devin White in the third quarter of the game.
Next man up, the standard is the standard.
Enter one Mitch Trubisky. Yes, the one who was benched at halftime of the Steelers loss to the New York Jets. To his credit Mitch was the ultimate professional. He moved the ball, learned from his prior mistakes and he took more chances throwing the ball. He was no longer the super-conservative version of himself who started the 2022 season as Pittsburgh’s QB1. He threw to the middle of the field, he threw sideline darts on the run, he scrambled for big gains as well.
He truly showed an ultimate level of resilience after a bad snap from Mason Cole went low and outside Trubisky outfought a Tampa Bay defender to recover the fumble. This brought up a 3rd and 16. Trubisky calmly found Chase Claypool in the middle of the field and the much maligned receiver made the catch and picked up about 24-yards and a key first down.
A few plays later Trubisky was faced with a daunting 3rd-and-11 play. Trubisky scrambled from pressure, rolled out to his left and threw a sideline dime to Claypool who made a huge route adjustment and catch for a big first down. These two plays, made by these two players at two critical junctures late in the fourth quarter was resilience personified. They allowed the Steelers to possess the ball the final 4:30 of the game and play keep-away from Tom Brady. Big props to Trubisky (9/12 for 144 yards, 1 TD) and Claypool (7 receptions for 96 yards, 1 TD).
Special Teams resilience
This started with coaching. Former starter return man Gunner Olszewski was benched for ineffectiveness last week before the Bills game. This opened the window of opportunity for punt returner Steven Sims. First, Sims returned the second-half kickoff 89 scintillating yards just outside the Tampa Bay 10-yard line. The team really needed a spark after surrendering a last second field goal to Tampa Bay just before the end of the first half. The Steelers settled for a field goal and a 13-9 lead. It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
Sims later had a big 23-yard punt return that aided the Steelers. In addition, Kicker Chris Boswell made field goals of 55 and 25 yards.
I thought Matt Canada had a nice series of plays during the Steelers’ opening drive that allowed Pickett to get into a good flow and produce a touchdown on the opening drive. People must understand that with a QB that was a backup most of last year (Trubisky) and rookie Pickett, ball protection is paramount. As a result the play-calling trends more conservative than in the preceding, gun-slinging a Big Ben era.
Canada added wrinkles like receiver end-arounds by not just Claypool but also Sims and Diontae Johnson.
Hats off to special teams coach Danny Smith for making the change to put kick returner Sims in position to make contribution and the continued consistency of Boswell.
Big props go to Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin who took the reserve talent that he had available with five major defensive players out, four in the secondary, and put them in position to make play and stops. A major transition is occurring on the defensive side of the ball due to attrition, and there is no doubt that Austin is making the tweaks necessary for the defense to perform at optimal levels.
When the vultures begin to circle, when the sky is falling, when his back is against the wall, when the chips are on the table...that’s when Coach Tomlin repeatedly shows his mettle. We saw this when the Steelers started the 2019 season without Ben Roethlisberger and got off to a 1-4 start. Most fans wanted the Steelers to tank for a high round draft pick. These same fans would crucify him for having a bad season and celebrate the fact that he wouldn’t break Marty Shottenheimer’s record of beginning an NFL coaching career with 14 consecutive seasons without a losing season. Further these same fans would start the “Fire Tomlin” chants at a fever pitch.
Tomlin instead said no, collaborated with GM Kevin Colbert and traded the 2020 first-round pick for All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and went on to compete valiantly for a playoff spot.
This year Tomlin faced a similar quandary, a 1-4 start; however, by now fans knew Tomlin would never tank. The naysayers just felt there was no way Tomlin could work the magic needed to turn this season around. Again they were wrong.
Mike Tomlin has resilience oozing out of him like sweat from a boxer in the last minute of the 12th round. He eats naysayers for breakfast. He doesn’t run from adversity, he runs to it, assesses it and conquers his fears. He never lives in them, they occupy no real estate in his mind.
Tomlin is a winner. He and his entire coaching staff, his entire team. Every facet of it showed up and showed out Sunday vs. Tampa Bay and showed resilience when it mattered most. They did it when the naysayers were crowing at the top of their lungs and Tomlin quieted them to defeating proportions. This was all Tomlin, his staff, his players working in concert and delivering an epic win. That’s resilience, and it needs to be duplicated moving forward.