You’ve heard of storybook endings- but Kenny Pickett’s NFL debut was a storybook beginning. The former Heisman finalist made noise like no other with his incredible performance against Seattle, guiding Pittsburgh to victory. Is Pickett the present, as well as the future in Pittsburgh?
Going into halftime at the newly named Acrisure Stadium last Saturday, the Steelers had a commanding 17-10 lead over the Seahawks. The team was clicking on all cylinders, but Kenny Pickett hadn’t received a snap at QB yet. Mitch Trubisky started at QB for the first time as a Steeler and delivered in his First Quarter debut with 4-for-7 passing along with 63 yards and an impressive touchdown toss to another new acquisition, Gunner Olszewski from New England. Not only was Trubisky in complete control of the offense, but he also used his legs to extend drives for the Steelers- something fans hadn’t seen at all in recent years with an aging Ben Roethlisberger at QB for the club. Mason Rudolph, Steelers vet and backup to Trubisky entered the game following Trubisky’s first two drives. While Mason certainly had an up-and-down performance (9-for-15 with 93 yards and a TD, but also 2 should-have-been picks), his early bomb to superstar rookie WR George Pickens was arguably the best play of the entire preseason thus far.
When the second half began, Kenny Pickett entered the game at QB for the first time in a Steelers uniform, and fans’ cheers made Acrisure look like Arrowhead during the AFC Championship. The energy had shifted. The “Kenny Pickett Era” had begun.
While it was Kenny’s first game a Steeler, it was his sixth consecutive year playing at Acrisure Stadium, formerly known as Heinz Field. For five seasons, Kenny Pickett was the University of Pittsburgh’s QB, winning the hearts of Steelers and Panthers fans alike. In 2021, Kenny took his game to the next level at Pitt, shattering many of the great Dan Marino’s records leading Pitt to an ACC Title. Kenny passed for 4,319 yards, landing him a top 3 finish in the Heisman trophy race. After a stellar season, the fifth year senior declared for the NFL draft, where his dream of playing for the hometown Steelers eventually came true. Pittsburgh selected Kenny 24th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The enthusiasm and electricity behind Kenny as he entered the game for the first time as a Pittsburgh Steeler told us what we already knew: Kenny is THE guy, and the quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart are on borrowed time. Suffice to say, his play backed up the hype.
Pickett started the second half with 11 straight completions, including his first NFL Touchdown pass to Conner Heyward- fellow rookie and brother of longtime Steeler Cam Heyward. As the game was winding down, Seattle had knotted things up at 25- and after a clutch forced turnover by Pittsburgh’s defense, Kenny Pickett had the opportunity of a lifetime: finishing off a game winning drive in his first game in Pittsburgh as the Steelers’ QB. How would he respond?
With a touchdown, of course. With just 4 seconds left on the clock, Pickett tossed a clutch touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown comeback route to Tyler Vaughns. Fans went crazy, Tomlin pumped his fist, and the Steelers emerged victorious- an outcome that seemed inevitable with Pickett behind center in the second half.
Kenny finished 13-for-15 with 95 yards and 2 TDs with a 132.6 QB Rating- the highest in the preseason by a rookie in 30 years. Pickett’s performance will surely make Steelers nation impatient in waiting for him to permanently take the reins as starting QB, but fans should put their faith and trust in Trubisky- at least for now. He looked great in limited action and has the experience necessary to help Matt Canada’s offense flourish. While Kenny is undoubtedly the future, Mitch is the present.
Photo Creds: New York Post