Steelers Insider: Locker Room ‘Confrontation’ Prompted Mitch Trubisky Benching

Mike Tomlin Mitch Trubisky

Joe Sargent/Getty Images Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky following the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Acrisure Stadium on October 16, 2022.

With Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett in concussion protocol, it’s very possible — perhaps even likely — that former starter Mitch Trubisky will return to the starting lineup this weekend.

“With so much attention being focused on concussion protocol since the injury sustained by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Steelers might exercise caution and not play Kenny Pickett on Sunday night in Miami — especially with a prime-time national audience scrutinizing their decision during Tagovailoa’s return,” wrote Gerry Dulac in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Oct. 17.

But that’s hardly the most notable reveal in Dulac’s Monday column.

A ‘Locker Room Confrontation’ During the the Jets Game

“Trubisky was benched against the Jets following a locker room confrontation at halftime with receiver Diontae Johnson,” wrote the longtime Steelers insider, citing multiple sources.

“According to sources, Johnson began yelling at Trubisky to throw him the ball more, even though Johnson had a pass skip off his hands that resulted in an interception and failed to get his feet inbounds on what would have been a 23-yard touchdown in the first half. Trubisky stood up to Johnson and a heated exchange occurred,” concludes Dulac.

It seems doubtful that a locker room argument would — by itself — prompt head coach Mike Tomlin to bench his starting quarterback. During a postgame press conference after a Jan. 2021 game against the Cleveland Browns, Tomlin was asked about a sideline spat between Steelers defensive linemen Carlos Davis and Isaiah Buggs.

“We got some gamecocks and every now and then they fight a little bit. But all in the right spirit. We are trying to win football games, and they are trying to win football games,” said Tomlin with a wry smile.

But perhaps the locker room confrontation at halftime against the Jets was the last straw, so to speak.

Recall that Trubisky was seen to have been “on thin ice” coming in to the game against New York. Then he went 7 of 13 for 84 yards with one interception (a passer rating of 41.8) in the first half, easily a listless enough performance to get a quarterback benched.

Mitch Trubisky Had a 142.4 Passer Rating Against the Bucs

Now, Trubisky’s second-half performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could pave the way for a second chance as Pittsburgh’s starter. Specifically, the former No. 2 overall pick completed 9 of 12 passes for 144 yards, with a touchdown pass to Chase Claypool helping him to a 142.4 passer rating.

Moreover, there is now added scrutiny surrounding players returning to action following concussions, ever since Tua Tagovailoa sustained two concussions in a four-day period, which led to an investigation “by the league and the NFL Players Association into the handling of his care,” notes Dulac.

Keep in mind that the Steelers have had three players sustain concussions since Tagovailoa was twice-concussed. All three — safety Terrell Edmunds, cornerback Levi Wallace and tight end Pat Freiermuth — were held out of the team’s next game. For his part, Edmunds made a successful return against the Buccaneers, responsible for a team-leading 10 tackles, including six solo stops and one tackle for loss. Wallace and Freiermuth could return this weekend, when the Steelers (2-4) visit the Dolphins (3-3).