PITTSBURGH — After each of his interceptions against his former team Monday night, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick held tight to the football.
Still clutching the ball, he celebrated with his teammates, and then he ran to the sideline and passed the balls off for safekeeping.
Eventually, the pair of footballs will head back to South Florida.
Fitzpatrick, who arrived in Pittsburgh during Week 3 after forcing his way out of Miami in a trade last month, still has a home in Florida where he keeps all of his turnover balls. The two he grabbed in Monday night’s 27-14 win against the Dolphins will be the newest additions to the trophy room.
But there won’t be any special display or added significance to the balls he snatched from his former quarterback. To Fitzpatrick, Monday night’s win was just another game against another NFL team.
“If it was against a team next week or a team last week, it’s an NFL team, NFL quarterback,” he said. “I’m proud to have it.”
Usually pretty quiet, Fitzpatrick had his normal, even-keeled demeanor at his locker after the game. Coach Mike Tomlin said that was the case, too, on the field and the sideline.
“Minkah’s kind of a flatliner,” Tomlin said. “I doubt it was anything personal or anything of that nature. He’s got the same general demeanor just about every weekend, and not that I’ve been around him a bunch of weekends, but he’s steady in terms of his approach. Very professional.”
Fitzpatrick’s prime-time meeting with his new team was a storyline throughout the week, and he even took the field later than usual during warmups to minimize the distractions. He never spoke with Miami coach Brian Flores, although he did briefly chat with cornerback Xavien Howard and safety Bobby McCain during a lengthy review and caught up with more teammates afterward.
“I still talk to a lot of guys,” he said. “I was there for a year and a half. Formed good relationships with them. Good people to hang out with. I miss them, not going to lie to you. It’s family, it’s a brotherhood.”
Even if Fitzpatrick downplayed his interceptions — which the Steelers turned into two game-changing touchdowns in the second and third quarters — his play had special significance to his new teammates.
“A lot guys were talking about Minkah on the field,” linebacker Bud Dupree said. “We had to have his back. Dolphins players talking about Minkah. He did a great job of responding early in the game. A lot of guys were saying stuff to him, he did a great job of keeping his head and just going out and playing ball.
“It was fun to watch him play against his old team and the stuff he had to say, too.”
Fitzpatrick grabbed his first interception late in the second quarter, grabbing a ball deflected off tight end Nick O’Leary’s hands. The pick gave the Steelers the ball with 1:13 to go until halftime, and the offense responded with a 45-yard touchdown as wide receiver Diontae Johnson exploited Miami’s zero-coverage call for a wide open reception.
“It was a huge momentum for us,” wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “Defense got a stop, we put points on the board, knowing that we were going into halftime, knowing that we were going to get the ball second half.”
Then, after the Steelers’ first drive of the third quarter ended with a missed 54-yard field goal attempt, Fitzpatrick grabbed his second interception of the day on the Dolphins’ ensuing drive as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick attempted a deep throw to Jakeem Grant on third-and-long.
Again, the Steelers responded with a scoring drive. This time, the 12-play, 97-yard drive was capped by Smith-Schuster’s 26-yard touchdown reception.
“Tonight, I think [Minkah] Fitzpatrick, he played an amazing game against this rival team, a guy that’s always made plays for us since he came, since the 49ers game,” he said. “Tonight, he’s a guy that showed he can be our deep threat, can be the last guy, the biggest safety, causes picks. Those deep balls, he made those turnovers, we get the ball, we put points on the board.”
Fitzpatrick grinned at his locker after the game, but he insisted the smile had nothing to do with the fact he helped his new team take down the one that once wanted to build a defense around him.
“If I ever have two picks, there’s a smile on my face after the game,” he said. ‘Like I said, it is my former team and former teammates. I have all the respect in the world for them. It’s an NFL game. If I had two picks next week or last week, I’d still have a big smile on my face.”