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‘There Was Ups And Downs:’ Kenny Pickett Evaluates His Rookie Season

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett was thrust into the starting quarterback role during the second half of the team’s Week 4 game against the New York Jets, and Pickett and the Steelers struggled through his first few games. Pickett threw three interceptions in the second half against the Jets, and the next week the team got thumped 35-3 in his first career start against the Buffalo Bills. After the bye week though, Pickett and the rest of the team rebounded, going 7-2 and Pickett limited his turnovers, only throwing one interception after the Week 9 bye. In an interview with Dale Lolley of Steelers.com, Pickett evaluated how he believed his rookie season went.

“There was ups and downs and I think just like in any rookie season, there’s gonna be ups and downs and I think I did a good job of learning from the negatives early on and kind of eliminating a lot of those in the back half of the season, protecting the football, taking pride in that. Putting points on the board and just finding a way to win games, coming down the stretch in the two minute, learning how to operate that at the pro level versus the college level with the different rules, establish a clock at the first downs and things like that. So there was things that I was learning early on,” Pickett said via video posted to Steelers.com.

The rookie said he was most proud of his ability to limit turnovers toward the end of the season.

“I was kind of limiting a lot of those mistakes in the back half of the season. That’s really what I was most proud of.”

Pickett led game-winning drives in back-to-back weeks, hitting wide receiver George Pickens and running back Najee Harris in the final minute to seal wins over the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens in must-win games for the Steelers in Week 16 and Week 17. The late-game ability was something that Pickett built on, as he threw an interception in a similar situation in Week 7 against the Miami Dolphins, one of his two three-interception games of the season.

As a rookie, reading defenses and avoiding turnovers is one of the biggest adjustments from guys to the NFL in college, and Pickett’s early tendency for turning the ball over was definitely cause for concern. But in the second half, he totally flipped the script and helped the Steelers maintain possession. For a team that struggled to put points on the board, keeping the ball in their hands on offense was key, especially as the run game started to take off and the Steelers played more of a ball-control style down the stretch.

Pickett wasn’t a superstar by any stretch, but like he said, he built off his negatives from early in the season and found a way to win games. In the NFL, winning games is really all that matters, and for a rookie, Pickett did a superb job of finding ways to win when the Steelers needed to win. He helped put the team in a position to have a shot at the playoffs in Week 18, which would’ve seemed unfathomable during their Week 9 bye when fans were more interested in just how high they might end up picking in the NFL Draft.

On a pure wins-and-loss basis, Pickett had a solid rookie season. But there’s definitely work to do, especially when it comes to pushing the ball downfield. But in terms of limiting mistakes and building off what he did wrong early in the season, there was definitely progress and you have to be happy with how Pickett developed. Year 2 is going to be the real test to see if Pickett can really be the guy for the Steelers, but the early returns are something to be pretty happy with.

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