Quarterback Kenny Pickett threw three interceptions in the first NFL game in which he played, and the Pittsburgh Steelers lost. If that doesn’t sound like the most glamorous of beginnings, it wasn’t. But it’s also a far cry from painting a complete picture.
It was the fourth game of the season and the offense had been struggling significantly all season under Mitch Trubisky at quarterback as the starter. They were already 1-2, and the one win was almost entirely thanks to the defense. Head coach Mike Tomlin decided to pull his quarterback at halftime in week four against the New York Jets in favor of Pickett, their rookie first-round pick.
In spite of the fact that he had no idea it was coming, he wasn’t fazed. Speaking to Trevor Sikkema for Pro Football Focus recently, he said that he felt confident stepping into the game, especially the more he played, even while respecting his opponent.
“I felt like I was playing well. I know the three picks don’t show it. But I was hanging in there making some throws”, he said. “But I had this feeling that I could do it. If this is where I was starting, after not playing [as the starter] in our system for five weeks, I knew I was just going to keep getting better and better”.
Pickett led the offense to consecutive touchdown drives, on which he scored as a runner, after the first pass of his NFL career went for a deep interception targeting Chase Claypool down the field. The 14 points were enough to take a 10-point lead, but the defense was unable to hold it through the fourth quarter.
The rookie was intercepted twice more after that, on the Steelers’ final two possessions. On 2nd and 15 from the Jets’ 36 while up by three points, he let a ball sail a bit to the right sideline looking for tight end Pat Freiermuth. New York drove 65 yards to retake the lead.
Pittsburgh only had 16 seconds remaining by the time they got the ball back, so there was little anybody could have done, now trailing by four. After completing one pass to fellow rookie George Pickens for 27 yards, Pickett’s final pass of the game looking deep for the end zone with eight seconds left fell into the wrong hands.
But those three interceptions don’t tell the story of his game, nor do they speak to the nature of his rookie season. He showed a lot even in that game that we saw continue to develop over the course of the year in a positive way, so it’s no surprise to hear him say even then that he felt like he could handle it.