The Steelers opened the preseason with a 30-28 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field, but when it comes to preseason play it's not always evaluated by wins and losses, but what players put on tape as they are battling for starting spots and a place on the roster.
The battle for Ben Roethlisberger's backup was front and center on Friday night, with Josh Dobbs getting the start, followed by Mason Rudolph and Delvin Hodges. Dobbs completed five of eight passes for 85 yards, while Rudolph also completed five of eight passes, his going for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Hodges completed eight of 14 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.
"I like the overall presence of all the young quarterbacks that played," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I thought all three moved the units. It was just a good night all in all when you look at it."
Dobbs added two carries for 44 yards, using his footwork to his benefit.
"I've always liked his prudent use of agility and escapability," said Tomlin. "I thought it's been an asset to him in the past. It was an asset to him tonight. The key is the prudent use of it. He did a nice job."
Game action photos from the Steelers' first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field
Rudolph finished the night with a quarterback rating of 141.1, making a noticeable jump from his rookie season.
"Not an extended look, but I liked what I saw," said Tomlin. "He'll continue to write that script. Not only him but all of them. I liked what I saw from all three guys that played under center tonight."
One player everyone was looking forward to seeing in his first action was No. 1 draft pick Devin Bush, and he didn't disappoint.
"I just went out there and played my game and had fun," said Bush.
Bush was strong, finishing the game with 10 tackles, all in the first half. Bush, who started at right inside linebacker, had seven solo stops and three assists.
"I was less concerned about his productivity and more concerned about his demeanor," said Tomlin. "I liked his demeanor. He was present. It wasn't too big for him. He handled the communication responsibility associated with his job. He was alert. Those were good signs."
The Buccaneers drove down the field on the opening drive against a defense that was void of many of their starters in the preseason opener. Terrell Edmunds and Javon Hargrave were the only returning starters to get the nod, while Devin Bush, who is expected to be a starter come opening day, also started.
Bucs starting quarterback Jameis Winston put together a nice opening drive against an inexperienced defense, with a 12-play, 81-yard drive that culminated in a nine-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin for an early 7-0 lead.
Starting at their own seven-yard line because of a holding penalty, Josh Dobbs let one fly over the middle that James Washington pulled in for 43-yard gain. A six-yard completion to Tevin Jones put the Steelers in Bucs territory, but the drive stalled there. With an offensive line that had just one starter out there, Dobbs was sacked for an eight-yard loss, followed by an incomplete pass that forced the Steelers to punt.
The Bucs next drive was kept alive when Tyson Alualu was called for roughing the passer when he hit Blaine Gabbert. The defense would step up big, though. The Bucs drove down to the Steelers 15-yard line and went for it on fourth down. Ola Adeniyi stopped Andre Ellington for no gain, and the Bucs turned over the ball on downs.
When a drive starts with a one-yard loss, a 16-yard sack and an apparent interception, things aren't looking good. But when the interception is negated by offsetting penalties, it breathes new life into an offense. When that happened, Dobbs responded. He hit Washington for 22 yards. After a five and a one-yard run by Benny Snell, Dobbs scrambled for eight yards and a first down. Dobbs would use his footwork again to move the chains, scrambling on third down for a 36-yard gain to the 17-yard line. Chris Boswell capped the 14-play, 68-yard drive that ate up 7:11 with a 33-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 7-3.
A series of penalties marred the Bucs next drive, forcing them to punt.
Mason Rudolph stepped in at quarterback on the next series and got the offense rolling. Rudolph completed a 10-yard pass to Jones and hit Washington for 11 yards. Snell took it for five and four yards respectively, and Jaylen Samuels broke loose for a 22-yard gain to the eight-yard line. Rudolph hit Washington in the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown to cap the seven play, 64-yard drive and give the Steelers a 10-7 lead.
Tyler Matakevich gave the offense another shot before halftime when he sacked Ryan Griffin for an eight-yard loss and Isaiah Buggs recovered it at the Bucs 27-yard line. While the offense couldn't move the ball, losing two yards on four plays, Boswell was in the groove hitting from 47-yards out to extend the lead to 13-7.
The Bucs closed the gap to 13-10 as time ran out in the first half when Matt Gray nailed a 55-yard field goal.
Both teams struggled to move the ball on their first drives of the second half, but when the Steelers got the ball back for their second drive, they hit pay dirt. Rudolph hit Johnny Holton, who made moves including cutting across the field and changing hands with the ball, while going 59 yards to the six-yard line. Rudolph then hit rookie Zach Gentry for a six-yard touchdown, to extend the lead to 20-10.
The defense forced a three-and-out, giving Devlin Hodges his first shot to lead the Steelers' offense. They weren't able to muster anything, forcing a punt.
Griffin helped to close the gap when he drove the Bucs down to the 10-yard line, completing five passes for 75 yards. Dare Ogunbowale took it into the endzone on a 10-yard run, but the two-point conversion failed, giving the Steelers a 20-16 edge.
Hodges got the benefit of a pass interference call to start the next drive, costing the Bucs 27 yards and a challenge when the ruling on the field was upheld after they threw the red flag. Hodges completed passes to Gentry for six and eight yards, and Holton for 10 yards. Hodges went to Snell, who broke tackles for a 20-yard gain. Hodges capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jones to extend the lead to 27-16 early in the fourth quarter.
The defense held the Bucs on their next drive when Tuzar Skipper sacked Griffin for an eight-yard loss on second-and-two.
In a battle for the placekicker job, Matthew Wright got his shot when he hit a 42-yard fourth quarter field goal, putting the Steelers up 30-16 with 9:14 left in the game.