It was about as electric of a debut as the Steelers could have hoped for from newly acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick.
With an interception, a forced fumble and four tackles, Fitzpatrick led the way for a Pittsburgh defense that forced five turnovers Sunday in San Francisco.
Only one problem: the Steelers lost the game.
“I think we played pretty well on Sunday,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m very comfortable with my teammates. We communicate very well. I think, moving forward, I'll just keep growing with that comfortability.
“The only reason I made those plays is because I was doing my job, I was doing my ‘one-eleventh.’ When you do your job, that’s when plays come to you. I think I did that and I have to keep doing that.”
The Steelers stepped out of their norm, trading 2020’s first-round pick in the NFL Draft to Miami for FItzpatrick last week. He had three practices to learn with his teammates and spent hours studying film and the playbook leading up to the game. That will continue as the Steelers get ready for Cincinnati on Monday night.
“Just continuing to learn it,” he said. “I’m still learning, day-to-day. I’m still learning as we’re playing the game. Just going out there and getting more comfortable with the team and my teammates.”
The flashiness of Fitzpatrick’s performance caught the eye of several of his teammates, as well.
“I already told (Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert) ‘thank you for that one,’” defensive lineman Cam Heyward said. “He’s a heck of a dude and heck of a player. I’m going to continue to get to know him. He flies around, he’s a heat-seeking missile. He’s ball friendly. He got a pick and caused a fumble. I just look forward to more of that.”
“We all knew what type of player he was and what he can bring to the table,” cornerback Mike Hilton said. “He showed that this past Sunday. Another week in, his confidence is growing and he’s more comfortable. I expect those things to help plays.”
And, really, it has to for the Steelers, currently winless, just like the Bengals. So for Fitzpatrick, and the rest of Pittsburgh’s defense, a strong, but stable performance is needed.
“I think for anybody that’s 0-3 there’s going to be a sense of urgency to win this game,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re here to win games, to play hard… We’ve just got to take the lessons from the last three games and move forward and learn from it.
“When you try to make big plays and you try to force things and you’re out of position, that’s when the opponent makes big plays and things happen that you don’t want to happen.”