BALTIMORE — The decision-makers among Pittsburgh Steelers’ brass? They’d long ago believed Kenny Pickett had what it took to lead a team on a winning drive with the game on the line.
Pickett’s teammates on the Steelers’ offense? If they weren’t believers before, they certainly started buying in on Christmas Eve, when Pickett directed a 76-yard touchdown drive to beat the Las Vegas Raiders and keep the Steelers’ playoff hopes alive.
But perhaps the greatest compliment to Pickett comes not from his coaches or those in the huddle with him — but from those on the Steelers’ defense.
Read what the Steelers’ defensive co-captains had to say after their team’s 16-13 victory against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night.
“The kid’s growing before our eyes,” the Steelers’ longest-tenured player, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, said. “He’s making quality throws, leading us downfield. It’s really awesome to be (24) years old and a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. You got to love the way he’s leading that offense. And he keeps growing week in and week out.”
This week — the penultimate weekend of the NFL regular season — Pickett orchestrated an 11-play, 80-yard drive that began with 4 minutes, 16 seconds left in regulation and ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Najee Harris with 56 seconds left. .
What a play by the rookie! @kennypickett10
— NFL (@NFL) January 2, 2023
During the go-ahead drive, Pickett was 5 for 6 for 64 yards with the touchdown pass in addition to two sneaks that gained first downs on third-and-1 plays.
“We do so many two-minute drives in practice, and you see the moxie in our quarterback,” said outside linebacker TJ Watt, the NFL’s reigning defensive player of the year. “We’ve seen our guys go out and ball out in practice all season long.
“We weren’t surprised.”
If anyone was surprised, they weren’t watching eight days prior when Pickett went 7 for 9 for 75 yards and the touchdown (plus a successful QB sneak on a fourth-and-1) against the Raiders when facing almost the exact same scenario: trailing by four points, a loss eliminating the Steelers, and (on that day) 2 minutes and 55 seconds left.
That was Pickett’s 10th NFL starts at 11th game, and it became his second fourth-quarter winning drive. Sunday in Baltimore, Pickett picked up his third such winning drive in his 11th start and sixth win as a starter.
Kenny Pickett on the winning TD pass to Najee Harris pic.twitter.com/q8dqnAfU0C
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) January 2, 2023
“I can’t say enough about our young QB,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He smiled in his face. He’s always ready to be that guy in the moments that we need him. And it’s just good to see the young guy.”
Pickett continued the trend of being clutch and at his best in the most important moments to cap overall efforts that were mediocre up until that point.
Just like what happened against the Raiders, Pickett and the Steelers did not score a touchdown until the final minute. And just like the previous game, too, Pickett’s stat line was… underwhelming… through 55 minutes Sunday. His passer rating sat at 62.4 after completing just 10 of his first 21 passes for 104 yards and no touchdowns.
But on the winning drive? That rating was 111.1.
“I think it’s just confidence that I had in myself is showing up on the field, and I think guys are starting to feel that, which is always good,” Pickett said. “Going into the huddle and seeing how confident everyone is, as a quarterback, you know they have a lot of faith in you, and I have a lot of faith in those guys in the huddle. So, when that is there, you definitely have a shot.”
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Just like against the Raiders, the “chunk plays” that got the Steelers much of the way down the field on their final drive came on passes over the middle: 20 yards to tight end Pat Freiermuth, and 28 yards on a Steven Sims catch- and-run.
The 80 yards covered required three third-down conversions: Pickett’s two sneaks, and the touchdown he floated just past the left pylon to Harris. It came after Pickett was forced to scramble to the left to avoid pressure from Jason Pierre-Paul and letting go of his pass just as Patrick Queen was closing in for a sack.
— NFL (@NFL) January 2, 2023
“It turned into the scramble drill,” Harris said, “and I just scramble, like in practice, and I was open and Kenny threw a good ball.”
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Pickett was running 13.11 mph when he released the ball, his first NFL touchdown pass while on the run.
It resulted in allowing him to become just the third rookie quarterback to ever win at the Ravens in addition to being the first rookie in NFL history to have a winning TD pass in the final minute of consecutive games.
“I believe in him,” left guard Kevin Dotson said of Pickett. “I believe, man, I believe. I believed in him when he first got here, but these kinds of things definitely build up trust, so I am riding with him.”
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Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .