Mitch Trubisky leads Steelers to upset win after Kenny Pickett leaves with concussion

PITTSBURGH — Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett’s first start at Acrisure Stadium ended early Sunday afternoon when he took a hard hit from Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White midway through the third quarter and suffered a concussion.

In Pickett’s absence, veteran Mitch Trubisky returned to the field for the first time since he was benched at halftime of the Week 4 loss to the New York Jets and ignited the Steelers’ offense to keep the Buccaneers at bay in a 20-18 win.

“It just says we got it done today,” coach Mike Tomlin said of the offense’s response to Trubisky. “We’re not looking to make any more statements than that. We realize that it’s more than one day, one good plan, one winning performance as we work back to respectability.”

The Steelers (2-4) closed as 9.5-point underdogs at Caesars Sportsbook, making this not only the team’s biggest upset since beating the Indianapolis Colts in the 2005 divisional round, but also the largest upset in the NFL this season. Trubisky, who helped the Steelers snap a four-game losing streak, completed 9 of 12 attempts for 144 yards and had a touchdown pass to receiver Chase Claypool in the fourth quarter to mark the first touchdown scored by any Steelers receiver this season.

“In those situations you just gotta be ready when your number is called,” Trubisky said. “I just wanted to come in and help the team win any way I could. I just tried to come in, do my role and lead the guys. Everybody stuck together, and they had my back when I came in as well. So it was fun to see. We all kind of rallied around, and we just gotta continue to pick each other up and stick together.”

Trubisky finished with a 142.2 quarterback rating, his best of the season. He went 5-of-5 for 108 yards and the score in the fourth quarter, his most passing yards in a fourth quarter since putting up 112 in Week 12 of 2020 against the Green Bay Packers. He also went 5-of-7 for 118 yards on third down, and 8-of-9 for 130 yards and the score against a standard pass rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Trubisky’s presence and ability to push the ball down the field — he had a season-long completion of 45 yards on a deep pass over the middle to rookie Connor Heyward — differed from the conservative approach that ultimately doomed his 3½-week tenure as the starting quarterback.

“I liked our aggressive mindset in the second half and especially when I came in, so I just wanted to continue to carry that,” Trubisky said. “I know we need to score in order to stay out in front and win that game. And it was nice to stay on the field and finish the two-minute [drill] and get those victory knees in. We converted third downs when we needed to. I just came in with an aggressive mindset. All my teammates had my back.”

The energy from the fans at Acrisure Stadium disappeared when Pickett took the concussion-inducing hit from Devin White midway through the third quarter. The rookie lingered on the field and was quickly met with medical staff, who led him off to be briefly evaluated in the blue medical tent on the sideline.

After a more thorough examination in the locker room, Pickett was ruled out, the announcement came as Tampa Bay tight end Cameron Brate was carted off on a backboard to be evaluated for a head or neck injury.

Pickett completed 11 of 18 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown and rushed twice for 16 yards. As the starter, Pickett gets the official win, snapping Tom Brady’s streak of 12 straight wins against rookie quarterbacks, per Elias Sports Bureau data.

Pickett, who was 3 years old when Brady won his first start, was surgical on the first drive, completing all five attempts — including on the game’s first three plays — en route to the Steelers’ first opening-drive touchdown since Week 10 of the 2021 season.

Although Pickett is still the likely starter whenever he returns from the concussion protocol, the offense played well in his absence because of his familiarity with Trubisky.

“Mitch started the season with him, so we had that confidence in him, that timing with him,” Claypool said. “It wasn’t like we had to figure things out. We were calling the same plays. Hats off to him because he was very poised and he did his thing.”

Pickett got Claypool going early in the game, finding him for a 14-yard gain to convert the first third down on the opening drive. Later, Trubisky picked up where Pickett left off, finding the third-year receiver for two third-and-long conversions with completions of 17 and 26 yards on the final drive to seal the win. Claypool finished with a season-best seven receptions on seven targets for 96 yards. He also had one rush of 8 yards.

It was Claypool’s best game since recording 130 receiving yards against the Denver Broncos in Week 5 last season.

“To step up like that, especially on those third downs, that’s what it’s all about,” Trubisky said. “That’s like football and that’s like life. You’re going to have ups and downs. You’re going to have weeks where it’s not really going your way, but you gotta stick with it and just continue to buy into the process and to have those big catches. To have a moment like this and get a win after the game, it kind of makes it all worth it.

“It just goes to show, you just continue to put your head down and work and good things will happen and continue to put the team first.”

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