It was looking like Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett was going to get a shot at writing the first chapter in a hopeful storybook career with the black and gold.
Then, two ill-advised throws caused that chapter to be crumpled up and thrown in the trash as the Steelers dropped a frustrating 16-10 decision to the Miami Dolphins Sunday night inside Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday Night Football.
After shaking off a rather slow first two-and-a-half quarters, Pickett came alive in the fourth quarter, marching the Steelers down the field. The rookie quarterback found tight end Pat Freiermuth for 13 yards, later converted a third and 10 to Chase Claypool, and then hooked up with Claypool again to move the chains on a second and 10. He also found fellow rookie George Pickens on a pair of passes to move the chains and had the Steelers in rhythm, driving for a score.
Then, an illegal shift wiped out a quarterback sneak on third and one, and a holding call on Dan Moore Jr. tacked on more yards, turning a third and one into a third and 16 just like that.
Third and longs can be killer for a rookie quarter, and that’s exactly what happened as Pickett stared down Diontae Johnson on a deep stop route, allowing Miami star safety Jevon Holland to easily jump the route and return the pick 33 yards to midfield, seemingly sealing the win.
The Steelers defense stood tall though, getting the ball back to Pickett and the Steelers offense with 2:31 remaining. The rookie quarterback went back to work, drilling a fourth and six throw to Freiermuth for 21 yards and had the Steelers marching once again, adding a 14-yard strike to Johnson and an 8-yarder to Freiermuth, setting up a second and two from the Dolphins’ 25 yard line.
Disaster struck though as Pickett — with a ton of room to scramble — threw an ill-advised ball to Johnson in the end zone believing he’d stop on the route rather than extend into the end zone, resulting in an easy interception for Miami cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, sealing the Miami win, leaving Pickett dejected.
Speaking with reporters after the game, Pickett — who threw three picks on the night in total — stated that the loss is on him, and that he’ll get back to work right away trying to correct the mistakes.
“Yeah, I think there’s some things to build on, but obviously turnovers, they can’t happen,” Pickett stated to reporters Sunday following the loss, according to video via the Steelers official YouTube page. “That cost us the game, so I gotta fix that. I’ll be in there tomorrow getting to work on it and getting ready for next week.”
Once the Steelers made the switch to Pickett, it was expected that there would be growing pains, ups and downs, some flashes of brilliance and other displays of frustration with the rookie. Even after playing more than 50 career games in college at Pitt, the NFL is a different beast, and Pickett is learning that right now.
Though three and a half games, Pickett has thrown just two touchdown passes to seven interceptions. Sunday night, down the stretch, he truly had his “welcome to the NFL” moments from Holland and Igbinoghene.
The final interception on the night is one he’ll have to learn from, and quickly. That’s what tape study is for.
It’s painful to lose that way, especially after driving the Steelers down the field twice on the strength of his right arm on both drives and to then have those drives end in painful interceptions. But, that’s what learning on the fly and going through real game experiences is all about with a rookie quarterback.
“I wanted to give Diontae a chance to make a play. Just a miscommunication,” Pickett stated to reporters after the loss regarding the game-sealing interception. “I felt like I thought he was gonna come back down. He ended up going vertical. I wanted to put it high and outside and give him a chance to make a play. But that’s on me. Either I gotta run it there and get outta bounds or just throw it away and play another down and give us a better chance.”
He’ll learn from that play right there. Once he was put into the lineup, that became the focus with him was learning from the experiences gained on the field. It stings now that the Steelers let a winnable game slip away in the fashion that they did, but Pickett will be better down the road for the experiences gained on Sunday night.