The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett because they believed he could be their franchise quarterback. Nearing the end of his rookie season, it’s starting to look like a distinct possibility. He has the team 5-1 in the games he’s started and finished since the bye week, including four straight wins under such conditions.
The last two have come in spectacular fashion featuring game-winning drives in the waning minutes, Pickett finding wide receiver George Pickens and running back Najee Harris for touchdowns in those wins. It’s grown to the point where the defense sits back and relaxes on the sidelines, waiting for their turn to close.
“They were driving down, they haven’t gotten into the end zone yet, and I’m talking to Larry [Ogunjobi] about what games we’re gonna run on the pass rush after we score a touchdown”, outside linebacker T.J. Watt said after the game, via the team’s website. “It’s just one of those things where we’ve done too many drives so many times in practice. We see the moxie in our quarterback. We’ve seen our guys go out and ball out in practice all season long”.
Pickett now has four game-winning drives this season after the past two games, having also authored one against the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts. That includes three fourth-quarter comebacks, games in which they trailed in the fourth quarter and needed a score to prevent defeat.
“Anytime they step out there, we are thinking they are going to score”, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said, via transcript. “We have faith in them as a unit. Every time they step out there, they get the ball and they have a chance to score. So, that’s my mindset”.
Both Watt and Fitzpatrick, though, played their role in keeping the game within reach to allow for that possibility. Watt had a huge sack earlier in the game, among other plays. Fitzpatrick returned to play through an ankle injury and then sealed the game after the offense took the lead. Captain Cameron Heyward, whose dubious penalty helped spot the Ravens four points, also expressed his confidence in the offense’s future captain.
“The kid’s growing before our eyes. He’s making quality throws, leading us downfield”, he said of Pickett. “It’s really awesome to be 23 years old and a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. You got to love the way he’s leading that offense. And he keeps growing week in and week out”.
It can’t go without saying that the defense deserves a great deal of credit for enabling Pickett and the offense to even be in the position to come back in these games. For starters, they have only allowed 23 points in these past two games that ended in comeback wins. They also held the Saints to 10 points in a game that was tied entering in the fourth quarter and 17 against the Colts, who did score 14 in the third quarter after the Steelers led 16-3 entering the second half.
Scoring still needs to go up for Pickett’s offense for us to really get serious about who they are and what they have, though it should be acknowledged that long possessions also keep scoring down some. But stepping up in the most important moments is what being a franchise player is all about. When the defense is sitting on the bench talking about how to close out a win when they’re still trailing, you know the team is bought in.