Appreciative of the effort: Multiple times during his postgame press conference, Coach Mike Tomlin uttered a word that described his feelings following the 20-18 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Acrisure Stadium.
That one simple word – appreciative.
And rightfully so.
"Just appreciative of the efforts of the men in that room," said Tomlin. "We were leaking today, we were leaking in a lot of ways in terms of physically, emotionally and so forth. I just appreciate the mettle that the group showed this week in terms of remaining singularly focused in the midst of the storm and putting together a winning performance. Like I said at the beginning of the week, 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. So, we're appreciative of the day, but we still understand exactly where we are.
"And we aren't running away from it, we're gonna continue to run to it and get better and prepare for our next opportunity."
With four veterans in the secondary inactive on Sunday, three of them starters, it was a young and relatively inexperienced group that was called upon to defend against Bucs quarterback Tom Brady.
And they didn't disappoint.
Brady completed 25 of 40 passes for 243 yards and one touchdown, but the defense was solid on the 'weighty downs', allowing the Bucs to convert just 4 of 14 (28.6%) on third down.
"I can't say enough about the secondary group that we had out there today," said Tomlin. "Man, it was it was a great opportunity for a lot of those guys. First opportunity in some instances, redemption in some instances, guys getting an opportunity to get back in the fold. Guys that hadn't been a part of us, like Josh Jackson, being one. Just can't say enough about what they were able to do collectively.
"It's a challenge when you play Tom Brady. I just thought they did a really good job of letting our disguises work. I didn't have a big menu because we can't have a big menu. We got some young guys and inexperienced guys playing, so whatever we had, we had to dress it up. I thought they did a really good job dressing it up and fighting the fight down in and down out. Hopefully we learn and grow in the right ways through the success in this experience because that's what the journey is about.
"They just had a lot of work in front of them. They knew who was waiting on us in the stadium. And they knew the state we were in. So not a lot of discussions needed to be had. Talk is cheap. We needed a good work week."
One steady factor in the secondary was safety Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds, who was coming off a concussion that forced him to miss the Bills game a week ago, was a key factor for the young unit.
"He had to be a hub of communication," said Tomlin. "He was the only regular back there and I'm just appreciative. Not only that, but he was coming off of missed action himself. I just thought he did a good job keeping the group cool today and communicating in that calm and soothing voice that's needed sometimes when you're in a huddle with some young people."
The defense held strong in the red zone, holding the Bucs to four field goals before scoring late in the fourth quarter.
"I just thought we kept them off balance with some disguises and things of that nature," said Tomlin. "Rush and coverage kind of worked together. I just thought it was a collective. I don't know if it was one individual component of what it is that we did. The guys played hard. They understood what we were trying to do. They dressed it up. Rush and coverage worked together."
It wasn't just on defense where players stepped up. Quarterback Kenny Pickett left the game in the third quarter and is in the concussion protocol. Mitch Trubisky, who started the first four games of the season, stepped in and took over and the offense flowed.
Trubisky completed 9 of 12 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, a six-yard pass to Chase Claypool. Trubisky also had two key runs on the final drive, a nine-yarder and then a three-yard run for a first down to secure the win.
Tomlin said what Trubisky did was what he expected from the veteran.
"I don't know that it says anything that I didn't already know as I got to know him throughout this process," said Tomlin. "He's been professional and a class act every step of the way. That's why I mentioned it repeatedly when you guys ask me about what's transpiring at the quarterback position. Not only him but Mason Rudolph was engaged and has got good ideas.
"We are a collective team and I just appreciate the unselfishness of all of those guys throughout this process. That's why I repeatedly bring it up."
Still work to do: The Steelers aren't where they want to be yet, but the 20-18 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs was just what the doctor ordered as the team is working to get back on track.
"It's very necessary. It hasn't been easy," said defensive tackle Cameron Heyward. "But that doesn't absolve us of our record. This is something we have to keep working towards. It's great to get a win today. But it's a learning moment for a lot of guys. And as many good plays as we made, there were bad plays out there. So, you take the good with the bad. You just try to keep growing from this. Keep stacking wins."
Like Coach Mike Tomlin said, the Steelers were able to pull off the win with a lot of young players in the secondary, some like cornerback Josh Jackson making their first start with the team after he was signed to the 53-man roster on Saturday.
"Kudos to our back end and our linebackers," said Heyward. "It is a tough position to be a DB in this league. And it's even tougher when you're going from one day of being activated to the next day you're starting right away. I think our defensive back coaches, our linebackers getting them all lined up and them just mixing it up. Understanding that if we could win first and second down that we could disguise some things.
"I thought they did a really good job tackling. A lot of stuff went to the edge. And they're not playing slouches. You're playing Mike Evans, Chris Godwin. These guys are top-notch, Pro Bowl players. So, you got to make sure you keep mixing it up. I thought they did a great job today."
The performance by the defense was a step in the right direction, but Heyward knows there is more to do.
"We got some work to do," he said. "I thought we applied pressure. Stopped the run to a degree. But, man, we aren't back yet. We got some work to do."
Making plays when we had to: Mitch Trubisky had insisted upon losing the starting quarterback job he'd continue to be ready if needed again and continue being a good teammate even if he wasn't.
He proved true to his word in the Steelers' 20-18 upset of the Buccaneers.
"You give yourself the 24-hour role win or lose," Trubisky maintained. "If something bad happens in the game, you just gotta get back. What's most important to me is just being part of this team, the fact that I was voted a captain, so I knew, 24 hours, you gotta shake it off. You gotta come in, be a leader and just continue to rally the guys."
Trubisky continued doing that after he had been replaced by Kenny Pickett at the outset of the third quarter of what became a 24-20 loss to the Jets on Oct. 2.
He found himself back under center midway through the third quarter of the Tampa Bay game after Pickett suffered a concussion.
Trubisky entered the game on first-and-20 from the Steelers' 15-yard line with 7:02 left in the third and the Steelers leading, 13-12.
He exited after a pair of game-sealing kneel-downs from Victory Formation.
Trubisky completed nine of 12 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown in between.
Some of his best work occurred after the Steelers took possession at their 25 with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter and Tampa Bay having just closed to within 20-18.
Trubisky hit wide receiver Chase Claypool for 17 yards on third-and-15 and for 26 yards on third-and-11, and gained 9 yards on a read-option keeper that preceded a second-and-1 sneak that gained 3 yards and set up the kneel-downs.
"When you kind of get thrown in there you might be thinking a little less, just going out there playing free, but I knew what I had to do for my team," Trubisky said. "I studied this week as if I was a starter, and you just prepare that way. I was helping Kenny on the sidelines in the first half, just constant communications, trying to help these guys. And then when your number gets called you just go out and do a different job.
"I just wanted to continue to be aggressive, play free and everyone kind of just rallied together. It was fun, backyard football, if you will, but it was fun. We made plays when we had to."
Trubisky acknowledged some personal satisfaction afterward given his circumstances but also added this:
"Honestly, it feels good to win just as a team and to show my teammates what I'm capable of. I think the best part is just seeing their joy and excitement after a hard-fought victory like that. We've had some ups and downs the last couple weeks but to have that feeling, that's what you chase every single week.
"Hopefully it just continues to pull us together."
Trubisky also insisted the 24-hour rule still applied, just as it had after he'd been benched.
"We got 24 hours again," he said. "We'll enjoy it and get back to work tomorrow and try to get another one next week.
"That's the mindset but we definitely needed one today for sure, always need a win."