While Pickett heard the challenge from his head coach, he argued in front of the media on November 15 that he already faces challenges far greater from himself.
“I don’t need the external motivation. I’m pretty motivated internally,” Pickett told the media. “I want to play great every game. I’m pushing for that. [I’m] Always working toward that, so keep going that way.”
Pickett has been a bit of an anomaly early in his career. While he’s registered just a 62.3% completion percentage and 6.3 yards per pass with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, he’s posted a 13-8 record as a NFL starter.
In six of those 13 victories, Pickett has recorded a fourth-quarter comeback. He leads the NFL with 3 fourth-quarter comebacks during 2023.
Steelers QB Kenny Pickett Says Must ‘Win at All Costs’
While Tomlin said the Steelers were “certainly” going to need more production from Pickett during the second half of the season, the head coach also stressed that the real judgement of a quarterback is in his record.
“Guys like Kenny and myself, man, we’re measured by wins and losses,” Tomlin told the media on November 14. “He and I talk about that often and openly.
“We know what our jobs are. Our jobs are to win.”
Pickett admitted in front of reporters the day after that he’d prefer to have great statistics. But he agreed with his coach about needing to win first.
“You’ve got to win at all costs in this game. That’s all I truly care about,” Pickett said on November 15. “Of course I want to lit up the stat sheet, but as long as we’re getting the wins, I’m ok with that.
“I sleep good with getting a win. Keep pushing, keep having that mindset. Stay together as a group, and we’ll be alright.”
In Pickett’s first full season as a starter, the Steelers have six wins before Thanksgiving for the first time since 2020. Depending on the results in Week 11, the Steelers could move into first place of the AFC North with a victory against rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Cleveland Browns on November 19.
Pickett’s Mindset Similar to Ben Roethlisberger’s Early in His Career
Pickett emphasizing how much winning means to him reminded longtime Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly of a different Pittsburgh quarterback.
“Kenny Pickett said all he truly cares about is winning,” The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
“You know who else always said that early in his career? Ben Roethlisberger, when he wasn’t yet the Big Ben that he would become. The team would win and he would put up pedestrian numbers.
“Every QB wants to put up big numbers.”
There’s a couple different things to unpack in Kaboly’s tweet.
First, Pickett being compared to an early-career Roethlisberger is a great thing. Roethlisberger won two Super Bowls in his first five seasons. The team won a lot of those games despite not a lot of passing numbers.
Granted, the NFL has evolved. The passing game is even more important than it was 15 years ago. But the Steelers’ formula of a great running game, excellent situational defense and a game-manager behind center is working.
Pickett may not have the special passing statistics, but one place where he shines is in giveaways. He’s the only qualified quarterback in the NFL with under 5 turnovers this season.
Pickett hasn’t tossed an interception in his last 147 pass attempts, which is the longest active streak in the league.
Thanks to Pickett taking care of the ball and a defense that’s forcing a lot of takeaways, the Steelers are tied for the NFL lead in turnover margin at plus-10.
The other takeaway from Kaboly’s tweet is remembering that Roethlisberger was once a game manager behind center. Despite all the winning he did early in his career, he wasn’t close to leading the league in passing as he did often in the back half of his career.
Pickett’s only started 21 games. He needs more time to develop as a passer. Until that development occurs, he’s focused on doing what’s necessary to win.