Steelers QB Kenny Pickett gives spark in up-and-down debut, but Mike Tomlin won't name him starter

The first play of Kenny Pickett’s highly anticipated debut was an interception.

The second interception turned the tide on a comeback win.

And the third interception of his career simply sealed the defeat.

Pickett, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie quarterback, nearly led his team to a victory with two rushing touchdowns after replacing starter Mitch Trubisky in the second half. But his three interceptions were the deciding factor in Pittsburgh’s 24-20 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday.

It appears Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has a decision to make: Award Pickett the starting quarterback job and enjoy the ride known as rookie growing pains, or continue with Trubisky, who played uninspired football during the first four starts of the season.

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Steelers QB Kenny Pickett throws a pass in the third quarter against the New York Jets at Acrisure Stadium.
Steelers QB Kenny Pickett throws a pass in the third quarter against the New York Jets at Acrisure Stadium.

Tomlin, a Super Bowl-winning coach with 15 consecutive winning seasons with the Steelers, wasn’t ready to anoint a new starter after falling to 1-3.

And with good reason: the Steelers’ next game is a daunting matchup on the road against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills (3-1) on Oct. 9.

“We did what we needed to do to put ourselves in position to win this game,” Tomlin told reporters postgame when asked if Pickett would have the job over Trubisky moving forward.

“I’d like to just keep it where we are in terms of what transpired here [Sunday]. We’ll deal with next week next week.”

Tomlin was adamant about giving Trubisky enough time to grow comfortable as the Steelers’ starter during the first four weeks of the season.

But with the Steelers staring at a 10-6 halftime deficit against the Jets, thanks to Trubisky completing just 7 of 13 passes for 84 yards, Tomlin made a move.

Pickett, the No. 20 pick in the 2022 NFL draft last April who played in the Steelers' home stadium as the University of Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback, made his NFL debut.

And Pickett nearly led the Steelers to a win. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 120 yards with six carries for 15 yards and two touchdowns before his second interception gave the Jets new life.

“I thought we needed a spark,” Tomlin said of inserting Pickett into the game.

Pickett’s first pass of his career was a deep shot over the middle where receiver Chase Claypool was met by two Jets defenders. Jets safety Jordan Whitehead pulled down the interception.

Pickett rebounded and scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown to make the most of Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick’s interception of Jets QB Zach Wilson in the third quarter.

And Pickett’s second rushing touchdown of the game, a 2-yard run, gave the Steelers a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter when he showed some promise.

Pickett relied on rookie receiver George Pickens – say Pickett to Pickens three times fast – as the two connected on four receptions for 71 yards in the second half.

Steelers running back Najee Harris had his longest run of the season for 16 yards during Pickett’s third drive, while Pickett’s 18-yard completion to tight end Pat Freiermuth set up his second touchdown run.

But when it was time to put the game away, the Steelers rookie threw a crucial interception to Jets defensive back Michael Carter II with 3:34 left in the game.

And after Jets running back Breece Hall scored a 2-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left, Pickett’s Hail Mary heave toward the end zone in the final seconds was intercepted.

“I thought he did some good things,” Tomlin said of Pickett. “He brought some energy there. We scored some touchdowns. But obviously, we turned the ball over.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Steelers QB Kenny Pickett provides spark despite three INTs in debut