Kenny Pickett had quite the tall task in his first career NFL start, having to go into Buffalo to take on a championship caliber Bills squad with a defense possessing playmakers on every level. While he had given Pittsburgh a spark coming off the bench in week 4 against the New York Jets at home with two rushing TDs, he still showed his youth in his first regular season action, throwing three INTs with now passing TDs as the Steelers fell to New York at home.
Coming off a three-INT game is hard enough. Losing in your first regular season game can only add to that. Preparing to go on the road and play a perennial AFC contender in your first NFL start only adds to the difficulty.
But losing a close loved one amidst all of this? That can be downright defeating.
In a piece written by Steelers.com Teresa Varley, Pickett shared that he lost his grandfather, Kenneth Pickett Sr., the Tuesday after the Jets game. Needless to say, Pickett carried a heavy heart throughout the week after losing a role model to just as his NFL career was beginning to take off.
“He passed before my first start as an NFL quarterback,” Pickett said according to Varley in a piece on the Steelers website. “You’ve got to try to compartmentalize that. You can say that is what you are going to do, but it was on my mind throughout the week, and it was tough. It was just one of those tough situations that weighs on you a little bit.”
Given the adverse circumstances of getting thrust into the starting role four weeks into the season and losing his grandfather just a few days later, Pickett performed admirably at Buffalo. He finished 34/52 (65%) for 327 yards and zero TDs with an INT while throwing in one carry for 10 yards on 75 offensive snaps. Conducting a film room on Pickett’s performance for the site, he struggled identifying open receivers and making full field reads at times, but also showcased good ball placement, touch, and accuracy on most of his throws.
Pickett experienced a lot of adversity to start his NFL career. He found himself the starting QB for a team that started 2-6 with virtually no shot at the playoffs. He also lost a key person in his development, one who helped grow his fascination with sports and yearning to play at a high level. He carried his grandfather’s memory with him throughout the season and rebounded to nearly get Pittsburgh in the postseason, as the team rallied and finished with a 7-2 record down the stretch.
Losing a loved one is never easy, especially when it can feel like the weight of the world is crashing down on you, like Pickett with everything he had to handle in the span of one week. Still, pressure creates diamonds as they say, and with a small sample size, it appears that Pickett may be made of the right stuff to handle those adverse moments in crunch time.