It wasn’t always pretty but when the clock hit triple zeroes in Saturday night’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Kenny Pickett and the Pittsburgh Steelers were on the right side of the scoreboard. For most of the game, the Steelers’ offense struggled and sputtered. But with the game – and the season – on the line, the Steelers put together one of their best drives of the season, Pickett capping things off with a 14-yard touchdown to fellow rookie George Pickens for the win.
Speaking to the NFL Network’s panel after the game, Najee Harris shared his thoughts on Pickett’s night.
“He competes every day in practice,” he said. “He always keeps everybody’s heads up. He’s a real life competitor man. I should tip my hat off. We all should tip our hat off to Kenny because for him to come in here as a rookie and just take over this role in this organization and I think he’s doing a really good job.”
Pickett had Shaq-sized shoes to fill in replacing Ben Roethlisberger, two-time Super Bowl champ, future first-ballot Hall of Famer, and the greatest quarterback in team history. Pickett earned the starting role on the fly, replacing Mitch Trubisky in Week Four, and has to learn as he’s gone along. There’s been growing pains, including last night. Prior to the touchdown drive, Pickett struggled, missing high, losing the chess match to the Raiders with their blitz looks and rotations, while Pittsburgh’s offense moved the ball but stalled time and time again.
But big time players make big time plays. Pickett made a bunch of them down the stretch, methodically and smartly moving the Steelers’ offense downfield, littering Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth with checkdowns to put the offense in the red zone. When he saw his opportunity, he struck, a laser between two defenders over the middle to hit Pickens for the score and the win.
To Harris’ point, Pickett has immediately emerged as a leader for an offense starving for them, a young and new group that’s lost so many household names over the last two years. As we wrote about weeks ago, while Pickett’s future as an NFL quarterback is uncertain, we don’t yet know if he’s really the next franchise quarterback, there’s zero question about his leadership and ability to rally the troops. As Pickett and Pickens said last night, the game-winning drive didn’t require “rah-rah” Shane Falco-level speeches. Just a cool and calm and collected Pickett calling the plays, making the right reads, executing, and producing. The Steelers’ season plays on thanks to Pickett, Harris, and the rest of the team.