Pitt product’s offensive spark not enough
PITTSBURGH — Kenny Pickett provided a brief second-half spark for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A couple fourth-quarter turnovers and a defensive meltdown allowed the New York Jets to rally late and escape with a 24-20 victory Sunday.
“I wanted to win more than anything,” the rookie quarterback said. “So, I don’t know what I proved to anybody. But we didn’t win. That’s my only focus.”
With the Steelers trailing 10-6 at halftime, coach Mike Tomlin pulled Mitch Trubisky to give his team a boost. And Pickett helped the Steelers take a 10-point lead at 20-10 early in the fourth quarter.
But it wasn’t enough.
Pickett became the first quarterback in NFL history to run for a pair of touchdowns in his debut, but his first game wasn’t without its rocky moments. He finished 10 of 13 for 120 yards and three interceptions. The final interception was a Hail Mary to the end zone on the last play of the game that was picked off by Lamarcus Joyner, sealing the win for the Jets.
“I’m just disappointed,” Pickett said. “I wanted to come in and get the win. That’s really the emotions. Just disappointed we didn’t come out with the outcome we worked so hard for.”
Pickett, taken 20th overall by the Steelers as the heir apparent to the retired Ben Roethlisberger, received a massive ovation from the Acrisure Stadium crowd, as chants of “Kenny, Kenny” rang throughout the stadium. Pickett starred in the same stadium while playing for the University of Pittsburgh.
“I just play with an edge,” Pickett said. “That’s something I want to bring to the table. I want that to rub off on everybody. I want us to have an attitude when we’re out there on the field.”
Pickett made his NFL debut on the Steelers’ first drive of the second half. He replaced the struggling Trubisky, who finished 7 of 13 for 84 yards with an interception.
Pickett converted a fourth down with a quarterback sneak on his first drive, but the series eventually ended with an interception by Jordan Whitehead, who was a college teammate of Pickett’s with the Panthers in 2017.
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick helped Pickett four plays later with an interception and a return to the Jets 4. Three plays later, Pickett scored his first NFL touchdown on a 1-yard plunge that gave the Steelers a 13-10 lead and sent fans in a frenzy.
“It was great,” Pickett said of the reaction. “The fans are passionate. They want to win and no one wants to win more than us.”
Pickett and the Steelers went to work again on a 12-play. 82-yard scoring drive after a Jets’ three-and-out. Pickett was drilled by Jets lineman Quinnen Williams before completing an 18-yard pass to Pat Freiermuth. That set up Pickett’s second touchdown, a 2-yard scramble that gave the Steelers a 20-10 lead with 13:41 to play.
“I told those guys, ‘I’ll stand in there,'” Pickett said. “It’s in the job description. My job is to stand in there and make those throws.”
After a touchdown by New York cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 20-17, Pickett drove the Steelers into Jets territory, but his sideline throw to Freiermuth was high and late. The 6-foot-5 Freiermuth leapt in an effort to catch the ball, only to see it smack off his hands and into the waiting arms of a diving Michael Carter III, an interception that set up the Jets’ winning drive.
“I wanted it higher than that,” Pickett said. “Either (Freiermuth) was going to get it, or it was going to be out of bounds. I didn’t put it high enough. I can’t throw an interception at that point of the game because we were obviously moving the ball well.”
Tomlin didn’t give any indication as to whether or not he planned to stay with Pickett or go back to Trubisky next Sunday when the Steelers visit Buffalo.
He was happy with the rookie’s first showing, but realizes it could have been a better outcome.
“I thought he did some good things,” Tomlin said. “I thought there was some energy there. We scored some touchdowns. But obviously we turned the ball over.”