The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sputtered to a 20-18 humbling loss in the Steel City on Sunday afternoon, snapping the Pittsburgh Steelers' four-game losing streak. A depleted Pittsburgh defense that had ranked 30th in points allowed, 30th in pass defense and 23rd against the run entering Week Six, held Tom Brady and company short of the end zone until the final five minutes of the contest. The Bucs were sent home from Acrisure Stadium as their overall record dropped to an even 3-3. In a comprehensive outlook encompassing the day's events, Tom Brady discussed the team's red zone woes, "We are playing less than what we are capable of, and we all have to look in the mirror and ask why."
The Steelers' secondary was without four of their top defensive backs including safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Cameron Sutton, however, the Steelers held the Buccaneers to one touchdown in the final frame and only three field goals in four red zone trips. Tampa Bay was able to move down the field but could not take advantage of opportunities inside the red zone or convert in short-yardage situations. In the first half alone, Brady had 10 completions on 21 attempts. The Bucs had a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter after Leonard Fournette powered his way into the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown reception – capping off a 14-play, 73-yard drive – but Steelers' linebacker Devin Bush undercut Brady's pass intended for Godwin as he ran underneath. Tampa Bay's offense faltered on short third down situations, which killed drives and gave Pittsburgh the momentum. The Bucs were four of 14 on third downs, garnering a candid response from Head Coach Todd Bowles after the clash.
"We could not get one yard on fourth and short," said Bowles. "We stalled in the red zone. I don't think we coached well, and I don't think we played well."
On the opposite side of the ball, the Steelers imposed their will on third down, as the Bucs' defense continuously failed to make a play to halt drives. As Tampa Bay unleashed rushers on third-and-long situations, Kenny Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky were able to extend drives outside of the pocket by stepping into vacated gaps to find an open target downfield. Pickett led the Steelers on a touchdown drive on the team's first offensive possession but was limited to just 67 yards through the air before suffering a concussion in the third quarter. Trubisky, who had started the club's first four games under center, replaced Pickett and completed nine-of-12 passes for 144 yards, including a touchdown pass to Chase Claypool. Pittsburgh was able to convert four third-and-long scenarios during Trubisky's time on the field, including a third-and-15 on the final drive after a botched shotgun snap and a third-and-11 to Claypool. All four conversions in the second half were the results of mistakes by different defenders, Bowles disclosed. Whether blown coverages, missed run fits, over-pursuit on angles which led to off-script quarterback runs to the edge or missed assignments, the defense was not able to kill drives to put the offense on the field.
"Defensively, third-and-longs have got to stop," stated Bowles. "We know where the ball is going and we understand what is coming but we did not make a play to get off the field to give the offense a chance to get the ball back to win the ballgame…these are things we harp on, we stress. We actually did well during the week. We did not do well during the game. It has got to transfer over. There are things we have to change as coaches and not be big-headed enough to change."
Lavonte David led the Buccaneers defense with 13 tackles, including one for a loss, and Antoine Winfield Jr. and Carl Nassib registered sacks of Kenny Pickett. On the Steelers second drive, Winfield killed their progression on a blitz from the left, dropping Pickett for a loss of 12 yards. Shaq Barrett got the initial pressure to disrupt the pocket and Winfield capitalized, showcasing elite closing speed.
Injury Update: Cameron Brate
Against the Steelers, tight end Cameron Brate was carted off the field on a stretcher after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Steelers' linebacker Myles Jack in the third quarter. Todd Bowles confirmed on Monday that Brate suffered a strained neck, but all other tests came back negative. Brate is resting and has all "extremities moving well," per Bowles. Brate was evaluated following the game at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh but was released to fly home with the team. He was in his first game back after suffering a concussion against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week Four, sidelining him in last week's matchup with the Falcons.