A new era has officially begun for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Head coach Mike Tomlin named Kenny Pickett the starting quarterback for their upcoming Oct. 9 battle versus the 3-1 Buffalo Bills.
The Mitch Trubisky experience was short-lived. The Steelers had good intentions when they signed him as a bridge quarterback as Pickett developed, but it played out how they envisioned it would.
One scenario that probably played out better than the Pittsburgh Steelers could’ve imagined is the career of their former franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“Actually, Kenny just texted me a little bit ago,” Roethlisberger shared during an Oct. 3 episode (recorded on Oct. 2) Footbahlin’ with Ben Roethlisberger podcast. “I was texting him, just telling him to keep his head up.”
Pickett’s first game was a tough loss, but one that will only make him stronger. From how the rookie carries himself on the field, it’s easy to surmise that he’ll use it as motivation heading into Buffalo.
And their stats are similar, too. The Steelers Super Bowl champ recalled that late summer day in Baltimore.
“Someone just corrected me … I thought I threw an interception on my first NFL pass,” Roethlisberger said. “It was actually my second. But I did tell Kenny, ‘Hey, listen, I did it, too. You’ll be fine.’”
Like any resilient quarterback, Pickett didn’t let the interception faze him. He followed up the lapse in judgment (throwing into double coverage) with back-to-back rushing touchdowns, a rookie record.
But on Pittsburgh’s second drive of the fourth quarter, it happened again as Pickett took his team into Jets territory.
“I think he’s beating himself up a little bit on the [second] interception,” Roethlisberger shared. “Kenny texted me like, ‘I gotta throw that one away.’ And I’m like, ‘Listen, you’re talking to a guy that rarely ever threw a ball away, so, you know, just go play with confidence.’”
Pickett’s third interception was on a Hail Mary pass, which is intercepted nearly 20 percent of the time or eight times more frequent than a touchdown.
Ben Roethlisberger ‘Surprised’ by Switch to Kenny Pickett
No matter the result, Ben Roethlisberger was surprised the quarterback switch happened at all.
“I was really surprised,” said Roethlisberger. “I heard the sideline reporter say, ‘I talked to Coach Tomlin at the half. He said [something along the lines] of a change could happen.’ I was like, ‘No way. Not mid-game’.
“When he came out, it was like, ‘Kenny’s coming!’” Roethlisberger said.
“And I was surprised. Because I didn’t think that Mitch was… To me, the whole offense was stagnant. It wasn’t like it was Mitch’s [fault]. I mean, they were this far away from Diontae’s toe being on the line. The whole offense looked stagnant to me.
“They’re not running the ball real well, there’s nothing really going on, but to me, when you pull him –– I get what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to create a spark.”
“I think it [the spark] happened,” Roethlisberger said. “You will get a spark when you put someone new in there at a position like that, it’s going to create some sort of a spark. It’s going to create energy. It’s going to do that. So you’re going to naturally, a lot of times, get that like, ‘Let’s go!’ And you got that.
Even with the spark, Roethlisberger doesn’t feel the rookie even needed to go in the game.
“In my opinion, I didn’t know that it needed to happen,” he said. “But Mike’s the coach. He did it. It seemed like it energized –– I heard that the stadium was crazy loud. It obviously energized the defense, the fans, the offense. Minkah gets that [near] pick-six. Everything’s kind of falling into place.”
“I always felt, too, that if you made the switch, you almost have to stay with it. You can’t go back and forth because you’ll crush confidence. I just don’t think you can. I mean, you could. I don’t know if it’s the smart move.”
Once Ben Roethlisberger was thrown to the wolves, er, ravens, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Steelers’ former head coach Bill Cowher would go back to Maddox when he was healthy.
Fast forward to 2022, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Mike Tomlin benches Kenny Pickett for Mitch Trubisky.
“Now, you gotta stick with it,” Roethlisberger said.
Kenny Pickett to Face Daunting Steelers Schedule
While Ben Roethlisberger believes the Steelers have to stick to their Kenny Pickett guns, he’s a little ambivalent.
Pittsburgh’s upcoming schedule starts in hostile Buffalo Bills territory and continues Week 6 at home against Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The last two games of the season’s first half are away in prime time versus the Miami Dolphins. Oct. 30, followed by Philadelphia against the NFL’s only undefeated team, the Eagles.
“It’s going to be interesting to see where they go now. Are they going to go back [to Trubisky]?” Roethlisberger pondered two days before Tomlin’s announcement. “I don’t think they can go back, but maybe Mike will. The games coming up, like Buffalo, Tampa, the Dolphins, and I think the Eagles are the next four. Like, that’s a crazy schedule.
“Do you want a vet in there or do you want a rookie? Did he create enough of a spark for the offense to keep it going? It seems like some of the guys felt that way. I just don’t think you can go back and forth now.”
Tomlin won’t be going back and forth. But will he regret making the switch so early?